PECG Media Briefing

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.

PECG Media Briefing Archive

June 2019

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.

January 2019

January 31, 2019

See how far union membership has declined in California The Sacramento Bee
Fewer than 15 percent of California workers were members of a union in 2018, the lowest union membership rate in at least 35 years, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Largely due to the strong presence of public sector unions, California remains among the 10 states with the highest proportion of workers who are members of unions.


Trains Avoid Traffic With $985.1M Fresno TrenchConstruction Equipment Guide
California High Speed Rail’s Fresno Trench & State Route 180 Passageway project will take trains under highways and streets to avoid car traffic. Constructing the trench is a massive job for crews because of its 2-mi. length. An even greater challenge: residents and farmers opposed to high-speed rail cutting through the valley.


Subsidizing Infrastructure – Seeking Alpha
Public pension funds in the United States invest in infrastructure. Unfortunately, they aren’t very good at it, according to a recent working paper of the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Indeed, public pensions are so bad at such investments that they — and thus either the public or its retirees or both –are subsidizing infrastructure projects that have a much worse return than stocks.

January 28, 2019

New rule: California state workers can get reimbursed for electric bike ridesThe Sacramento Bee
A bit of good news arrived for state workers in a formally worded email from CalHR Thursday: Yes, the state will reimburse you for using JUMP bikes. The email came in response to employee questions about whether the department’s policy for reimbursing bicycle travel includes electric bikes.


Interstate 680/State Route 4 Interchange Improvement Project breaks groundThe Press
The Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced the start of construction on the first phase of a multi-phased project to improve safety and help reduce congestion at the Interstate-680/State Route 4 Interchange in central Contra Costa County. “Improving the I-680/SR4 Interchange has been a priority for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority for many years,” said CCTA Board Chair Federal Glover. “Thanks to an infusion of Senate Bill 1 funds from the State, we are able to take this first, important step in improving safety at this critical interchange.” The total cost for improving this segment is approximately $136 million.


Could High-Speed Rail Ease California’s Housing Crisis? See Japan.City Lab
California’s High-Speed Rail project has been touted as a job creator and smog fighter, as well as a way to help lower the state’s carbon footprint by taking cars off the road and airplanes from the skies. Bullet-train boosters are hoping that another, less-examined impact of the project is due for attention: the possibility that the rail network could eventually help ease the housing affordability crisis in the cities at either end of the line.


Marin officials seek faster Richmond Bridge bike lane trial –  Marin Independent Journal
The Transportation Authority of Marin’s Board of Commissioners will send letters to state and Bay Area transportation agencies requesting they consider a shorter trial run for a proposed bike-pedestrian lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The board voted 14-2 to request Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to consider reviewing whether to open up the lane to vehicle commuters in the mornings after six months instead of waiting for four years as planned. The reason: increased westbound traffic on the bridge during the morning commute.

January 24, 2019

L.A. May Charge Drivers by the Mile, Adding Freeway Tolls to Cut CongestionLos Angeles Times
Local transportation officials say congestion has grown so bad in Los Angeles County that politicians have no choice but to contemplate charging motorists more to drive — a strategy that has stirred controversy but helped cities in other parts of the world tame their own traffic.


The Bay Area Gets a New Transportation CzarEast Bay Times
Therese Watkins McMillan will serve as the Bay Area’s new transportation czar, helming two regional planning organizations that oversee transit and highway projects and the distribution of bridge toll funds and other programs, the agencies said Wednesday.


California Retirees Look for ‘Independent’ Voice in New CalPERS PresidentThe Sacramento Bee
The nation’s largest pension fund has a retiree as the president of its board of administration for the first time in recent memory. The CalPERS Board of Administration chose Henry Jones as its president this week, marking the first time in at least 25 years that a retired public employee has held the leadership role. Jones also is the first African-American man to be elected CalPERS president.


CalPERS Former No. 2 Investment Official Hires Employment Lawyer After ResigningChief Investment Officer
The former No. 2 official in the investment office of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has hired an employment lawyer who specializes in wrongful termination and other employment discrimination cases. Elisabeth Bourqui, the system’s chief operating investment officer (COIO) until her sudden resignation two weeks ago, made a surprise visit Tuesday at the pension plan’s semiannual retreat meeting in Rohnert Park with her lawyer.

January 22, 2019

California Utility Files Suit Against Caltrans, Local Districts Over MudslidesCourthouse News Service
Southern California Edison (SCE) is suing Santa Barbara County arguing that county officials should share in the liability over the deadly Montecito mudslides that killed 15 people last January after a massive wildfire ripped through Southern California. In its SCE claimed the city of Santa Barbara, the county’s flood control district, the California Department of Transportation and a local water district “failed to take measures to reduce the known and inevitable risks posed by debris flows in Santa Barbara County.”


California Partners With Scholars To Research A Stronger, Cheaper BridgeCapitol Public Radio
Caltrans and University of Missouri researchers are testing a theory that says a bridge support column might not need as much steel.


San Joaquin Water Authority Files Suit Over Unimpaired Delta Flow Proposal – California Water News Daily
Members of the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority (SJTA) filed suit last week challenging the State Water Resources Board’s recent decision to increase flows in the Stanislaus and two other rivers.  The authority, which includes the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and three Central Valley irrigation districts, claims that a state water flow policy adopted in December is arbitrary, harms farmland, and violates environmental review laws.


A Night at the Bridge Museum Engineering News-Record
Richard Dion is planning to open the world’s first bridge museum in Oakland, California, later this year. The concept of the bridge – the journey of A to B – has united people and enabled connections for millennia.  Given our current polarized landscape, maybe we can develop more of an appreciation of the structures that facilitate the sharing of goods and services, the knowledge that understanding of the other brings and its importance for a better world. Dion’s vision is for a place that celebrates the physical greatness of bridges and their ability to connect us.

January 17, 2019

Newsom’s Picks for Environmental Protection and Water Chiefs Will Reveal His PrioritiesSan Francisco Chronicle
One of the keys to former Gov. Jerry Brown’s success as California’s chief executive over the past eight years was the stellar group of individuals he recruited as his top environmental and water officials. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial, senior environmental appointments – Jared Blumenfeld as secretary for environmental protection, and Wade Crowfoot as natural resources secretary – suggest that he is wisely following in Brown’s footsteps.


Pension Trustees Seek Corporate Disclosure of Sexual Harassment Costs, Policies – Bloomberg
A group of trustees from some of America’s biggest public pensions are calling on companies to detail costs related to sexual harassment and any measures they’re taking to address the problem. “We don’t see how it could possibly be accretive to corporate value to have a culture that allows for sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Priya Mathur, the departing president of the $345 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System.


Suicide-Prevention Spikes to Go Up Soon on Coronado Bridge San Diego Union-Tribune
So far, transportation agencies that rely heavily on federal funds have been spared from major consequences from the federal government shutdown. But the longer the impasse in Washington continues, industry officials warn, the harder it will be to keep state and local agencies running normally.


DB pension plans contributing billions to U.S. economy: report Benefits Canada
A new report shows that retired Americans and their beneficiaries in 2016 received $578 billion in defined benefit pension payments, then spent enough money to support 7.5 million American jobs that paid nearly $386.7 billion in wages.  Overall, pension dollars resulted in $1.2 trillion in economic output nationwide and added $685 billion in additional gross domestic product.

January 14, 2019

New air pollution scandal: Fiat Chrysler settles with California and U.S. for $800 millionThe Sacramento Bee / Associated Press
In a settlement announced last week by state and federal officials, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles agreed to pay $800 million over charges that the global carmaker used “defeat device software” in thousands of diesel vehicles to cheat on air pollution tests. The case is similar to the multibillion-dollar settlement made by Volkswagen over the use of the rogue software — and was discovered through enhanced testing procedures state and federal officials developed after the Volkswagen scandal was unearthed by California and federal officials in 2015.


New effort to require Caltrans to consider bikes, buses and pedestrians in plansSan Francisco Chronicle
The streets are not just for cars anymore. That’s the credo behind a bill that state Sen. Scott Wiener will announce Monday, requiring the state Department of Transportation to consider bike lanes, buses and pedestrian walkways whenever it starts a major road project.


Newsom’s State Budget Connects Housing Needs and Transportation Funding – CalStreetsblog
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2019-20 budget plan includes $1.75 billion for housing which he said last week would be “incentive-based” using more “realistic and nuanced” housing evaluation system than the current one. The state would provide funding and technical assistance to regions to meet those assigned housing goals. But, said Newsom, if regions “don’t reach those goals, we are going to take the SB 1 money. [If] you’re not hitting the goals, I’m not sure you should get the money.”


As Shutdown Stretches On, Transportation Officials Worry About Long-Term Effects – Governing
So far, transportation agencies that rely heavily on federal funds have been spared from major consequences from the federal government shutdown. But the longer the impasse in Washington continues, industry officials warn, the harder it will be to keep state and local agencies running normally.


State Transportation Project Planning on Hold Amid ShutdownForConstructionPros.com
The uncertainty about the budget may slow the pace of work on infrastructure projects because states can’t say for sure how much they will get once the budget impasse ends. “States are not going to be letting new projects because of the uncertainty associated with the federal program,” Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials says.

January 10, 2019

What does Gov. Newsom’s $144 billion proposed budget mean for you? – Mercury News
Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his first-ever budget proposal Thursday at the Capitol, putting dollar signs behind some of the soaring rhetoric that defined his campaign and inauguration. Still, despite more than $14 billion in the state’s Rainey Day Fund and a nearly $15 billion budget surplus estimated for next year, Newsom said California still needs to prepare for a future economic recession, and pay $3 billion extra toward unfunded long-term pension obligations.


Shutdown Affects Some, But Not All, Infrastructure ProgramsEngineering News-Record
The partial shutdown of the federal government is having an effect on some federal construction programs—especially those under the Federal Transit Administration—but other major infrastructure accounts, particularly highways, continue with little change.


Highway and transit projects grind to a halt as the shutdown continuesThe Washington Post
Highway construction projects across the country have been jeopardized by the federal shutdown as state officials hesitate to authorize projects planned for 2019 without the assurance of federal funding. “If this continues to drag on it will have real impacts, not only on a state’s ability to build new projects but also on their ability to operate the system that they currently have,” said Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.


My turn: Here’s a way to help California get moving againCALmatters
The authors say Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature should reauthorize public-private partnerships to deliver transportation projects.


After Bridge Tragedy, Genoa Selects a New DesignEngineering.com
Five months after the deadly Genoa bridge collapse, the city has announced that it will replace the structure with another bridge that its designer claims will “last for a thousand years.”

January 7, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom promises a ‘progressive, principled’ CaliforniaSan Francisco Chronicle
California’s 40th governor delivered an inaugural speech in Sacramento Monday that cast the state as a global leader and his administration’s priorities as a counterweight to the more conservative agenda in Washington, D.C.   “What we do today is even more consequential, because of what’s happening in our country,” Newsom said. “People’s lives, freedom, security, the water we drink, the air we breathe — they all hang in the balance. The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us. The future depends on us. And we will seize this moment.”


Here’s what Gavin Newsom had to say at his inaugurationThe Sacramento Bee
Read the text of Governor Newsom’s speech.


PCH could stay closed until Tuesday near Malibu after mudslidesABC 7
Caltrans said the Pacific Coast Highway would remain closed in both directions from Las Posas Road in Ventura County to Encinal Canyon Road in Malibu, possibly through Tuesday. Several vehicles were stuck in mud Sunday on PCH, where rain triggered debris flows the previous evening and forced the closure of a 13-mile stretch of the highway.


Gov. Brown reappoints top California high-speed rail leaders The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa) / Associated Press
Gov. Jerry Brown reappointed two leaders of California’s embattled high-speed rail board last week, just days before leaving office.  He gave Dan Richard and Tom Richards fresh four-year terms on the board of directors that oversees the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is tasked with building a high-speed train to shuttle passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in less than three hours. Richard and Richards were selected by their fellow board members as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

January 3, 2019

California on track to complete building 2nd-tallest cable-stayed bridge in U.S. this year – Equipment World
Construction started in 2014 on the $1.2 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project in Long Beach.  The deck stands 205 feet above the water, so the world’s largest cargo ships can travel underneath on their way in and out of the Port of Long Beach. The cable-stayed design features two 515-foot-tall steel-reinforced concrete towers, which will make the bridge the second-tallest bridge of that type in the United States, behind the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston, South Carolina, at 572.5 feet.  Click here to view a four-minute time-lapse video of the project from its 2014 start to November 2018.


Tower Bridge Construction Extended, Project To Be Completed In March – CBS 13 Sacramento
Expect more closures on the Tower Bridge in the new year as Caltrans announced work on the historic bridge will be extended through March.


Reporter’s Notebook: In awe of massive Mud Creek slide – Monterey Herald
BIG SUR — More than 5 million cubic yards of dirt and rock created a new 15-acre point here, burying a quarter-mile of Highway 1 in mud 35 to 40 feet deep.  Yet, like the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, another massive Caltrans project caused by the damaging winter storms of 2017, a visitor driving through the section of Highway 1 would not know they are atop the landslide and the old section of the highway unless somebody in the know pointed it out.

December 2018

December 27, 2018

Rep.-elect Katie Hill appoints former PECG award winner as Chief of Staff – The Santa Clarita Valley Signal
Emily Burns, a former PECG award winner, has been named Chief of Staff for California Representative-Elect Katie Hill.  Burns was Chief of Staff for Rep. John Garamendi when she won the 2015 PECG Legislative Staff Person of the Year Award, which was mentioned in a press release announcing her new appointment.


Benefits from new state bridge toll hikes might be delayed – Marin Independent Journal
Commuters will pay an extra $1 to cross the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges come Jan. 1, as part of a voter-approved measure to raise money for major transit upgrades. But the improvements could be delayed after state and transportation officials were hit with an unanticipated legal roadblock, preventing release of hundreds of millions of dollars for cash-strapped road projects.


Caltrans Can’t Say What’s Eating Away at the Bay Bridge – NBC Bay Area
Despite a $1 million dollar study, Caltrans cannot say whether or not microscopic organisms are gouging the pits found on some of the 13 giant steel piles whose performance is critical to assure that the new Bay Bridge fulfills its 150 year design lifespan – prompting another testing program to look for firm evidence of the phenomenon known as microbiologically influenced corrosion.


CalPERS Reviews Divestment of Companies with Ties to Sudan, Iran – Chief Investment Officer
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) has identified 13 companies, including Nokia Corp., Makita Corp., and Nordea Bank, that its investment staff is reviewing to see if it meets the threshold for possible divestment because of potential connections to Sudan and Iran.

December 21, 2018

Caltrans Reports Highlight Climate Change Effects on Highway System – KPIX
The reports by Caltrans say climatic and extreme weather conditions affect the state’s roadway infrastructure in a variety of ways, and may increase exposure of roads, bridges and rails to environmental factors beyond original design considerations.


What caused nearly 20,000 quakes at Oroville Dam? Scientists weigh in on the mystery San Francisco Chronicle
Earlier this year, engineers said that leaks undermined Oroville Dam’s spillway and led to the near-disaster that prompted 180,000 people to evacuate.  Now seismologists say those leaks also triggered thousands of tiny tremors over the last quarter-century, but none were strong enough to create the 2017 event.  Since 1993, there have been a total of 19,221 very small earthquakes that did not exceed a 1.0 magnitude, according to the group.  The earthquakes did not cause last year’s spillway failure, the seismologists reported, and Oroville Dam is not in any present danger. The new spillway, a DWR spokesperson noted, is “built to 2018 standards” with design features that will keep water from getting under the structure.


Granite Selected for Two California Construction Manager/General Contractor Projects Worth More Than $520 Million – Associated Press
Granite Construction Incorporated has announced its selection by Caltrans as the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) for the estimated $410 million Highway 101 Carpinteria to Santa Barbara Project, and for the estimated $113 million Cosumnes Bridge Replacement CM/GC Project in Sacramento County.

December 17, 2018

A New Era of Emissions Testing Labs – Laboratory Equipment
The new Southern California headquarters of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will be the largest and most advanced regulatory vehicle emissions testing and research facility in the world—as well as the world’s first zero net energy (ZNE) facility of its type. The nature of CARB’s research mission—regulating as-yet unregulated emissions constituents in vehicles and other mobile sources—demands precision laboratory environments to produce repeatable data. Riverside, California is the site for the $368 million, 380,000 sf, 19-acre design-build project.


Off-Schedule and Over-Budget, California’s Bullet Train Is Hurtling Towards Disaster New York Magazine
As Jerry Brown prepares to leave office after his second eight-year stint as Governor of California, he’s leaving his chosen successor Gavin Newsom a strong legacy, including a state with renewed economic and fiscal health and a Democratic super-majority in both chambers of the state legislature. But there is at least one thing Brown’s leaving behind that will likely be a major headache for Newsom: a much-delayed and extremely expensive high-speed rail project that has bled public support as rapidly as dollars.


Lawmakers Pitch Infrastructure Proposals Before Next Congress Transport Topics
Sensing the impetus for considering a long-term infrastructure funding bill when the new Congress convenes in less than a month, key House and Senate policymakers have started to outline proposals for what would be a massive piece of legislation.

December 13, 2018

Caltrans receives $11.8 million to repair damages caused by the Delta FireKRCR
Caltrans District 2 announced Tuesday that they have received $11.8 million to repair damages caused by the Delta Fire which started on September 5.


Here’s what Californians want Gavin Newsom to deliver. Probably not high-speed rail The Sacramento Bee
Focus on universal health care and free community college. Forget high-speed rail. That’s the message from Californians for incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.


California’s Pension Fund Says No to Tobacco Stocks but Yes to Marijuana StocksBarron’s
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the biggest pension fund in the U.S., won’t invest in tobacco companies. But apparently it doesn’t have an issue with marijuana producers.


Opinion: Saving Infrastructure and Pensions at Once? That’s AmbitiousBloomberg
Give credit to U.S. Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who is set to lead the House Budget Committee, for stepping up with a concrete proposal to address the lack of public works financing – and help out public pension funds. Under his plan, the federal government would issue up to $300 billion of 40-year bonds to provide capital for a U.S. infrastructure bank, which would then extend loans to fund construction and maintenance projects. The ultra-long bonds would have a set interest rate that’s 2 percentage points more than 30-year Treasuries and would be sold exclusively to public and private pension funds.

December 10, 2018

Caltrans Gets $600 Million for Highway Projects, Many in San DiegoTimes of San Diego
Caltrans announced Friday the California Transportation Commission has allocated more than $600 million in funding for hundreds of transportation projects, with almost $100 million for the San Diego area. The funding includes $80 million from Senate Bill 1, the 12-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase that was preserved by state voters in November.


State Agency Says Delta Tunnel Needs More ExaminationCourthouse News Service
California’s Department of Water Resources dealt a major blow to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnel project Friday. The state water agency found the project does not meet the requirements of the Delta Plan, a set of mandatory water policies that prioritize restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta estuary’s eco-system.


Dam project may be delayed until 2022Gilroy Dispatch
The rains have returned to the Santa Clara Valley, and with them renewed anxiety over the capacity and stability of the Anderson Reservoir. The source of that anxiety isn’t likely to go away until after as many as nine rainy seasons, as the Santa Clara Valley Water District now says that a $550 million project to upgrade the earthquake safety of the dam may not begin until 2022 at the earliest.


Proposed California initiative to divert billions from state, kill bullet train faces uphill climb CNBC
A backer of California’s failed gas tax repeal measure is proposing an initiative to shift tens of billions of dollars from state coffers to local governments for highway construction and maintenance. It also would spell an end to the state’s $77 billion high-speed rail project.


Gavin Newsom visits Fresno, calls for ‘fresh start’ on High Speed RailABC30
California’s next governor visited the Valley to meet with influential leaders and spent Friday in Fresno. At a round-table meeting with business, political and educational leaders, Gavin Newsom listened to their concerns. Newsom says he wants to see the project completed.

December 6, 2018

Opinion: Pensions are promises California must keepSan Francisco Chronicle
Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, writes, “As the state Supreme Court considers two cases that raise important retirement issues, there is much legal wrangling over the narrow issues being litigated. Unfortunately, it is being accompanied by political rhetoric challenging the wisdom of the legal principle that underlies these cases — a principle known as the California Rule.”


Promised pension benefits in California can be cut, Jerry Brown’s attorneys argue, union says no – The Sacramento Bee
Attorneys representing Cal FIRE Local 2881 and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration debated Wednesday before the State Supreme about whether the opportunity to purchase “air time” is a vested pension benefit or subject to change or elimination, even for current employees. Air time allowed employees to buy up to five years of service credit to boost their pensions.   The Governor’s lawyer argued the opportunity to buy air time, which a 2012 law now prohibits, can be changed prospectively by the Legislature. The union’s lawyer cited decades of case law that has been consistently interpreted as protecting promised public pensions – including the option to buy air time – from any reductions.  The court will return a decision within 60 days.


My turn: California must keep its promise to our public servantsCALmatters
CalPERS CEO Marcie Frost explains what the retirement fund is doing “to strengthen the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, on behalf of all Californians.”


Disneyland cooling tower was likely source of all 22 Legionnaires’ cases – Los Angeles Times
Christopher Casteel, a Department of Industrial Relations associate safety engineer – and PECG member – testified during a hearing on Tuesday that cleaning records showed Disneyland did not follow guidelines to disinfect its cooling towers, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.  State and local authorities said one of the towers was the likely source for a 2017 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that made 22 people ill.  Earlier this year, Cal-OSHA cited and fined Disneyland $33,000 for the cleaning violation. Disneyland appealed the citation at a two-day hearing this week that included Casteel’s testimony. A Cal-OSHA administrative law judge will rule within 60 days.


Yuba-Sutter-Colusa bridge projects completed with Senate Bill 1 funding – Appeal-Democrat
Several bridge improvement projects were completed in the region with funding from Senate Bill 1, the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017.  According to a news release, Caltrans completed nine bridges in five counties. Several of the improvements were made in Yuba, Sutter, and Colusa counties.

December 3, 2018

Public employees won’t recover union fees after court ruling The Sacramento Bee
A Washington judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to force public employee unions to give back “fair share” fees contractually collected from non-members. The anti-union Freedom Foundation, which has filed similar suits around the country, hopes to exploit the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to end government union fees from employees who benefit from union representation, such as collective bargaining.  Robert Bryan, the judge who heard the case in the U.S. district court in Tacoma, ruled that unions collected the fees in good faith in keeping with state and federal laws.


Huge Delta water deal backed by Dianne Feinstein, Jerry Brown, Kevin McCarthyThe Sacramento Bee
California’s most senior Democrat and most powerful Republican in Washington are teaming up to extend a federal law designed to deliver more Northern California water south, despite the objections of some of the state’s environmentalists.


Post-Fire Restoration Work Will Prompt Closures Along PCH In Malibu Area CBS Los Angeles
Work to stabilize hillsides and repair infrastructure damaged in the Woolsey Fire will prompt the closure, beginning Monday (today), of segments along a 20-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in the Malibu area, Caltrans announced Friday.


How Vulnerable Are Bay Area Bridges to a Major Earthquake?NBC Bay Area
While California’s Department of Transportation has retrofitted thousands of bridges across the state to better withstand a major earthquake, NBC Bay Area’s investigation found thousands more at potential risk should the earth start shaking significantly. “For years we have not properly funded our transportation system and we’re seeing a lot of the effects of that,” says Caltrans Director Laurie Berman.


Caltrans re-opens Hwy 1 in Big Sur – KSBW
After two days of significant storm activity, State Route 1 re-opened at Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide in Big Sur. Caltrans crews assessed damage at both locations Friday morning and re-opened the roadway at noon.

News of Note

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.”


Caltrans is Desperate to Fill Thousands of New Jobs 
March 13, 2018 The Sacramento Bee


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

What California State Workers Earn: Engineers
June 26, 2014 The Sacramento Bee

Hearing Date Set for California Civil Engineers’ Furlough Case
June 23, 2014 
The Sacramento Bee