Director's Zone by Douglas R. Failing
There are two important issues that came up very recently that require me to address immediately.
Following these first two items will be my regular Director’s Zone column.
Item one is the Chino Hills earthquake of Tuesday, July 29. Most importantly, there were no injuries to Caltrans employees reported. The District Office held up very well, as expected, and everyone in the building acted responsibly, somewhat calmly, and returned to work. I extend my sincere thanks to all those who acted quickly and appropriately to self-evacuate.
Very little damage was reported on the State Highway System. This is evidence of a successful seismic retrofit program on all Caltrans District 7 bridges (except the Schuyler Heim Bridge, which is slated for replacement). Following the July 29 earthquake, State highway and bridge inspections commenced immediately; 128 bridges were inspected that very day and the next morning. Caltrans employees responded quickly, professionally and efficiently.
As a public agency, Caltrans is held to a high standard. Dedication to our mission has raised the public's awareness of the importance of our work and the vital role we play in maintaining a safe State Highway System. Our actions demonstrate the preparedness of Caltrans during an emergency. You all performed your duties exactly as expected and are to be commended.
Item two is Governor Schwarzenegger's Executive Order, signed on July 31, to temporarily reduce State employee’s salaries to the federal minimum wage. This is a difficult and unfortunate time in our state. This Executive Order means: (1) a court ruling allows the State to reduce the salaries of State employee to a federal minimum wage. This action preserves the cash flow until a new budget is signed; (2) it offers pay at some level to keep state operations from completely shutting down.
These actions, while ultimately putting pressure on State Legislators to pass the budget, affect us all. However, first and foremost, our role is to continue to demonstrate why the services that Caltrans provides are vitally important to the State. I ask you all to keep doing the great work you always do.
As in the past, Caltrans will talk with bank and credit union management for ways to assist employees during this time. Meanwhile, the state has suspended temporary, part-time and retired annuitant employees, who are very important members of our workforce. We hope this is a temporary measure and they will return to employment soon. Please be advised of severe restrictions on receiving overtime pay. All overtime is to be approved at the Deputy level.
Caltrans will continue to provide a safe and effective highway system and we will ensure that our safety workers and emergency response teams are adequately staffed.
These issues will be resolved upon signing of a state budget. Until then, let us work together to maintain an efficient and effective workforce and the highest degree of safety and service for the motoring public.
Director’s Zone – August, 2008
This is the time of year when summer vacations are taken and things slow down just a little in our normal work schedule. This is our ‘strategic time’ when we are able to get away from those hot day-to-day activities, sit down and plan out the next year.
We have been able to do some of that. But, quite frankly, this year, like no other, we have seen ourselves really busy. There are a lot of things happening and as I wander around the building and when I have the opportunity to be out in the field, I see that everybody, just everybody, is extremely busy now.
Some of it comes from the surprises that we encounter time-to-time like, for instance, the sinkhole on the SR-110 that occurred on Wednesday, July 15. This kept the North Region Maintenance crew and contractor working around the clock. I was very pleased with how quickly we were able to obtain the correct resources and get the roadway re-opened to the travelling public within 27 hours.
And with this incident, I saw field staff working very well with the media. Earlier this year, some of our Maintenance field personnel completed a media training class and were able to apply these skills in the course of this incident. In addition to having years of knowledge and experience, more employees now have an added edge of feeling more comfortable conducting on-the-spot interviews. So that when incidents occur, more people are trained to accommodate the media until our public information officers are able to get through the incident and arrive on-site.
I heard my friend, Ed Toledo, conduct an interview on news radio and he did an excellent job addressing questions from the media. I know that when media personnel, cameras and satellite vans suddenly appear to get the photo and the story, they could distract work crews. But when we accommodate the media correctly and give much needed up-to-the-minute information, correct information is disseminated to the public. So, I thank Ed and others who took time to be a part of the media training. I hope we can schedule more in the future.
As hot August days approach, landscaping and water conservation are appropriate article topics for ‘Inside Seven.’ This issue features articles on a landscape crew and Caltrans projects to access more recycled water.
Some great work has received public recognition by Anna Parker and her crew under the leadership of John Janton, Maintenance Manager of the East Region. This region will see more motorists heading to Pomona for the Los Angeles County Fair in September, so I appreciate their efforts while keeping the public in mind as work is scheduled. I know it takes a lot of hard and heavy work when maintaining very old landscape and keeping it safe for the public.
Also very appreciative of our landscape crews is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. What many of you may or may not know is that the Mayor’s mother was a long-time employee of Caltrans District 7. He personally told me recently that as a student, he worked for Caltrans as a summer intern on a Maintenance landscape crew. The Mayor recalls how hard the work was and he values the effort that Caltrans invests in the field. I wanted you all to know that up to and including the Mayor, the work that you do is recognized.
But obviously, we have more work to do. This summer, one of the issues we are reminded of is “conservation.” While we are asked to conserve energy by keeping the lights off and setting the temperature a bit higher, one of Caltrans’ responsibilities is to conserve water within our landscape plan. In Los Angeles, I am pleased that many of our projects use recycled water where we have access to it, such as on significant sections of Interstate 405 and I-605, where all landscaping is irrigated using recycled water. Drinking water should be for drinking. You’ll read in this issue about some things this district is doing to getting more access to recycled water, plus, when we do use water, we are using less water overall.
Those are things happening out in the field. Returning to the subject of being very busy, certainly the “I-405 HOV Design Squad” certainly has to be feeling the pressure. Many of you are aware that we recently completed the environmental document and this project for a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV), or carpool lane, will be District 7’s first design/build project. While other districts have had the opportunity to use design/build through their local partners, this is a very exciting time for us. It is nice to have the public’s trust not only for the big improvement projects, but to be trusted in order to implement new concepts, new ideas and new methods that will benefit the public by relieving congestion as well as other benefits. I am very pleased that we in District 7 have been asked to play a direct role in this design/build project. I know there is a skepticism and criticism out there about whether design/build works, but I have a lot of faith in this district because we can make a design/build project work. It works in other places; it can be made to work here. Yes, it is something new for us, but we do new and innovative things all the time.
Something that is not new for the District’s Construction Division is its ability to hit 100% delivery for the second year in a row. This is something anybody should be proud of doing just once, and District 7 has done it two years in a row. I’m very pleased that this division took time to congratulate each other for an amazing delivery of construction projects this past fiscal year. I have to tell you what an amazing job they did. No place in the history of this department, that I’m aware of, has any district has ever hit 100% of major milestones in construction. This is a phenomenal record. Timely delivery can often be controlled for capital project delivery, design, right of way acquisition and environmental documents. But when a project goes to construction, you are in the hands of the contractor and sub-contractors and all of the things that can possibly happen to delay a project - snow, sleet, rain, fire – anything that happens in nature happens in construction. Congratulations and ‘hats off” to the Construction Division.
Another issue coming up in our region, that most of you may already be aware of, is discussion of a half-cent sales tax measure in Los Angeles County. Much of the information in the media and discussions in public forums revolve around the transit projects that will potentially be funded if this measure is to succeed in the November election.
And the discussions may be controversial as they progress. I want to remind everyone that besides transit projects, there are a several highway projects proposed as a part of this initiative. Caltrans may be called upon to offer input on what those projects may look like, but remember, as public agency employees, we are not to advocate in any public forum. Our role is to educate; not advocate. Caltrans’ role, and your job, is to educate the public on projects and their benefits. An educated public will make the appropriate decisions.
The half-cent sales tax measure translates to a significant amount of money, $8 to $10 billion dollars, towards highway projects that are very important to complete gaps and improve mobility in the Los Angeles region. I want you to have the facts, and just the facts, and I will make sure you have the necessary information as needed.
The public trusts us because we have delivered good work and the public sees the results. We continue to be the #1 District in the State of California on capital delivery. Because it is important to maintain the public’s trust in Caltrans, we continue to do the best we can in all of our work. In doing so, the public will trust us to use additional dollars towards our roadways because you continue to do a good job with the resources that you have today.
I remind you all again, and for those of you who can get some vacation time in before fall, I encourage you to get away to relax with friends and family, then come back and be ready to work. We have a busy road ahead.