PECG Media Briefing

August 22, 2019

More than $1.1B allocated to work on California highwaysKSBY
The California Transportation Commission is allocating more than $1.1 billion for 133 State Highway Operation and Protection Program (SHOPP) projects across the state.  Almost $994 million of that funding will go toward fix-it-first projects funded by Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.  SB 1-funded projects will improve or replace 880 lane miles, 474 congestion reducing devices and 83 tunnels for flooding prevention.


California Water Board OKs $1.3 Billion for Clean Drinking WaterCourthouse News Service
California’s water regulator voted Tuesday to spend $1.3 billion over the next 10 years to provide safe drinking water to communities throughout California.


California To Build Largest Wildlife Crossing In World — At A Cost Of $87MCBS 2/Associated Press
Like many urban singles, the mountain lion P-22 lives a solitary life in a too-small habitat, and a has hard time finding a mate in the big city.  Now transportation officials and conservationists are planning a wildlife crossing over a major Southern California highway, hoping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions like P-22 that require room to roam.  The $87 million bridge will be built mostly with private funds.  Last month it entered the final design phase, according to Senior Transportation Engineer and PECG member Sheik Moinuddin, with the project’s completion planned for 2023.


Thousands of retired California state workers are getting checks in the mail.  Here’s whyThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Surprise checks that have been arriving at the doors of California state retirees can be traced to a 2012 class action lawsuit over late pay.  Former state workers who retired between November 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011 have been receiving checks of up to $14,500 this month, said Sacramento attorney William Kershaw, who represented the retirees in the suit.  The checks started going out Aug. 6 after the case settled for $6.8 million last fall to 2,064 former state workers who weren’t promptly paid when they retired.

August 19, 2019

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Project Gets $19.9M From Gas TaxMarin Independent-Journal
The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is set to get an $85 million makeover next year with the help of nearly $20 million in state funds approved on Thursday.  Caltrans plans to repaint the lower deck and towers to protect the steel and replace 30 of the 31 expansion joints on the lower deck.  The joints allow the bridge to adjust to changes in temperature and vibrations.


‘Ground Zero:’ Coastal Commission Approves Safety Corridor Project, Worries Sea Level Rise May Leave it Under Water – North Coast Journal
While Caltrans’ project on the 6-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 that connects Eureka and Arcata is aimed at improving safety for motorists, the agency got an earful earlier this month from California Coastal Commissioners who felt it is ignoring a potentially far more dangerous threat: sea level rise.


Caltrans Soliciting Bids On $31 Million Contract For Last Chance Grade Environmental PhaseLost Coast Outpost
A technical report showed some parts of a bridge that collapsed last year in Genoa, Italy, had lacked maintenance for 25 years, a local prosecutor said on Wednesday.  On Aug. 14 last year, a large section of the 1.2 km-long (1,100-yard) bridge collapsed in heavy rain, killing 43 people.  The cause is still under investigation, but the ruling 5-Star Movement blamed Italy’s biggest toll-road operator, infrastructure group Atlantia, for neglecting maintenance on the bridge.  Atlantia has denied any wrongdoing.

PECG Media Briefing Archive

August 2019

August 15, 2019

California Oil Regulators Made ‘Dummy’ Approval Files for Risky Drill Permits, Records ShowPalm Springs Desert Sun
Employees inside California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, or DOGGR, say higher-ups are using regulatory sleight-of-hand that allows petroleum firms to avoid upfront reviews of risky steam-injection oil extraction projects and keep operations moving.  Documents and emails obtained by The Desert Sun appear to back up their assertions.


Groundwater Trading Program, First of Its Kind for Central Valley, is Being DesignedKGET
In a first for Kern County and the Central Valley, a groundwater trading program is being designed to help local growers meet new regulations under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act — which kicks in next year.


Caltrans Soliciting Bids On $31 Million Contract For Last Chance Grade Environmental PhaseLost Coast Outpost
Caltrans has entered phase two in its preliminary geotechnical studies of Last Chance Grade and is currently seeking a contractor to see the project through its environmental phase.  The agency began collecting data this week on how much movement is occurring at the slide-prone area south of Crescent City, said project manager Jaime Matteoli.  The information is necessary to refine alternatives proposed for a bypass of U.S. 101 around the slide, he said.


California Cuts Carbon Emissions Even as Economy HumsCourthouse News
California’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped again in 2017, air quality regulators reported Monday, and the dive occurred without hurting the Golden State’s raging economy.  An annual report released by the California Air Resources Board says the state’s economy grew by 3.6% even as its emissions fell well below a target set by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.  This means California remains on track to meet its goal of cutting emissions to 431 million metric tons by 2020, and has a good shot at reducing emissions to less than 300 million metric tons by 2030.


CalPERS Faces ‘Very Serious Risk’ in $1.2 Billion Long-Term Care Case, Judge WarnsThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
A judge is urging CalPERS to settle a major lawsuit over price increases for its long-term care insurance policies, suggesting the system could have to pay a lot of money if the lawsuit goes to a jury trial in October.  The lawsuit, filed in 2013, alleges CalPERS violated contracts when it hiked premiums by 85 percent for about 100,000 public employees after promising stable prices in marketing materials.  CalPERS has said it had the authority to increase the rates and did so solely to keep the plans sustainable.

August 12, 2019

SB 1-Funded I-80 Donner Summit Pavement Project BeginningYubaNet
Caltrans is set to begin pavement work on Interstate 80 from the Troy Undercrossing to Donner Pass Road in Truckee to address rutting caused by heavy trucks traveling in the Sierra during winter months when chains are required.  Work on the $7.5 million project is scheduled to begin Wednesday, August 14.  $5 million in funding support is provided by Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.


Calif. Pressures Automakers to Join CAFE DealAutomotive News
Four automakers down and 14 to go.  That’s the view from California as it leads the charge to pressure more manufacturers to join a compromise deal on tougher fuel economy and emissions standards that the Trump administration has rejected as a “PR stunt.”


The California Public Utilities Commission Couldn’t Offer A List Of Everything It Regulates.  So We’re Trying To Make One.Capitol Public Radio
The California Public Utilities Commission is a sprawling organization that covers hundreds of individual businesses and utilities across the energy, water, transportation and telecommunications industries.  But it appears an up-to-date list of the agency’s regulatory responsibilities does not exist (one from 2013 can be found here).  So, CapRadio is attempting to compile one.

August 8, 2019

Smoother, Safer Lanes Planned for Highway 101 Near Ventura with $52.3M in State FundingVentura County Star
The California Transportation Commission has allocated $52.3 million for new paving for 21.6 “lane miles” on a stretch of Highway 101 in and near Ventura.  Caltrans says the project is currently in the early design stage, with work starting late next summer.


CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld on California’s Environmental Priorities Under the Trump Administration (Audio Interview)KQED
California’s Secretary of Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld oversees the state’s efforts to combat climate change, ensure clean air and water, regulate pesticides and manage waste and recycling goals.  He joins Forum to discuss how the state is responding to the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks and what he sees as the state’s top priorities and challenges.


Groundwater: Agencies react to rejection of alternative plansAg Alert
Six regions of California that considered themselves to be managing groundwater sustainably have been informed otherwise by state Department of Water Resources officials, who rejected alternatives to preparation of groundwater sustainability plans for the regions.  Three of the applicants have agreed to form groundwater sustainability agencies as required under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.  The remaining three — in Humboldt, Lake and Napa counties — face decisions on how to proceed.


California turns towards a Texas solution for u-turn designWorld Highways
The first so-called “Texas U-Turn” in California has opened as part of the Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement project at Long Beach.  The design enables trucks and other vehicles to make a safe and free-flowing U-turn at the west end of the project at the port access undercrossing, a second tunnel near the intersection of Ocean Boulevard and State Route 47 (SR-47) on Terminal Island.

August  5, 2019

North County bridge closed indefinitely after Caltrans finds it unsafeThe San Luis Obispo Tribune
A North County bridge has been determined unsafe for motorists and closed indefinitely.  Caltrans identified “potential structural deficiencies” on the southern bridge of twin bridges at Huerhuero Creek on River Road in Paso Robles, according to a news release.


Dam spillway near SLO County has significant cracks, is ‘unsafe for use,’ state saysThe San Luis Obispo Tribune
The same structural problems that caused the failure at Oroville Dam in February 2017 also exist at the spillway of San Antonio Dam, just two miles north of Lake Nacimiento and above the community of Bradley.  Those problems have been known “for quite some time,” according to the current manager of the dam operator.  But the state didn’t take notice or downgrade the dam’s safety condition until after it revamped its oversight process following the massive failure in Northern California.


Victor Lindenheim: On Taxes, Traffic and RoadsThe Santa Clarita Valley Signal
For more than 15 years, I have been advocating for safety and capacity improvements to the Santa Clarita Valley region’s major roads. And now, thanks to massive investments of time and effort by the members and allies of the Golden State Gateway Coalition, forward-thinking elected officials and the availability of funding, we will be seeing major improvements to Interstate 5, State Route 14, State Route 138 and The Old Road.

August 1, 2019

In a blow to the bullet train, California might shift billions to L.A. and Bay Area projects Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
Key California lawmakers have devised a plan to shift billions of dollars from the Central Valley bullet train to rail projects in Southern California and the Bay Area, a strategy that could crush the dreams of high-speed rail purists.  Assembly Democrats see greater public value in improving passenger rail from Burbank to Anaheim – relieving congestion on the busy Interstate 5 corridor before the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles – and putting additional money into San Francisco commuter rail.


Contract deal gives 10 percent raise or more to state safety and law enforcement employeesThe Sacramento Bee
Pay for dispatchers, security officers, inspectors and other public safety and law enforcement employees at the state will go up at least 10 percent over the next four years in a tentative agreement their union reached with the state.  Additional pay raises of up to 24 percent for specific job classifications will boost pay further for the majority of the California State Law Enforcement Association’s members, according to a union summary of the agreement.  Union members ratified the proposal Friday, sending it to the Legislature and the governor for approval.


City Hosts 50th San Diego-Coronado Bridge CelebrationThe Coronado Times
The City of Coronado, California Department of Transportation, County of San Diego and Port of San Diego will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge this week.  In a press statement, city officials thanked all event sponsors for their donations or in-kind services, including Professional Engineers in California Government.


California’s emissions deal with automakers dodges federal EPA plan to gut rulesCalMatters
California made its own tailpipe emissions deal with four major carmakers, officials said today, ignoring Trump administration threats to roll back Obama-era vehicle standards.  The state agreed to give the carmakers an extension to reach greenhouse gas reduction targets and pledged to eliminate penalties for power plant emissions tied to charging electric vehicles.  In a win for California, the car companies agreed to recognize the state’s authority to make its own clean air rules and to follow California’s standards across the country.  Federal officials were dismissive of the agreement, however.


Cadiz water project in Mojave now subject to state oversightDesert Sun
A bill signed Wednesday evening by Gov. Gavin Newsom will require Cadiz Inc.’s Mojave Desert groundwater pumping project to undergo further review to show it will not harm the surrounding environment.  If built, Cadiz’s project would pump more than 16 billion gallons of groundwater from an aquifer under the Mojave Desert across public lands to the Colorado River Aqueduct to transport it to residents.

July 2019

July 29, 2019

Three-year I-5 reconstruction project begins in Sacramento. Expect closures, commute delays – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
South Sacramento commuters, get ready to adjust your morning work-drive start time.  Caltrans will announce next week the start of a massive, several-year-long reconstruction project on Interstate 5 through south Sacramento – one that both the state and some local commuters say is overdue.  The $370 million project, which includes replacing the road surface, will take three years and involve extensive lane closures at times, prompting traffic congestion and detours, officials said.  Project finish date is set for late 2022.


California’s troubled bullet train project getting one of biggest management upheavals in yearsLos Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
The California bullet train project is going through one of its biggest personnel upheavals in years, several months after Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed he would be “getting rid of a lot of consultants.”  Brian Kelly, the rail authority’s chief executive officer, said in an interview Thursday that he could not comment on three specific management moves The Times has learned about, but said some are designed to address the project’s multiple challenges.


Four Automakers Strike Emissions Deal With CaliforniaReuters
Ford Motor Co, BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and Honda Motor Co said on Thursday they have reached a voluntary agreement with the state of California to adopt compromise vehicle emissions rules. Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that the four automakers sought regulatory certainty and had agreed not to legally challenge the state’s vehicle regulatory authority.  “They didn’t want to face the expense, distraction and the bad publicity that comes from being part of a big rollback on clean cars,” she said.


Crumbling roads, bridges getting infrastructure love from the DOTYahoo! Finance
Last week, Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Cho announced a total of 20 large and small infrastructure projects across the nation funded by INFRA grants, which provide dedicated, discretionary funding for projects that address critical issues facing our nation’s highways and bridges, according to DOT.  The City of Temecula’s plan to construct a two-lane northbound collector/distributor system along I-15 was one of the 10 large projects that made the list.

July 25, 2019

Jerry Brown, his eye still on pensions, endorses candidate in CalPERS board election – The Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Former Gov. Jerry Brown is jumping into the CalPERS Board of Administration election with an endorsement of incumbent Henry Jones.  Jones, 78, represents retirees on the 13-member board and serves as its president.  He is running for re-election against J.J. Jelincic, 70, a former board member and a former CalPERS staffer.


The Crisis Lurking in Californians’ Taps: How 1,000 Water Systems May Be at RiskThe New York Times (tiered subscription)
As many as 1,000 community water systems in California may be at high risk of failing to deliver potable water — one out of every three — according to a previously undisclosed estimate by the California State Water Resources Control Board.  These troubled districts often operate in poorer areas on thin budgets.  With little oversight, they face problems ranging from bankruptcy to sudden interruptions in water capacity, to delivering harmful toxins through taps.


Feinstein op-ed: As the climate gets hotter and drier, state’s water plan must consider all options The Fresno Bee (tiered subscription)
“Climate change presents a clear and present danger to California: Rising temperatures will continue to reduce the Sierra snowpack — essentially California’s largest bank of water — and will cause more frequent and dangerous droughts,” U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein writes.  “As we continue to recover from the historic drought that stretched from 2011 to 2017, we must accept this new reality and start preparing now.”

July 22, 2019

What Crisis? The Case for Not Panicking Over Pension Debt.Governing
Over the past decade, public retirement costs have spiked while governments’ unfunded liabilities — now totaling more than $1.2 trillion — have continued to grow.  But according to research that debuted last week, lawmakers shouldn’t worry too much about accumulating pension debt.


Diverging Diamond Interchanges Coming To California In Effort To Ease TrafficKPIX
Something new is coming to California highways and it is already under construction in Manteca.  Drivers will soon be driving through the state’s first diverging diamond interchange.


In an era of extreme weather, concerns grow over dam safetyPBS News Hour
It is a telling illustration of the precarious state of United States dams that the near-collapse in February 2017 of Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest, occurred in California, considered one of the nation’s leading states in dam safety management.  And scientists now say the likelihood of dam failures — which not only threaten lives but also release toxic sediments trapped in reservoirs behind many dams — will increase as extreme precipitation events become more frequent in a warming world.


55-hour closures coming to 60 Freeway on 15 weekends between July and ThanksgivingThe Sun (San Bernardino)
A series of major closures are planned to enable construction crews to replace 18 miles of crumbling, aging Southern California highway pavement with shiny new ribbons of concrete.  The most draconian feature will be 15 weekends of total shutdowns eastbound or westbound stretching from the 15 Freeway to the 60-91-215 interchange.  For those who remember the weekend-long closure of the 91 Freeway in Corona in February 2016, dubbed “Coronageddon,” this will be a lot like that.

July 18, 2019

Top women to CalPERS candidate: Drop out, we don’t want an accused harasserThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
The state treasurer of California, a state senator and another woman serving on the CalPERS board have called on J.J. Jelincic Jr. to drop out of the race because of his history of harassing women who work at the Sacramento-based pension fund.  Jelincic is a former board member who is running again for a seat on the 13-member panel.


California Stopped Tracking Sexual Harassment Complaints Years Ago. What Happens Now?Capital Public Radio
The California Legislature fueled the #MeToo Movement after reports in 2017 that several lawmakers were investigated, and in some cases were disciplined, for sexual harassment in the workplace.  Now the state is building a system to track sexual harassment complaints filed by state employees, but the state already had a system for that – until it was eliminated in 2012.


Marin officials mull $100 billion transportation mega-measure ideaMarin Independent Journal
Dubbed “Faster Bay Area,” officials are considering a ballot measure that would seek to raise $100 billion from nine Bay Area counties over several decades.  The money would overhaul and integrate the region’s transit services, including more frequent and efficient BART, Caltrain and ferry trips; more express toll and bus lanes on local highways; and a second BART crossing under San Francisco Bay.


Caltrans Puts Finishing Touches On Project To Fix Richmond-San Rafael BridgeKPIX
Caltrans is now putting the finishing touches on a project to fix 31 expansion joints on the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  Work crews have been working overnight shifts since March with jackhammers and blowtorches to demolish the existing joints, then pour concrete to build and install the replacement joints.

July 15, 2019

Nepotism at California state agency leads to discipline for public employeeThe Sacramento Bee
The Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) has begun dispensing discipline over findings that its former director and her subordinates violated nepotism rules to promote the director’s daughter and a friend, according to a letter the department recently sent to the State Personnel Board (SPB).  Last week, DIR voided a promotion of an unnamed employee who the SPB said had benefited from former Director Christine Baker’s favor with a special hiring arrangement and an inappropriate promotion in 2014.  Another half-dozen DIR employees remain under investigation.


AP: Public unions see only modest decline after court rulingAssociated Press
Anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court might end mandatory union fees for public employees, some labor-friendly states enacted laws last year to protect membership rolls while unions redoubled their recruitment efforts.  Those steps appear to have paid off, at least initially.  (Please click here for a list of public employee union membership change by state.)


What’s Driving You Crazy? – Shout-out to Caltrans earthquake responseCBS 8 (Las Vegas)
A post-earthquake shout-out to the California Department of Transportation.


Are state and local pension funds really in crisis?Brookings Institution
Government pension systems across the nation are in better long-term shape than commonly reported, according to three economists in this Q&A.

July 11, 2019

‘Outrageous conflicts of interest’: Watchdog groups urge California Gov. Gavin Newsom to fire oil regulatorsDesert Sun
Two consumer groups are calling on California’s governor to freeze all new oil drilling permits and to clean house at the agency that issues them, after the organizations uncovered records showing that top state regulators and engineers held investments in Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, Valero and other petrochemical giants.


Funding enables California DOT to extend life of 18 bridges on I-5, SR 152Transportation Today
Construction recently began on improvements to State Route 152 and Interstate 5 in California’s Merced County under funds provided by Senate Bill 1, which allow for work to keep 18 bridges functioning throughout the state.  The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) estimates the roads see around 65,000 vehicles each day, including a sizable amount of heavy truck traffic.


Senators Aim to Produce Five-Year Highway Bill Before August RecessTransport Topics
The first version of what could become the country’s next major highway policy bill will be unveiled in the Senate prior to Congress’ recess in August, surface transportation policymakers announced July 10.  The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee intends to consider a five-year highway bill, kicking off reauthorization of the FAST Act.


Nearly two dozen governors join California’s push for more efficient cars and trucksThe Washington Post
In a joint statement Tuesday, governors from 22 states and Puerto Rico joined California in calling for a “common sense” national approach that would provide regulatory certainty to the auto industry while also helping to combat climate change.

July 8, 2019

Caltrans begins post-earthquake repairs on Route 178Bakersfield Californian
On Sunday, Caltrans started permanent construction repairs on State Route 178 about six miles east of Ridgecrest, on a four-mile stretch that cracked in three areas due to recent earthquakes.  Meanwhile, Caltrans engineers have evaluated all bridges and highway structures in the area and have determined that all routes are safe for normal operations.


Davis High School grad heads State Transportation AgencyDavis Enterprise
David Kim — a 1981 graduate of Davis High School — was sworn in as the new secretary of the State Transportation Agency.  Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Kim’s appointment in April, replacing Brian Annis.


Near earthquake epicenter in Trona, ‘it looks like a tornado went through’ – Los Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
The small, unincorporated Searles Valley community of Trona seemed relatively unshaken by the magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rocked Southern California on Thursday afternoon, despite moderate damage to the town.  A sense of community is what will get people through this quake, say residents, and that can-do attitude could even be seen in state officials’ response to the quake.  A giant crack that formed across Highway 178 on the outskirts of the town had already been repaired by Caltrans crews an hour after the temblor tore up the road.


Editorial: Summer driving season is here — time for us to repeat ourselves on the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Specifically, it should be higher.The Washington Post (tiered subscription)
The cost of a gallon of gasoline should be higher.  Congress last raised the federal gas tax in 1993, which means that the 18.4-cent-per-gallon levy has fallen more than 40 percent in real terms.  While Capitol Hill has been paralyzed, however, July 1 was an occasion to celebrate a surge of policy activity in the states, including blue states such as California and Illinois and red ones such as Indiana and Tennessee.  In all, 13 states saw gas taxes increase on that date, many from indexing to inflation to avoid future political fights.  It indicates that Americans are open to rational fuel taxation, regardless of politics.

July 3, 2019

Clear path ahead for Highway 17 animal corridor, with $5 million campaign completeSanta Cruz Sentinel
The first animal corridor to bridge Highway 17 is on track to be completed in 2022 as the last piece of financing for the $12 million project fell into place this week.  Land Trust Santa Cruz County announced completion of a $5 million fundraising campaign Tuesday, $3 million of which was raised to build a tunnel for animals beneath Highway 17’s most dangerous stretch of roadway for mountain lions and other critters.


Where will California’s high-speed rail stop in the Bay Area?The Mercury News (tiered subscription)
If the billions needed to build the high-speed rail line from the Central Valley through San Jose and onto San Francisco can ever be raised, we may soon know the route for the nearly 130-mile link.  The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday made recommendations for the preferred alternatives in Northern California with public meetings to begin next month and a vote in September.


Fixing old San Rafael 101  off-ramp will cost millions more than estimatedKPIX
The contractors bids to replace an aging Highway 101 off-ramp that handles thousands of cars daily have come in at $4.5 million more than the $12.5 million Caltrans estimated, placing the project’s future in jeopardy.


Interstate 5 to receive millions from gas fee for culvert repairsBakersfield Californian
Caltrans has received millions of dollars in gas tax funding for repairs to drainage systems along Interstate 5 in Kern County.  The funding came as part of a package of $533 million in allocations done by the California Transportation Commission for highway projects throughout the state.

July 1, 2019

California Mandates Zero-Emission Vehicles at AirportsScientific American
The California Air Resources Board has mandated a switch to nonpolluting shuttles and buses running short hops at its 13 largest airports, the first policy of its kind in the nation.  It requires by 2035 the switch to zero-emission vehicles serving airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland and Ontario International, along with commuter airports in Orange County, Burbank-Hollywood, Long Beach, Palm Springs, Fresno and Santa Barbara.


Fire-ravaged Paradise water agency faces state ultimatum: Fix your cracked dam spillwayThe Sacramento Bee (tiered subscription)
Just months after California’s deadliest wildfire laid waste to the town of Paradise, hillside residents face yet another costly and potentially dangerous problem.  The Department of Water Resources downgraded the Magalia Dam on the hill above town to “poor” condition, and has ordered the dam’s owner to make interim repairs by November on the cracked spillway.


State approves $10M for Highway 37 flooding fixMarin Independent-Journal
The California Transportation Commission has approved a $10 million study of flood-prone Highway 37 in Marin County in a unanimous vote during its meeting in Sacramento.  North Bay representatives and transportation officials had urged Caltrans to begin the studies after the four-mile section between Novato and Black Point Bridge was closed twice due to flooding this winter.  Although officials lauded the commission’s decision, it only addresses a small section of the flood-plagued corridor that stretches between Novato and Vallejo.


Damaged by storms, a major highway to Idyllwild is closed for the summerLos Angeles Times (tiered subscription)
As summer tourism ramps up, a scenic highway into Idyllwild will remain shut down.  Highway 243, which leads into the popular Southern California vacation spot in the San Jacinto Mountains, is closed for the next several months as crews repair lanes that collapsed under catastrophic rains.  Portions of the mountaintop highway — more than 100 spots in all — are in need of repairs.

June 2019

June 28, 2019

Check your paycheck – Nearly 1,000 state workers didn’t get raises after their last contractThe Sacramento Bee
Nearly 1,000 members of Professional Engineers in California Government reported payroll errors after their 2018 contract was signed in September, and 300 are still trying to recover pay they believe they are owed, according to emails and interviews.


California program to track state worker harassment is a year behind scheduleThe Sacramento Bee
A $1.5 million project to start tracking sexual harassment and discrimination in California state government is scheduled to be fully functional by January 2020 — a full year later than originally planned.  Former Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the project as a first step to start addressing allegations of gender-based harassment in state government that were coming out amid the #MeToo movement.


Commentary: Bringing high-speed rail to California, one building block at a timeCALmatters
Lenny Mendonca, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority writes, “The authority continues to pursue the best option to begin early service in the only part of the state where we are under construction on truly high-speed rail assets—the Central Valley.  This is the right thing to do because, candidly, it is time to get high-speed, electric trains operating in California.”


The spectacularly doomed plan to fill the bay with a 36-lane freeway – San Francisco Chronicle
In 1946, drivers were already complaining about congestion on the 10-year-old Bay Bridge.  The most ambitious solution, blissfully unconcerned with aesthetics or the environment, was dreamed up by an actor/impresario turned master planner named John Reber.  His idea: build a causeway nearly four-tenths of a mile wide, stretching across the bay with 2,000-foot-long channels at either terminus, split lengthwise by tunnels and a freeway wide enough to land passenger jets.

June 24, 2019

Caltrans is paying for top official’s San Diego-to-Sacramento flights, and her apartmentThe Sacramento Bee
Caltrans has been paying for its director to commute to Sacramento from her home in San Diego since she was appointed early last year, according to travel records.  The reimbursements for outgoing Director Laurie Berman’s expenses are “unusual,” but were authorized by former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and are allowed under the law.


To reduce wildfires and save utilities, California governor wants $10.5 billion from ratepayersLos Angeles Times / Greenfield Recorder
Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking the California Legislature to extend an existing charge on utility customers’ bills to generate $10.5 billion for a new wildfire fund.  Power companies could use the money to pay for fire damage — but only if they meet the state’s safety standards.  Under the governor’s proposal, the state would establish a new wildfire division within the California Public Utilities Commission to enforce those standards.  Each electrical utility would have to undergo an annual review process and earn a safety certification before the start of next year’s wildfire season in order to tap the wildfire fund.


California’s share of federal grants for roads, rail and bridges is shrinking – The Fresno Bee
In eight years under President Barack Obama, California received a larger share of grants from a U.S. Department of Transportation program for infrastructure improvements than any other state in the nation.  But in the two fiscal years since President Donald Trump took office, California’s share has fallen to less than half of what it was during the Obama administration, according to a Bee analysis of data from the federal grant program.

June 20, 2019

CalPERS health insurance will cost more next year, but not as much more as insurers wantedThe Sacramento Bee
Health insurance premiums for CalPERS members are going up next year, but rates will be lower than insurers initially requested, according to 2020 rates published Tuesday.  Premiums will go up 4.65 percent on average next year.  Last month, insurers submitted requests for increases to CalPERS that would have raised rates by an average of 7.2 percent.


Caltrans awards $275 million contract for I-5 rehabThe Construction Index
A 50-50 joint venture of Granite and Teichert will carry out the SAC 5 corridor enhancement project, which involves rehabilitating 67 lane-miles of Interstate 5.  The $275 million project is scheduled to begin towards the end of 2019 and take two years.


Six-Month Long Construction Project Starting On Interstate 80 In SacramentoCBS Sacramento
Construction will start Monday, June 24 on a 13-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in Sacramento and will last until December.

The project spans from about 0.2 miles west of West El Camino Avenue to about 0.2 miles east of Watt Avenue. Approximately 140,000 vehicles travel this stretch of I-80 daily. The $17 million project is being paid for using money from Senate Bill 1.


Why fighting for clean water with climate change money worries some California lawmakersCALmatters
Combat climate change, or clean up California’s water? Those alarmed by the Legislature’s decision to dip into a greenhouse gas fund to pay for clean drinking water may need to get used to it: constitutional restrictions on spending that money are set to expire in 2021.

June 17, 2019

Editorial: Caltrans can’t rest on Richmond Bridge progressMarin Independent-Journal
Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have received an award for completing the reopening of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge’s eastbound deck to three lanes during peak traffic periods.  The honor certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, but its conclusion that the agencies effectively worked to reduce traffic congestion is not only worthy of praise, but a good reason to apply that same logic to the bridge’s westbound lane.


California delegation introduces legislation protecting disaster-recovery transportation projectsTransportation Today
In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation denied 66 of the 73 one-year funding extensions for disaster-recovery transportation projects Caltrans requested, using its authority to seize highway and public transportation money previously awarded if those projects do not begin construction within two years.  The federal crackdown broke the norm from previous administrations. Now members of the California Congressional delegation have introduced a bill designed to defend federal funding for disaster-recovery transportation projects.


New plan to safeguard Russian River targets human and animal waste contamination – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
An on-again, off-again effort by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to better protect the Russian River and its tributaries against potential sources of bacterial contamination is in its final stages, with hopes that an action plan for the entire watershed will be approved this August and go into effect next year.  The federal Clean Water Act and state regulations require measures to ensure that people swimming, wading, fishing or otherwise recreating in the river and tributary creeks aren’t exposed to bacteria from human or animal waste — a problem in waterways around California, state officials say.


$4 billion in state government construction getting underway in SacramentoThe Sacramento Bee
California state government has launched a historic building boom in Sacramento, scheduling roughly $3.4 billion worth of new construction and renovations over the next five years with more to follow.  Throw in plans for new towers for the state’s pension funds, and the spending will top $4 billion.

June 14, 2019

California Taps Clean Air Money to Pay for Drinking Water – NBC 4
California legislative leaders have agreed to spend $130 million a year to improve water systems in communities where people can’t drink from their taps, something Democratic leaders say amounts to a crisis in one of the nation’s wealthiest states.  To pay for it, the state would tap a fund dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a move that alarmed some environmental activists who say its set up an unfair choice between clean air and water.


I-5 freeway project in south O.C. gets underwayOrange County Breeze
The Orange County Transportation Authority and Caltrans have broken ground on an Interstate 5 construction project that will improve traffic flow on 6.5 miles of freeway between State Route 73 and El Toro Road in south Orange County.  The $581 million project will add a regular lane in each direction, extend a second carpool lane between Alicia Parkway and El Toro Road, and improve interchanges and streets.  The project is scheduled to be complete in 2025.


High-speed rail route took land from farmers. The money they’re owed hasn’t arrived Los Angeles Times
Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, farmers have similar high-speed rail stories: The state takes their land with a court order while it haggles over the price.  But farmers often face out-of-pocket costs for lost production, road replacement, repositioning of irrigation systems and other expenses, which the state agrees to pay before the final settlement.  Those payments and even some payments for land have stretched out to three years.  One problem was the agency’s decision to award construction contracts with only 15% of the rail design completed, a so-called design-build approach.  The authority’s unusual relationship with consultants is another issue.


Moccasin Dam, which came close to failure last year, is repaired and workingSan Francisco Chronicle
A leaking dam that prompted evacuations in the Sierra foothills during an intense rainstorm last year has been repaired and is again storing drinking water for 2.7 million Bay Area residents, San Francisco water officials said Monday.  San Franicisco’s Public Utilities Commission spent almost $22 million over the past year repairing and reinforcing Moccasin Dam in Tuolumne County.  The California Department of Water Resources Division of Safety of Dams inspected the project and gave permission to reopen the dam.

June 10, 2019

Toxic drinking water is a public health crisis.  Here’s a path to urgent action The Sacramento Bee
Acknowledging the lack of support for a tax, a state Senate budget subcommittee has proposed moving ahead with Senate Bill 200 which would allocate $150 million a year from the general fund for clean water.  While tax revenues are streaming into the state’s general fund at record levels, why not channel some of it towards this major public health crisis?  What’s the value of an overflowing rainy day fund when your people can’t even drink the water from their taps?


Did CalPERS mislead policyholders on long-term care insurance?  Trial begins on a $1.2 billion lawsuitThe Fresno Bee
A $1.2 billion lawsuit that could affect up to about 100,000 seniors who had CalPERS long-term care insurance plans goes to trial Monday.  The class-action lawsuit claims the California Public Employees’ Retirement System violated insurance policy terms when it increased premiums by 85 percent in 2015 and 2016 after promising policyholders stability.


High-speed rail route took land from farmers. The money they’re owed hasn’t arrived Los Angeles Times
Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, farmers have similar high-speed rail stories: The state takes their land with a court order while it haggles over the price.  But farmers often face out-of-pocket costs for lost production, road replacement, repositioning of irrigation systems and other expenses, which the state agrees to pay before the final settlement.  Those payments and even some payments for land have stretched out to three years.  One problem was the agency’s decision to award construction contracts with only 15% of the rail design completed, a so-called design-build approach.  The authority’s unusual relationship with consultants is another issue.


Richmond-San Rafael Bridge congestion relief lauded as planning continuesMarin Independent-Journal
Caltrans recently received the nonprofit California Transportation Foundation’s “Freeway/Expressway Project of the Year” award for 2018 for opening a congestion-relieving third eastbound lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  Caltrans estimates the eastbound third lane has saved drivers a combined 900,000 hours in travel time, or about 37,500 days.  Now local officials want Caltrans to do the same thing for westbound commuters.

June 6, 2019

With large Sierra snowpack, DWR could soon release water over the Oroville Dam spillwayChico Enterprise-Record
Recent rains and snow pack could force California’s Department of Water Resources to release Oroville Dam’s main spillway as early as next week.


Key Transportation Projects at Stake if California Loses Clean Air Battle with TrumpTimes of San Diego
Unrelenting commutes.  Lost construction jobs. A statewide economic shudder.  Prepare for all three if California loses its clean air battle with the Trump administration.


Probe to Examine Alleged ‘Sweetheart Deals’ Tied to California High Speed Rail ProjectNBC Bay Area
The top private contractor for California’s High Speed Rail project now finds itself at the center of a state investigation for allegedly giving sweetheart deals.  The top consultant has been suspended from the project while California’s Fair Political Practices Commission investigates a potential conflict of interest in the latest episode in a string of scandals and political clashes for the controversial venture.


California prison guards get a raise in tentative deal with Gavin Newsom’s administrationThe Sacramento Bee
California state correctional officers would get a 3 percent raise under a tentative agreement the officers’ union has reached with the state.  The agreement, which still requires approval from union members and the Legislature, would last one year, expiring in July 2020, according to the tentative agreement posted to CalHR’s website Tuesday.

June 3, 2019

250,000 CalPERS members at risk of ‘surprise’ medical bills – The Sacramento Bee
About 250,000 people with CalPERS health insurance are at risk of receiving “surprise” medical bills that many other policyholders are shielded from. Their PPO plans leave them subject to an insurance company practice known as “balance billing,” which is the subject of a state proposal meant to protect consumers that passed the Assembly this week. At risk are CalPERS members with PERS Choice, PERS Select and PERS Care PPO plans.


Caltrans Director Retiring After 36 Years With DepartmentTechwire
The head of California’s Department of Transportation, who led a spirited campaign to preserve the state’s gas tax hike and fix its roads, will step down at the end of June.


License to PumpWater in the West
As California works to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Stanford’s Water in the West program has developed an online dashboard that compares local groundwater withdrawal permitting – a common tool used by resource managers to limit groundwater pumping – to help state, regional, and local officials plan for a more sustainable future.


Replacing the Gerald Desmond BridgeRLN.com
Replacing the Gerald Desmond Bridge is one of Long Beach’s least controversial projects. The landmark 50-year-old bridge, which spans the Port of Long Beach’s Back Channel, is simply no longer up to handling today’s road and harbor traffic.

May 2019

May 30, 2019

Nearly half of state-owned office buildings outside Sacramento would be up for sale under new planThe Sacramento Bee
The department in charge of California’s state-owned buildings wants to sell or get rid of nearly half its office buildings outside Sacramento, according to a newly published plan.  State workers in San Jose, Fresno and San Diego would be affected soonest, according to a Department of General Services proposal that calls for disposing of nine of 21 state-owned buildings around the state.


California infrastructure rated 10th worst in the nationU.S. News & World Report
California’s state transportation infrastructure ranks 41st among the 50 states, according to a recent U.S. News & World Report assessment.  The publication considered  2019 and 2017 data on average commute times (California ranked 46th), public transit usage (9th), road quality (48th), and bridge quality (19th).  Nevada’s infrastructure ranked 1st, followed by Utah and Delaware.


Some California Officials Worry State Can’t Train Every Employee On Sexual Harassment PreventionCapitol Public Radio
California’s top state human resources official worries that agencies will struggle to comply with a law requiring nearly every private and public employee in the state receive sexual harassment training starting next year.  “What concerns me is the logistics of the Herculean effort to get 220,000 [state workers] trained,” said Eraina Ortega, director of the state Department of Human Resources. Ortega says she’s most concerned about large agencies, like the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Transportation, that have many employees across the state.

May 28, 2019

Why California’s air board won’t ban gas-powered cars yet CALmatters
Mary Nichols, the powerful head of the California Air Resources Board, didn’t even need to explicitly threaten a ban on gas-powered cars last week to get the attention of carmakers.  The warning was only in her prepared statements for a workshop with the state Transportation Commission.  But the remarks, obtained by Bloomberg, hit headlines and the industry took notice.  That was the point.


Butte County concerned over lake levelsChico Enterprise-Record
Butte County leaders, worried that Lake Oroville will receive a record snow runoff this year, say that the Department of Water Resources should now release water from the Oroville Dam.  The department says it doesn’t anticipate the need to do so, citing an operations plan formed in consultation with federal authorities that takes the snow melt and weather forecasts into account.  That plan allows the lake’s water level to rise during late spring and summer.


California retirees are facing another hot election over who manages their pensionsThe Sacramento Bee
In the last two years, a former CalPERS board member known for his sharp criticism of the nation’s largest public pension fund worked to unseat two of its leaders in tense elections.  Now, J.J. Jelincic is running his own campaign to return to the board that manages the $360 billion fund.  He’s challenging Henry Jones, an incumbent who is the first African American man to lead the CalPERS Board of Administration as its president.  He’s a former chief financial officer of Los Angeles Unified School District.


Using California gas tax to reduce traffic lanes? Not how it should be spent, some sayLos Angeles Times
Two years after state lawmakers boosted the gas tax with a promise to improve California streets, some cities have raised the ire of drivers by spending millions of the new dollars on “road diet” projects that reduce the number and size of lanes for motor vehicles.  Projects have touched off a debate as taxpayer advocates and motorists complain that the higher gas taxes they are paying for smoother trips will actually fund projects that increase traffic congestion.

May 23, 2019

On high-speed rail, Newsom cuts deal to protect federal grant while lawsuit proceedsLos Angeles Times
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday he had reached an agreement with the Trump administration not to redirect funds from a high-speed rail grant while California’s lawsuit against the federal government proceeds.


Death by consultantThe Week
Last month, the Los Angeles Times published a devastating exposé of one of the problems dragging down the California high-speed rail project: consultants.  Now 13 years behind schedule and $44 billion over budget, the story demonstrates a fundamental problem with modern American governance — lack of basic state capacity.  A government must have in-house expertise if it is to undertake difficult, complicated projects.  The first step to getting some is to stop this reliance on private companies to do the state’s job for it.


Transit agencies in Orange, Riverside counties headed for showdown over 241, 91 toll lane connectionThe Orange County Register
Caltrans recently received a 23-page letter from Riverside County transportation officials about all the things they think are wrong with plans for bridges that would let toll road drivers bypass lanes of traffic to get between the 241 and 91 freeways.  The state agency and toll road officials say they’re taking seriously those concerns – also shared by Orange County’s transit agency – as they decide whether to start designing the $180 million ramps, but “as of now we are moving forward with the project,” department spokesman David Matza said.


Sonoma Coast erosion forces Highway 1 lane closure, with a long-term fix years outThe Press Democrat (Santa Rosa)
A stretch of southbound Highway 1 on the Sonoma Coast at risk of failure from coastal erosion for two decades has finally been abandoned — the cracked and sagging western-most lane shut down for good last week.  Abundant winter rainfall and regular wave action undercutting the deteriorating bluffs at Gleason Beach have finally made the affected lane too dangerous for traffic, triggering the emergency closure and switch to a single, shared lane for all travelers, Caltrans said.

May 20, 2019

Trump administration cancels $929 million contract for California bullet trainThe Sacramento Bee
In a dramatic move, the Trump administration announced Thursday it has canceled a nearly billion-dollar funding contract with the California bullet train, throwing the state’s troubled high-speed rail project further in doubt.


Risk level raised on integrity of dam in Southern CaliforniaSan Francisco Chronicle
Engineers are raising alarms that a “significant flood event” could compromise the spillway of Southern California’s aging Prado Dam and potentially inundate dozens of Orange County communities from Disneyland to Newport Beach.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates it will cost roughly $600 million in federal funds to upgrade the Whittier Narrows facility, which has been reclassified as the agency’s highest priority nationally because of the risk of “very significant loss of life and economic impacts.”


Caltrans to Replace Hat Creek Bridge in Shasta CountyCBS 12
Caltrans is working with Steelhead Constructors, Inc. to replace the Hat Creek Bridge in Shasta County, starting in June.  The $6.2-million project is funded in part by Senate Bill 1.


Bill aims to secure funding for Coronado Bridge suicide barrierFox 5
A bill that looks to secure funding for a suicide barrier along the Coronado Bridge is expected to go before the full California State Senate this week.

May 16, 2019

CalPERS health insurance rates could climb as much as 24 percent next yearThe Sacramento Bee
The premiums state workers and retired public employees pay for CalPERS health insurance are projected to go up 7.2 percent on average next year, with premiums for specific plans increasing as much as 24 percent, according to preliminary estimates published Tuesday.


One less tax.  California lawmakers move to reject Gavin Newsom’s water feeThe Sacramento Bee
A Senate budget subcommittee rejected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s water tax plan on Wednesday, instead recommending finding $150 million elsewhere to finance a safe and affordable drinking water fund.  Newsom proposed the tax in his January budget to help communities clean contaminated water systems.  His May budget revise also included a fee to address the statewide problem that affects one million Californians.


Oroville Dam spillway concerns?  DWR says noThe Mercury News
The California Department of Water Resources released a Lake Oroville community update on Monday afternoon amid rumors of ongoing safety concerns regarding the Oroville Dam’s main spillway. These rumors have been circulated mostly on Facebook, according to DWR Public Information Officer Elizabeth Whitmore. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said in a statement, ““Based upon (meeting with local officials) I don’t believe there is a current imminent threat.”


5 Freeway project, hampered by winter weather, has new finish dateLos Angeles Times
Caltrans is slowly but surely making progress on its 5 Freeway improvement project, specifically the Empire Avenue underpass that will connect Empire to North San Fernando Boulevard. In September, Caltrans officials anticipated the Empire interchange project would be partially open by January and fully completed in July. However, rainstorms caused delays and have pushed the timetable back several months.

May 13, 2019

Caltrans Breaks Ground on Interstate 5 Project – CBS
Caltrans broke ground Thursday, for the Redding to Anderson six-lane expansion project.  “It is a very big project in District 2, one of the biggest projects ever designed and built north of Sacramento,” said PECG member Travis Gurney, a project engineer.


How California Is Fixing Angeles Crest Highway After Its Worst Landslide in DecadesThe Drive
In February, about 10 million pounds of the San Gabriel Mountains came crashing down on Angeles Crest Highway, where it became Christopher Harris’ problem.  Harris, a Caltrans Senior Geologist and PECG member, is tasked with protecting State Route 2, which means he is locked in an endless battle with a mountain range that is actively trying to destroy the 66-mile highway.


SANDAG Completes Trio of Road, Bike and Rail Projects in EncinitasTimes of San Diego
The San Diego Association of Governments, Caltrans, and other state and local agency partners have completed a trio of projects in Encinitas spanning three modes of transportation.  The projects, funded by the TransNet half-cent sales tax, are part of the larger North Coast Corridor program, which includes widening of Interstate 5.


DOT-California Relationship on Bullet Train Is Crumbling – Government Technology/Los Angeles Times
The California bullet train project, for much of the last decade, enjoyed no more important partner than the U.S. Department of Transportation.  For nearly two years after he was elected, President Trump did not actively target the California bullet train, and actually supported the concept of U.S. high-speed rail.  But the “switch flipped” last fall on the state project, according to one official close to the matter, when the Federal Railroad Administration rejected invoices, including those for the state’s chief consultant, WSP.


ASCE Releases Infrastructure Grades for Iowa and CaliforniaTransport Topics
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ newly released infrastructure report cards for California and Iowa reveal the condition of those states’ underlying frameworks are just average.  California earned an overall C- on its May 7 report card, marking a slight drop from the C received previously in 2012.   The state’s roads, however, earned a D.

May 9, 2019

Caltrans manager commuted from San Diego to Sacramento for 2 years. Taxpayers paid the billThe Fresno Bee
The state paid for a Caltrans manager to commute from San Diego to Sacramento for work for two years, according to a California State Auditor’s report published Tuesday.  The manager, who isn’t named in the audit, was reimbursed for about $30,000 in airfare and car rentals plus $12,000 for meals, lodging and other costs from 2016 through 2018, according to the audit.


Don’t panic, but California has yet another water problemLos Angeles Times
A recent study notes high levels of arsenic, plus numerous other contaminants that may be more toxic in combination than they are separately, in California tap water.  According to the report, the tainted water could cause more than 200 cases of cancer a year.  The problem is very serious — but not necessarily statewide.  The so-called water tax would provide enough funding chiefly for those water systems with more pollutants than government standards allow.


Plan to widen Hwy. 101 too risky for giant redwoods on North Coast, court tells CaltransThe Sacramento Bee
A controversial Caltrans plan to widen a stretch of Highway 101 through a popular state park on California’s North Coast and home to ancient stands of old-growth redwoods was blocked again by a federal judge last week who said the project would threaten the mighty trees.


California high speed rail project cost grows to $79 billionThe Hill
The estimated cost of California’s high-speed rail project has grown to $79 billion, according to the latest High-Speed Rail Authority report.  The segment already under construction in the Central Valley is now expected to cost $12.4 billion, up from $10.6 billion.

May 6, 2019

California Governor Makes Big Change to Giant Water ProjectAssociated Press
California Gov. Gavin Newsom scrapped a $16 billion plan last week to build two giant water tunnels to reroute the state’s water system and instead directed state agencies to restart planning for a single tunnel.


Feds Step in, Make 10 Freeway Express Lanes in San Bernardino County a Step Closer to RealityMSN
Building pay lanes along the 10 Freeway in San Bernardino County just got a step closer to reality.  The county transportation authority last Thursday announced it was awarded a $225 million federal loan to be put toward the $929 million project.


Bullet Train has 4 Route Options Around One California Town as Foes Plan Court AppealThe Fresno Bee
It’s been seven years since the California High-Speed Rail Authority approved its proposed bullet-train route between Fresno and Merced – except for a stretch of about 20 miles through or around Chowchilla.  On Friday, the rail agency released a draft of its environmental analysis of four potential route options for its 220-mph trains to skirt the city.  That same day, an attorney for high-speed rail foes in Hanford announced plans to renew a court battle against the rail agency over its use of bond money to build the rail line through the San Joaquin Valley.


‘Culture of Corruption’ Alleged at CHP’s East LA Station; Officers Fight Back LAist
At issue is whether East LA officers fraudulently recorded their hours on the job when working voluntary overtime on Caltrans worksites – hours that were then billed to Caltrans.  “We take this matter very seriously,” Caltrans said in a statement. “Once the criminal investigation [of CHP officers] is complete, any misconduct by Caltrans employees will be investigated.”  Accused officers have hired their own attorneys, who contend there was “no criminal wrongdoing.”

May 2, 2019

Newsom says he has a fresh approach to California’s longtime water woesLos Angeles Times
Newsom wants to reexamine practically everything the state has been working on — meaning what former Gov. Jerry Brown was doing — and piece together a grand plan for California’s future that can draw the support of longtime water warriors.


State Assemblyman Calling for Investigation into California High-Speed Rail ConsultantsKRON
It’s billions over budget and more than a decade behind schedule and now, Assemblyman Jim Patterson is calling for an investigation into the state high speed rail project’s private consultants.  The rail authority, he said, is “making it up as (they) go along, handing over the decisions to handle billions of dollars of public money to private consultants who had everything to gain by telling us they were doing just fine.”


Chunks of Concrete Fall From Interstate 80 in San FranciscoNBC Bay Area
Chunks of concrete on a sidewalk prompted San Francisco police and Caltrans to shut down a stretch of roadway underneath Interstate 80 near the Bay Bridge Tuesday.  Police officers driving by noticed the concrete pieces around 6 p.m., immediately closed off the area and called for help.  Caltrans inspected the portion of the overpass located over Harriet Street near the Hall of Justice in San Francisco and determined it was safe.


More Turnover at California Pension Board: Gavin Newsom Appoints Transgender Woman to CalPERSThe Sacramento Bee
A transgender California city councilwoman is joining the CalPERS Board of Administration, becoming the fifth new member leading the nation’s largest pension fund this year.  Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Lisa Middleton, 66, of Palm Springs, to the seat representing local governments on the 13-member board, according to a Tuesday news release.  Middleton was the first openly transgender person in the state to win election to a nonjudicial office.


Yuba Water Agency, DWR Launch Research to Enhance Reservoir OptionsWater World
Yuba Water Agency launched an initiative with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography to improve storm and runoff forecasting, and significantly reduce flood risk though enhanced operations of New Bullards Bar and Oroville dams.

April 2019

April 29, 2019

SANDAG Wants More Rail, Managed Lanes In Transportation PlanKPBS
San Diego County transportation officials Friday unveiled a framework for its next regional transportation plan, but it does not include several freeway widening projects that some elected officials have been pushing for more than a decade.


One Of The Biggest Caltrans Construction Projects Begins This Summer On I-5CBS Sacramento
Get ready for one of the biggest road construction projects in California history.  It’s coming to the I-5 corridor in early July along with another project.


Caltrans Launches Work Zone Speed Reduction InitiativeConstruction Pros
The California Department of Transportation announced three new safety initiatives to improve highway work zone safety: lowering work-zone speed limits, allowing more space between workers and traffic and expanding work “time windows” to give work crews more flexibility to work safer and get projects done faster, lessening the impact of roadway work on motorists.


California Eyes More Bullet-Train Funds Despite Federal ClawbackBloomberg
The federal government is seeking to claw back billions in funds for a contentious California high-speed rail project.  That’s not stopping the head of the agency running it from seeking even more federal financing.  Lenny Mendonca, the chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said last week that he expects there to be more federal support once the state completes an initial segment under construction in the interior agricultural region known as the Central Valley.

April 25, 2019

Newsom Names New Transportation Agency Head, High-Speed Rail CFOSCVNews.com
Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday the appointments of David S. Kim as secretary of the California State Transportation Agency and Brian C. Annis as the chief financial officer of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.


Caltrans ‘Pauses’ Big MacArthur Maze Project After Blasts From Cities, ResidentsKQED
A Caltrans plan to rebuild portions of the MacArthur Maze to accommodate larger trucks has hit a roadblock, for now.  Angry local officials and community groups say the agency failed to tell them the project was coming and performed only a cursory study of its potentially far-reaching environmental effects.  Caltrans said it would pause its Maze plans to allow time for more local input.


Another Major Hwy. 1 Mudslide ‘Could Happen Now’ as Crews Continue Work in Big Sur The San Luis Obispo Tribune
When the slippery slope above Big Sur’s Mud Creek slid catastrophically on May 20, 2017, scientists already had been tracking the earth’s movement there for decades.  Now authorities warn that other landslide-prone areas nearby aren’t out of the woods yet, especially as surface soil along the steep ocean-front slopes dries out and loses its capacity to hold back the heavier, soaked earth underneath.


California State Workers Could Bring Babies to Work Under New Proposal – The Sacramento Bee
An Assembly bill would create a pilot program authorizing state departments to let new parents or caregivers bring babies to work starting at six weeks old.  The infants would be allowed in the workplace until they reach six months old or until they begin to crawl, according to the proposal.  The pilot program would be voluntary for departments and would run from January 2020 through January 2022.

April 22, 2019

Caltrans Ready to Make Push on the Reconstruction of Highway 101 Between Eureka and ArcataThe Lost Coast Outpost
It looks as though Caltrans is preparing a big push forward on its years-in-the-making effort to rebuild Highway 101 between Eureka and Arcata, along what we’ve grown accustomed to calling “the safety corridor.”


How Gov. Gavin Newsom is progressing on his key policy promises for CaliforniaLos Angeles Times
A review of policy and program promises made, and actions taken or not taken, by Governor Gavin Newsom during his first 100 days in office — including High-Speed Rail and the Water Fix and Eco Restore tunnels for the State Water Project.


California bill would keep government contractors from hiding numbersCalifornia EPeak
A proposal making its way through the California legislature,  Senate Bill 749, would make plain that information in state or local outsourcing contracts about job creation, are covered by the California Public Records Act.  The measure would, for example, prevent the kind of problem that arose in Texas three years ago when the state sought to block a journalist from seeing traffic projections for a privately built toll road project.  Other financial matters, such as contractors’ wages and their compliance with Buy America laws, also would be subject to disclosure.

April 18, 2019

State treasurer announces sale of $299.6 million in bonds for State Water ProjectLake County News
California State Treasurer Fiona Ma has announced the competitive sale this week of $299.6 million in California Department of Water Resources water system revenue bonds to refinance certain State Water Project capital improvements, including a portion of the costs of the Oroville Dam Spillways Response, Recovery and Restoration Project.


Rare ‘toxic cocktail’ from Camp Fire is poisoning Paradise water.  It could cost $300 million to fix.The Sacramento Bee
The discovery was as surprising as it was ominous.  Weeks after the Camp Fire roared through Butte County last November, devouring entire towns, officials made an alarming find: The Paradise drinking water is now laced with benzene, a volatile compound linked to cancer.  “It is jaw dropping,” said Dan Newton, a Principal Water Resource Control Engineer with the State Water Resources Control Board.  “This is such a huge scale. None of us were prepared for this.”


California Bullet-Train Agency Eyes Central Valley-Only Service, for NowCourthouse News Service
The California High-Speed Rail Authority indicated Tuesday it is likely to recommend approval of interim rail service connecting Central Valley cities before expanding the service to Los Angeles and San Francisco as funding becomes available.  For proponents of high-speed rail in California, the news does not bode well for the project’s future.


Caltrans plans $158M bridge replacement for Highway 99Elk Grove Citizen
The California Department of Transportation plans to replace the Cosumnes River bridges and the Cosumnes River overflow bridges along Highway 99.  The project is a $158 million endeavor that would be funded through Senate Bill 1.


CalPERS bill for California state worker pensions set to reach $7 billion next yearThe Sacramento Bee
California state government’s bill for public employee pensions is set to rise by $676 million. CalPERS on Tuesday advanced a scheduled increase in employer contribution rates, bringing the state’s total bill for the 2019-2020 budget year to about $7 billion.  That money comes out of taxes and fees collected by the state and is part of the compensation promised to state workers.

April 15, 2019

North Bay’s Highway 37 Is Going to Be a Serious Climate MessKQED
Every day, 46,000 people drive Highway 37, the scenic route that connects Marin County with Vallejo, Napa and just about everywhere east. This thread, though essential, is also tenuous in that it’s strung atop a berm barely above sea level. Traversing the vast salt marshes known as the San Pablo Baylands, the 21-mile stretch is emerging as an early challenge to planners confronting California’s changing climate.


Divestiture politics roils pensions, investmentsCapitol Weekly
The retired Assistant City Manager of Tustin, California, argues that Assembly Bill 33, which would require that CalPERS and CalSTRS divest from private corrections companies, is supported by “politicians hoping to score cheap political points.”


Nepotism investigations spur questions for California state workers: where is it happening?The Sacramento Bee
Parents often want their children to follow in their footsteps, but as a recent state auditor’s report on nepotism shows, in government that can sometimes be a problem. Look for the issue to surface more frequently than it used to because former Gov. Jerry Brown expanded the State Personnel Board’s authority to investigate nepotism and publish its findings.

April 11, 2019

‘A fiasco from the beginning’ — Caltrans’ costs soar on $1.1 billion San Francisco tunnelsThe Sacramento Bee
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger celebrated when the California Transportation Commission voted, despite a host of warnings from PECG and government analysts, to pay a contractor more than $1 billion to build two tunnels on a stretch of road outside San Francisco nine years ago.  Now the Presidio Parkway project is more than two years late and $208 million over budget, including another $34 million in delay-related spending last month.  And Caltrans is obligated to pay the contractor up to $40 million annually for 33 years for a total of $1.3 billion.  “That’s hundreds of projects that could be built in every part of the state that will not be built because they’re paying for a project in San Francisco that’s two to three times as much as it should have been,” said Ted Toppin, Professional Engineers in California Government’s executive director.


CalPERS Investment Committee Rejects Tobacco Reinvestment AgainChief Investment Officer
The investment committee of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has rejected a proposal for the largest US retirement fund to consider reinvesting in tobacco stocks.


Thousands of Bridges In ‘Urgent Need of Repairs’Route Fifty
California has 1,812 structurally-deficient bridges, according to a new report by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the seventh-most nationwide.  Still, the Golden State has rehabilitated 576 bridges that had been structurally deficient, ranking it fourth in fix ups behind Pennsylvania (1,199), Oklahoma (900), and Indiana (593). Researchers using the latest data available from the federal government’s National Bridge Inventory Database say that 47,000 bridges in America urgently need repairs.


Bay Area lawmaker demands new Richmond-San Rafael bridgeCurbed San Francisco
On April Fools’ Day, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt pranked constituents with a phony announcement claiming that the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge would soon close and would perhaps need to be replaced. Days later, California Assemblymember Marc Levine of San Rafael demanded that Butt’s gag come true, after the span needed emergency repairs for the second time this year.

April 8, 2019

More concrete falls from upper deck of San Rafael-Richmond Bridge, CHP saysMarin Independent Journal
More concrete fell from the upper deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last Friday afternoon, prompting a temporary closure of some eastbound lanes on the lower deck. Caltrans said the fallen concrete resulted from ongoing construction work to replace expansion joints on the upper deck. The construction is itself a response to an earlier incident in February in which a failed bridge joint caused chunks of concrete to fall on the lower deck.


Will CalPERS board shake-up continue this year? – Calpensions
A former CalPERS board member, J.J. Jelincic, plans to run against the current CalPERS board president, seeking a comeback fourth 4-year term on the board of the nation’s largest pension system.


SCAG appoints Ajise executive directorProgressive Railroading
The Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments last week approved appointing former Caltrans chief deputy director, Kome Ajise, as executive director.

April 4, 2019

A California tax to clean up toxic drinking water has lawmakers jumpyLos Angeles Times
The water tax will require a two-thirds vote in each house. Governor Gavin Newsom says the tiny tax is needed to raise enough money to clean up toxic drinking water throughout California, particularly in low-income farmworker communities of the San Joaquin Valley.


Calif. spillway passes first test since reconstructionAssociated Press
Officials opened Oroville Dam’s main spillway because of the growing snowpack that will melt into California’s waterways and storms expected this week. With the increased rain and a snowpack not seen in years, water managers are beginning to discuss how best to manage and operate reservoirs.


Longtime Marin transportation leader Dianne Steinhauser to retireMarin Independent Journal
From her early career with Caltrans as one of the few women engineers in the Bay Area to her role in managing billions of transportation dollars for Marin County, Dianne Steinhauser has seen it all when it comes to the world of transportation. After a nearly 40-year career, Steinhauser is set to officially retire in October.


Bay Area’s most structurally-deficient bridge is in East Bay, report saysKRON
According to a recently published report, the worst bridge in the Bay Area is on I-680 over Monument Boulevard in Concord. That bridge is also in the top 10 in California of the most traveled on deficient bridges. It was built in 1998 and about 235,000 people drive over it on average per day.

April 2, 2019

Two years and $1.1 billion later, water flows down Oroville Dam spillway – The Sacramento Bee
Oroville Dam’s main flood-control spillway reopened for business Tuesday morning, releasing a gentle sheet of water into the Feather River for the first time since the 2017 crisis that sent 188,000 people fleeing for their lives. It was a far cry from the scene two years ago, when the massive sinkhole in the spillway turned water releases into an angry, boiling mess that sparked the evacuation and ultimately destroyed the lower half of the structure and much of an adjoining hillside.


California state worker contract negotiations kick off with 3-minute meeting The Sacramento Bee
State worker contract negotiations for the year officially began Friday with a three-minute meeting between the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians, and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association to exchange “sunshine package” proposals with CalHR. The proposals list in the broadest terms the types of benefits each side plans to address in negotiations. The unions used language such as “will propose general salary increases,” while the state simply listed all of the articles in each union’s contract without mentioning anything it is seeking.


Californians worry about public pensions, but not as much as they used toThe Sacramento Bee
Fewer Californians appear concerned about public spending on pensions than in past years, according to a Public Policy Institute of California poll. Sixty-three percent of adults said the amount of money state and local governments are spending on public employee pensions is either a big problem or somewhat of a problem, according to poll results released last week. That’s the lowest percentage expressing that level of concern since 2005, pollsters said.


California hiked its gas tax for road repairs, yet ‘poor’ bridges have multiplied, data showLos Angeles Times
The state has spent $121 million in SB 1 funds on bridge repair and replacement so far, but some elected officials say the work isn’t happening quickly enough, while new data from the Federal Highway Administration indicates the number of California bridges in “poor” condition is increasing.  Caltrans officials blame the worsening statistics on a lag in inspections, the aging of the state’s bridges and the fact that repairs can take up to five years to complete.

March 2019

March 28, 2019

Rebuilt Oroville Dam spillway could be used next week after storm hits. Is it ready? – The Sacramento Bee
Water may cascade down Oroville Dam’s rebuilt spillway next week for the first time since a massive crater formed in its nearly half-mile long surface two years ago — a major milestone in the saga that triggered the evacuation of 188,000 people and a $1.1 billion repair job to the country’s tallest dam.  A storm forecast to hit this week is expected to fill Lake Oroville to the point that state dam operators might need to open the spillway gates to manage lake levels, state officials said Tuesday.


Transportation Commission approves more than $90 Million to improve highways and reduce congestionLake County Record-Bee
Caltrans announced the California Transportation Commission allocated $758.1 million for 91 State Highway Operation and Protection Program projects throughout California, including $90.4 million for 26 fix-it-first projects funded by Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017. This funding allows crews to improve 21 bridges and more than 189 lane miles of pavement, upgrade 292 congestion reducing devices, and repair or replace 81 culverts to prevent flooding on highways.


Troubled Richmond-San Rafael Bridge suffers another failure San Francisco Chronicle
Reports of a pothole on the left westbound lane of the upper deck sent transportation officials scrambling around 9 a.m. Monday after concrete had peeled off the deck to expose rebar underneath. The problem surfaced just as crews were starting a three-month project to replace 61 expansion joints on the 63-year-old structure.


Nepotism investigation finds state executive got her daughter a job, undermined auditThe Sacramento Bee
A former California state government executive under investigation for alleged nepotism sought to undermine a state audit and helped her daughter win promotions that violated state civil service rules, according to a report released Tuesday. Although the audit does not name individuals or identify departments, the timeline of events described in the report coincides with publicly available information describing the retirement last year of former Department of Industrial Relations Director Christine Baker.

March 25, 2019

How Fast Can CalPERS’ $360 Billion Grow?Bloomberg Businessweek
Ben Meng helped run China’s $3 trillion pension reserve fund, but his new job as CalPERS’ new chief investment officer could be harder.


Work to Widen ‘Mathilda Monster’ Begins Near 101/237 Interchange in SunnyvaleKPIX
Work has officially begun to improve a notorious stretch of roadway dubbed the “Mathilda Monster” by commuters who get stuck in the swirling knot of cars near the intersection of state Highway 237 and U.S. 101. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Caltrans held a groundbreaking ceremony on a $42 million project they hope will ease congestion at the infamous intersection.


State plans new 4-lane expressway for Rte. 25SanBenito.com
Instead of just adding two lanes to the existing State Route 25 between Hollister and Gilroy, Caltrans officials are proposing the construction of a new four-lane expressway, using the current two-lane highway as a parallel frontage road.


Opinion: Finally, a new path toward managing water, rivers and the DeltaCALmatters
A case for resetting (instead of merely tinkering with) the patchwork of rules that govern the Delta and our river watersheds.

March 21, 2019

CalPERS moving forward with $20 billion expansion of its private equity investmentsThe Sacramento Bee
CalPERS is preparing to significantly increase its stake in privately held companies, moving to create two new ventures that could invest up to $20 billion outside of publicly-traded stock markets. The pension fund’s investment committee on Monday voted 10-3 to move forward with the proposal to create two limited liability companies and hire a fund manager to control new investments in private companies.  The plan has given pause to some board members and the public, whose concerns have included the lack of public disclosure, high consultant fees, and the private-sector layoffs and cost-cutting that comes with private equity investing.


New CalPERS leader wants pension fund to put its money back into tobacco – The Sacramento Bee
CalPERS’ newest elected board member floated a proposal this week, asking the pension fund to consider investing in tobacco, an industry that CalPERS abandoned 18 years ago. Jason Perez, a Corona police officer who was elected to the pension board in October, put forward the motion during a meeting of the fund’s investment committee Monday.  Board members Margaret Brown and Dana Hollinger supported the proposal to consider reinvesting in tobacco, but the rest of the 13-member committee rejected it.


Petaluma section of Highway 101 Marin-Sonoma Narrows set for 2022 finish with $85 million in funding – Santa Rosa Press Democrat
The California Transportation Commission last week formally allocated the money to the two-county road project, which will complete a third lane from Windsor to the Marin County line. The funding was threatened last year by the potential repeal of a tax hike created by Senate Bill 1, but California voters defeated the measure in November with 57 percent opposition.


Proposal for Highway 37 toll bridge moves forwardSolano Daily Republic
Agencies trying to fix flooding problems on Highway 37 hope to get legislation that would turn the stretch from Sears Point to Mare Island into a state-owned toll bridge.  The legislation could result in the “bridge” (it’s really more like a low-lying levee) being created without the need to go to the voters for approval on the toll, according to a regional transportation official.


Repairs on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge will take longer than expectedKTVU
Fixing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge will take much longer than anticipated because Caltrans decided to expand the project from replacing one expansion joint to replacing 63. Nearly 800 expansion joints were replaced in the early 2000s, but there are some original ones left from the 1950s when the bridge was built. Those original joints will now be replaced including 33 on the upper deck and 30 on the lower deck, Caltrans said.

March 18, 2019

Higher risk, higher returns? New CalPERS strategy would use non-public employeesThe Sacramento Bee
The CalPERS board will decide this week whether to move forward with a controversial plan to boost investment earnings with a higher-risk, higher-return strategy that comes with little opportunity for public scrutiny. The state retirement fund’s new chief investment officer has pitched the plan, which involves investing up to $20 billion more in private companies that specialize in buying businesses, often stripping them of costs and jobs, and then selling them for a profit. The proposal would allow private-sector fund managers to work with CalPERS and receive wages and bonuses running into the millions of dollars, all without public disclosure.


The Bay Area’s 11 biggest transportation projectsSan Francisco Chronicle
As more people come to the Bay Area and the trips to and from work become longer, commuters frequently find themselves white-knuckling the steering wheel, jostling for space on a bus or train, or simply dreaming of better days. While the problem of overcrowding on public transit and highways is unlikely to be solved any time soon, here are 11 major transportation projects that should improve the daily commute.


Caltrans begins tearing down Pomona homes along 71 Freeway expansion projectInland Valley Daily Bulletin
Caltrans workers have started the work to demolish some of the 17 homes needed to make way for the long-awaited 71 Freeway expansion in Pomona.


Judge says lawsuit’s claims of racism, corruption at Oroville Dam can go forwardThe Sacramento Bee
Blockbuster claims in a lawsuit that a racist, sexist, corrupt culture contributed to the near-catastrophic failure of Oroville Dam two years ago can go forward, a Sacramento judge ruled Thursday.

March 14, 2019

California state workers in L.A., San Francisco should be paid more, new report findsThe Sacramento Bee
California state employees working in expensive cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles could receive higher pay under new recommendations from a task force made up of state officials and union representatives.


State Water Resources Control Board Reaches $6 Million Settlement With Metro – My News LA
The State Water Resources Control Board announced Monday it has reached a $6 million settlement with Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority over alleged violations in its storage of hazardous substances in underground tanks at 16 of the transit agency’s facilities.  The State Water Board’s Office of Enforcement began an investigation in July 2015 after alleged violations were identified during an inspection at a facility owned and operated by Metro.


Four years worth of construction projects coming to BakersfieldBakersfield Now
Caltrans announced a series of road improvement projects along Highways 58 and 99 that will be going on for the next four years. Officials said Monday the department is launching a total of seven projects in the area, totaling $450 million. The department expects to complete all of them by the end of 2022.


California agencies at odds over Colorado River drought planAssociated Press
A major Southern California water agency is trying to push the state through a final hurdle in joining a larger plan to preserve a key river in the U.S. West that serves 40 million people. Most of the seven states that get water from the Colorado River have signed off on plans to keep the waterway from crashing amid a prolonged drought, climate change and increased demands. But California and Arizona have not, missing deadlines from the federal government.

March 11, 2019

State union contracts are expiring. Gavin Newsom is picking a new bargaining teamThe Sacramento Bee
Gov. Gavin Newsom is replacing the state officials who handle union negotiations as California enters a busy year for collective bargaining. Last week he appointed a new director of CalHR, the department that sets state human resources policies and oversees contract negotiations. CalHR also emailed staff that Deputy Director Pam Manwiller had left her position.


California politicians at odds over what should happen to high-speed rail money – USA Today
Last month, the Trump Administration said it wanted California to return billions in federal high-speed rail money. U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa is sponsoring legislation to make that happen. LaMalfa said his High-Speed Refund Act would allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to redirect the money so it could be spent on important freight and highway projects such as widening Highway 70 in Northern California.


Almost 2 billion raised by gas tax for use by Caltrans this yearCBS 12 (Chico, Ca.)
SB1, the “Road Repair and Accountability Act” passed in 2017, will send $1.9 billion dollars in fiscal 2018-19 to Caltrans for infrastructure maintenance and improvements, and an expected $2.7 billion next year.


Trump’s FEMA disallows more than $300 million in funding for Oroville Dam repairsThe Sacramento Bee
FEMA said Friday it is rejecting a $306 million request by California officials to repair Oroville Dam’s flood-control spillways, representing nearly one-third of the costs the state incurred after the February 2017 crisis. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it wouldn’t reimburse California for costs related to the “upper gated spillway” because of pre-existing problems on the giant concrete structure. FEMA’s ruling means the costs will likely be borne by state water contractors that store water at Lake Oroville.


Genoa Bridge Collapse Throws Harsh Light on Private Contractor’s Highway BillionsThe New York Times
Long before the Morandi Bridge collapsed in Genoa, Italy, last year, killing 43 people, an economics professor named Marco Ponti took aim at the private company that managed the structure, raising two fundamental concerns. One was money. Mr. Ponti argued that Autostrade per l’Italia, or Highways for Italy, which managed the bridge and more than half of Italy’s 4,000 miles of toll roads, made “abnormal” profits. The other was the lopsided power balance between Autostrade and the Italian government. Mr. Ponti, who served on an expert panel advising the government, said ministries did too little to regulate the company. Taxpayers were being shorn “like flocks of sheep,” Mr. Ponti said in a newspaper interview in 2003.

March 7, 2019

What does the California Supreme Court pension ruling mean for you?The Sacramento Bee
The Bee’s Q&A on Cal Fire Local 2881 v. CalPERS, featuring video-recorded remarks about the case by PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin in his capacity as the new chairman of Californians for Retirement Security.


California state workers hoarding vacation days, creating $3.5-billion debt for taxpayers – Los Angeles Times
In a trend that stems from managers’ lax enforcement of the state’s cap on vacation accrual, more and more state workers are able to retire with massive payouts for unused vacation and other leave. That could become a budget breaker for California as an aging workforce heads into retirement.


California Collects Nearly A Trillion Gallons Of Water From February StormsKHTS (Santa Clarita)
Following last month’s storms, the state’s 67 major reservoirs are at 72 percent of their combined capacity, according to the Department of Water Resources.


Caltrans says it monitors Highway 1 cracksHalf Moon Bay Review
State transportation engineers are monitoring erosion on the cliff below Highway 1 near Gray Whale Cove after recent storms appear to threaten the roadway. Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss said transportation officials noticed cracks in the roadway and erosion near the southbound lane in April 2018 while investigating a car that went over the cliff nearby. He said Caltrans hydrologists and geologists have seen the site and are keeping a close eye on continuing erosion.


Oft-flooded Highway 37 in Northern California eyed for locally directed long-term solutionsNorth Bay Business Journal
A new agreement shifts oversight of the flood-prone Highway 37 from the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA).  The change is no mere bureaucratic shuffle. It could prove important, officials said, because it moves the highway’s oversight from a planning agency to the authority that collects tolls from Bay Area bridges (except the Golden Gate Bridge). Given Highway 37 falls under Caltrans’ authority, and involves several county transportation committees, having a point agency focused on financing and revenue could prove vital to getting years of construction projects off drawing boards.

March 4, 2019

California Supreme Court curbs a pension benefit but preserves ‘California Rule’ – Los Angeles Times
The California Supreme Court decided Monday that state government may rescind an employee benefit that enlarged pensions even after decades of rulings that have shielded public retirement plans from cuts. However, it did not alter or redefine a set of legal precedents that guarantee workers the pension benefits that were in place the day they were hired. Ted Toppin, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, expressed gratitude that the court left the so-called “California Rule” intact. “Thankfully, the decision protects the retirement security of California’s nurses, teachers, firefighters, school employees and countless other public servants and retirees dependent on their hard-earned pensions,” Toppin said.


Caltrans weighs options for MacArthur Maze renovations, including months-long closuresABC 7
As Caltrans plans to modernize Oakland’s MacArthur Maze, officials are considering at least one proposal that would close parts of the crucial link for months. That would require diverting freeway traffic onto surface streets, worsening the commute over the Bay Bridge for Bay Area drivers. Sections of the Maze need modifying so taller trucks can drive through the interchange.


DWR increasing releases from Hyatt Powerplant as Lake Oroville risesChico Enterprise-Record
The state Department of Water Resources is increasing releases from the Hyatt Powerplant with weather forecasts and water storage in mind.  Lake Oroville, which feeds water to the plant, currently sits at 801 feet and 10-day projections show it rising to 830 feet by March 11. The reservoir is at 62 percent of total capacity. The department has said use of the Oroville Dam spillway is unlikely; however, the department is preparing in case its use becomes necessary. The spillway can be utilized once water reaches its gates at 813 feet.


In Central Valley towns, California’s bullet train isn’t an idea: ‘It’s people’s lives’Los Angeles Times
When Annie Williams heard that California’s plan for high-speed rail had been scaled back to 119 miles through the Central Valley, her head jerked back. “Merced to Bakersfield? The good Lord himself can’t make sense of that,” she said. “After all our tears and making peace?”


Event guides students through state job application process  – The Connection (Cosumnes River College, Sacramento)
The California Department of Transportation sponsored an event on campus that would help demystify the state application process for prospective applicants on Feb. 21. Thirty students stopped by BS 153 so they could listen to current Caltrans employees talk about necessary steps to take when seeking government-related jobs.

February 2019

February 28, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom uses the power of appointments to shape government in his image Los Angeles Times
Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighted a highly significant but less visible power of his office in his first State of the State speech earlier this month: selecting appointees who can reshape California government in his image and help deliver on his ambitious policy agenda. The governor has already put his stamp on the High-Speed Rail Authority, California Natural Resources Agency and Water Resources Control Board with selections to top posts at each. Over the next four years, Newsom will have the opportunity to appoint more than 3,000 people to 32 government entities.


Solano supervisors commit another $70K in fight against Delta tunnels projectDaily Republic
Solano County is now fighting the California WaterFix tunnel project on three legal fronts – joining the opposition in a second “validation action” against the state Department of Water Resources. The unanimous decision to join most of the Delta counties was announced by County Counsel Dennis Bunting after a morning closed session Tuesday of the Board of Supervisors.


Granite awarded $22M Caltrans Highway 1 contract Better Roads
Granite announced that the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has awarded the company a $22 million contract for a Highway 1 project from North Aptos Underpass to Junction Route 9 in Santa Cruz, Calif.


Why Did California Build Such Tall Bridges Over Its High-Speed Train Tracks?Slate
On Feb. 17, the HSR watchdog Elizabeth Goldstein Alexis shared an interesting observation about the beleaguered project, which is currently under construction in the Central Valley. New bridges over the train tracks—mostly roads, which cross from one side to the other every couple miles or more often—were required to clear the top of the rails by 27 feet.

February 25, 2019

Richmond-San Rafael Bridge will get 61 joints replaced following mishapSan Francisco Chronicle
Engineers at the state’s Department of Transportation said Friday they will replace 61 joints on the troubled Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, where crumbling concrete struck a vehicle and caused a nine-hour shutdown this month.


An error-free state payroll? It’ll be at least four more years, controller saysThe Sacramento Bee
Before she leaves office in four years, State Controller Betty Yee wants to make progress on an elusive task in California state government: overhauling the state’s outdated and dysfunctional payroll system. “It’s a priority of my second term,” Yee said in an interview. “I want the damn thing started.”


Valentine’s Day storm damage closes Highway 26 until at least early MarchThe Union Democrat
(PECG member) Sheila Kirton, a Caltrans construction site inspector and engineer, last Thursday stood on Highway 26 in Calaveras County next to a 25-foot-high eroded slope of unstable red dirt looming above snow-speckled frozen mud, rocks and boulders. Record rainfall that District 10 staff are calling the “Valentine’s Day Deluge” had brought down tons of material on the road, she said, “and undermined paved roadway surfaces on the downhill side.”  A 2.5-mile-long section of Highway 26 will be closed about 10 miles east of Mokelumne Hill until at least early March.


L.A.’s ambitious goal: Recycle all of the city’s sewage into drinkable waterThe Los Angeles Times
In a dramatic shift for a city notorious for looking afar for most of its water, Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed last week that the city will be recycling all of its wastewater by 2035 and using it to reduce its need for imported supplies.


Auto Emission Talks Between White House and California Break Down – The Washington Post
Already-faltering negotiations between the Trump administration and California aimed at resolving a dispute over fuel-economy standards have broken down completely, according to a top Democratic lawmaker.

February 21, 2019

Permanent repairs begin on Richmond-San Rafael BridgeNBC News Bay Area
Repairs to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, damaged by falling concrete earlier this month, started Tuesday night and are expected to continue for two weeks, weather permitting.


My turn: How to lead California on waterCALmatters
Felicia Marcus is a public servant unknown to many Californians. But as she concludes her tenure as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, we owe her a debt of gratitude for consistently reaching for a balance between art and science, compassion and flexibility, and adherence to science and the law.


Big Pharma companies sue CalPERS, state prisons to block disclosure of drug pricesThe Sacramento Bee
CalPERS could be on the hook for attorneys’ fees after a Los Angeles County judge ruled that pharmaceutical companies don’t have to publicly disclose plans to raise drug prices, according to information CalPERS’ legal office presented to its Board of Administration this week.


How High-Speed Rail got caught between Newsom and TrumpThe New York Times
If you weren’t already confused about the status of California’s controversial bullet train after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State address, you might be soon.  The Trump administration says it plans to cancel a $929 million grant to the project and wants the state to repay $2.5 billion in federal money already spent on it.  Newsom claims that President Trump is seeking “political retribution” for California’s role in a lawsuit against Trump’s national emergency declaration to secure funding for a border wall.  “This is California’s money,” the governor said in a statement, “and we are going to fight for it.”

February 19, 2019

Gas tax hiring spree continues at Caltrans. It has hundreds of new openingsThe Modesto Bee
Caltrans is on a spree to hire enough workers to improve road upkeep as called for in a 2017 gas tax bill that in November survived an initiative that would have repealed it. The department is also planning to hire more engineers, planners and surveyors in its Capital Outlay Support Program.


Congressional Transportation Leaders to Update AASHTO on Infrastructure BillTransport Topics
The big four surface transportation policymakers on Capitol Hill are scheduled to share with state-level transportation officials the latest developments on crafting much-anticipated infrastructure legislation. During a recent House transportation committee hearing, state officials and freight stakeholders urged lawmakers to ensure sustainable funding for infrastructure projects.


Coronado City Council Starts Long Path Toward Decision Regarding Relinquishment Of SRs 75 And 282Coronado Eagle & Journal
Last week, a partnership including Rep. Jared Huffman, Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood announced that Caltrans will request the final $40 million needed to complete the Last Chance Grade environmental study.  Authorities have warned that section of Highway 101 is in danger of a catastrophic failure, which would cut the primary route between Del Norte County and the rest of the state.


Contracted work at MDOT cost Michigan an extra $90M, study saysDetroit Free Press
An analysis by a University of Michigan researcher has found that the state Department of Transportation spent $90 million more to hire private contractors for engineering and design work than it would have if it had maintained that work in-house over just one three-year period.  The report reviewed contracts from 2011 to 2014 and determined that the state overspent for engineering and design services in order to make up for “self-inflicted” staffing shortages at MDOT.

February 14, 2019

FHWA grants awarded to California and six other states to test new highway funding methodsRoads & Bridges
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on Wednesday announced $10.2 million in Surface Transportation System Funding Alternatives (STSFA) grants to seven states to test new ways to finance highway and bridge projects. Caltrans received $2.03 million for “exploration of California’s Road Usage Charge Program (RUC) with emerging technologies and services, such as Usage-Based Insurance (UBI), Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), and Autonomous Vehicles (AVs),” according to an FHWA news release.


Flashing Lights On Eastern Span Of Bay Bridge Leave Caltrans, Drivers StumpedCBS San Francisco
Felicia Marcus’ term as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board ended January 15.  Now a Central Valley editorial page writer is urging Governor Gavin Newsom not reappoint her to the job.  “The problem,” according to Mike Dunbar of the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star, “is that she never stopped working for the environmental movement.”


Caltrans Recently Inspected Section of Richmond-San Rafael Bridge Where Concrete Chunks FellNBC Bay Area
The joint that failed on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge last week showed signs of trouble last summer, but inspectors found no “signs of deficiency” when they checked it in August, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has learned. The failed deck joint is among 62 steel-to-steel expansion joints on the span – a comparatively small number of the more than 800 joints that make up the 4.5 mile bridge, authorities say.


California governor scales back high-speed trainAssociated Press
California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared Tuesday there “isn’t a path” for completing the state’s plan for a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, saying that he would shift his focus to completing just a 171-mile segment of the line already under construction in the state’s Central Valley. The project is key to the economic vitality of the state’s agricultural heartland, the governor said.

February 11, 2019

Expansion Joint Failure Caused Concrete To Break Loose On Richmond-San Rafael BridgeCBS San Francisco
A state transportation official said Friday it was the failure of an expansion joint that caused several pieces of concrete to break loose and fall onto the lower deck if the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, forcing Caltrans to shut down the span for hours on Thursday.


Opinion: We don’t trust water board’s chair. Please, Governor make a changeThe Modesto Bee
Felicia Marcus’ term as chair of the State Water Resources Control Board ended January 15.  Now a Central Valley editorial page writer is urging Governor Gavin Newsom not reappoint her to the job.  “The problem,” according to Mike Dunbar of the Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star, “is that she never stopped working for the environmental movement.”


McGuire, Wood, Huffman and Caltrans request $40 million for Last Chance GradeKRCR News
Last week, a partnership including Rep. Jared Huffman, Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblymember Jim Wood announced that Caltrans will request the final $40 million needed to complete the Last Chance Grade environmental study.  Authorities have warned that section of Highway 101 is in danger of a catastrophic failure, which would cut the primary route between Del Norte County and the rest of the state.


Bridge connecting UCSD over I-5 opens FridayFox 5 San Diego
Officials from UC San Diego, the San Diego Association Governments and Caltrans celebrated the completion Thursday of a bridge over Interstate 5 at Gilman Drive connecting the east and west sections of UCSD’s campus.

February 7, 2019

My turn: Public-private partnerships are an industry gimmick that don’t serve public wellCALmatters
The start of a new legislative session inevitably brings calls from industry for lawmakers to authorize privatizing state highway projects through so-called “public-private partnerships.” That would be a mistake.


State, Bay Area Highways To Get Improvements Funded By Gas Tax IncreaseSan Francisco Chronicle
Caltrans has announced that $54.8 million in funds approved by the California Transportation Commission will be used for 46 highway projects in California.  The “fix-it-first” projects on the list are funded by Senate Bill 1, which the Legislature approved in 2017. Last November, California voters rejected a statewide ballot measure, Proposition 6, that would have repealed SB 1.


Caltrans Announces $54.8 Million in Transportation Improvements LA area and throughout CaliforniaSCVnews.com
Caltrans announced Wednesday that the California Transportation Commission has allocated $54.8 million for 46 projects throughout California including many in the greater Los Angeles area.


CalPERS is strong — but challenges remainCapitol Weekly
Much has been written of late about the state of pension systems across the nation and here in California. Despite problems in other states, CalPERS is strong.  We had more than 70 percent of the assets needed to pay benefits at the end of the 2018 fiscal year, and our average annual return on investments over 30 years is 8.4 percent. Nevertheless, challenges exist.


Amid CHP overtime fraud probe, Caltrans orders audit of highway funds used to pay officersLos Angeles Times
The director of Caltrans has ordered a state audit of expenditures tied to the protection of the agency’s work crews by California Highway Patrol units after a CHP investigation uncovered evidence of fraudulent overtime among its officers.

February 4, 2019

California pension funds losing tens of millions of dollars on PG&EThe Sacramento Bee
Nobody is happy about PG&E’s bankruptcy filing, but California’s two biggest public pension systems are positioned to absorb losses on the utility’s stock without major repercussions. That’s because the pension funds’ multi-million dollar investments in PG&E are tiny fractions of the portfolios that CalPERS and CalSTRS control.


California Lawmakers Push for Oversight of Delta Tunnels ProjectCourthouse News Service
A group of Northern California lawmakers seeking more sway over a mammoth $17 billion water project introduced a proposal Friday that would require new construction contracts to be reviewed by the Legislature. The Legislative Delta Caucus says because of the scope of the California WaterFix, the project should require more scrutiny from both the public and lawmakers now that former Gov. Jerry Brown has left office.


L.A. offers four concepts for high-speed railEngineering News-Record
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently released four refined concepts for the visionary Sepulveda Transit Corridor Project, a plan that aims to build a fast, high-capacity transit line between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside and eventually Los Angeles International Airport through the Sepulveda Pass.

News of Note

Check your paycheck – Nearly 1,000 state workers didn’t get raises after their last contract
June 27, 2019 The Sacramento Bee
Nearly 1,000 members of Professional Engineers in California Government reported payroll errors after their 2018 contract was signed in September, and 300 are still trying to recover pay they believe they are owed, according to emails and interviews.  The union is continuing its efforts to get all workers their correct back pay, but “this is past the point of being explainable,” PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin said in an interview.


How California’s troubled high-speed rail project was ‘captured’ by costly consultants
April 26, 2019 Los Angeles Times
Nearly a decade ago, PECG warned state officials that outsourcing engineering work for California’s high-speed rail project would be fiscally irresponsible.  Today, the project is $44 billion over budget and 13 years behind schedule, with the Authority itself transformed into what PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin calls, “A consultant-captured organization … run entirely by engineering consultants for engineering consultants.”  Times investigative reporter Ralph Vartabedian digs into how the  overreliance on outsourcing embedded organizational conflicts of interest, cronyism, confused lines of authority, and poor business decisions that have already cost taxpayers billions of dollars.


My turn: Public-private partnerships are an industry gimmick that don’t serve public well
February 6, 2019  CalMatters
The start of a new legislative session inevitably brings calls from industry for lawmakers to authorize privatizing state highway projects through so-called “public-private partnerships.” That would be a mistake.

This article by PECG President Cathrina Barros was posted online on February 6, 2019 by CalMatters, an influential State Capitol news organization.


California state engineers say yes to 8.5 percent raise, other perks
September 12, 2018  The Sacramento Bee
The union that represents California state engineers announced on Wednesday that its members ratified a two-year contract that nets them a cumulative 8.5 percent general wage increase and delivers a number of other perks.

Professional Engineers in California Government reported that 98.4 percent of members who cast ballots favored the contract.

“It’s a fair and appropriate deal. It’s the right thing for the state and for PECG members,” said PECG Executive Director Ted Toppin.


You can get a job at Caltrans in two days. It still has 1,100 openings.
September 12, 2018  The Sacramento Bee
Motivated by a wave of retirements and an urgency to fill new positions created by the state’s gas tax increase, Caltrans has devised a bureaucracy-defying human resources program that has let it bring on hundreds of new employees at a time during hiring events.

It’s racing to add staff in a hot economy in which other engineering firms and local governments also are bulking up.

“They need design staff to deliver state highway projects,” said Ted Toppin, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government. “That’s what Californians expect. Right now they’re competing with other state and local departments and the private sector for engineers, so the need to on-board them is real or they’re going to lose them.”


Landmark Infrastructure Funding Bill Spurs Major Job Creation in California
February 5, 2018 Engineering News-Record Spotlight on Labor

2017 News of Note Archive

Public Employees Should Control CalPERS Election, by Mark Sheahan
September 18, 2017 The Sacramento Bee Letters to the Editor

Don’t Waste Highway Money on Greedy Private Contractors, by Bruce Blanning
July 3, 2017 The Sacramento Bee

2016 News of Note Archive

2015 News of Note Archive

Blame Politicians, Not the Bridge Builders
by Roy Flores, PECG Past President
November 6, 2015 The San Diego Union Tribune Letter to the Editor

California State Engineers Ratify Contract
October 28, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

State Engineers Okay Contract That Requires They Pay for Retiree Benefits
October 14, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

Brown Signs Labor Agreements
September 22, 2015 Capital Public Radio

PG&E’s ‘Shady’ Conduct Hindered Probe, Investigators Say
September 12, 2015 San Francisco Chronicle

Deal Requires State Workers to Pay Ahead for Retiree Health Care
September 1, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

State Government Union Reaches Deal on Retiree Healthcare
September 1, 2015 Los Angeles Times

California State Engineers Reach Contract Deal With Jerry Brown
August 31, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

Despite Vehicle-Tracking System, Caltrans Employees Speeding More
Sacramento Bee

Breaking Trust,
by Art Duffy
August 21, 2015 San Francisco Chronicle Letters to the Editor

Letters: Taxes Wasted on No-Bid Contracts
August 15, 2015 Orange County Register

Brown’s Retiree Health Care Proposal Stalls
August 13, 2015 Capital Public Radio

CalPERS Investments Are Solid,
by Cathrina Barros
August 8, 2015 The Sacramento Bee Letters to the Editor

Pensions, Contracts on August Agenda
The Sacramento Bee

Jerry Brown, Employee Unions Set to Tangle Over Health Insurance
January 25, 2015 The Sacramento Bee

2014 News of Note Archive

Caltrans Outfits Fleet With High-Tech Devices
October 10, 2014 The Sacramento Bee