John Njoroge: Right of Way's First Contact
If Caltrans needs a property, his might be the first face an owner sees.
Kenya-born Senior Right of Way Agent John Njoroge sums up his management philosophy this way: “In Kenya, it takes a village; at Caltrans, it takes a team.”
Njoroge handles Project Coordination for Right of Way’s Project Delivery office. His team consists of Project Coordinators Wayne Lee, Zolton Elo, and Victoria Jones and Right of Way Estimators Roy Gallegos, Victor Lee and Steve Flores.
The Project Delivery Office coordinates with all the other Right of Way offices. “We are a bridge between Right of Way and other divisions, a source of information for the project and a general go-between,” Njoroge said. The office also performs estimates and drafts Right of Way Certificates and Right of Way Data Sheets. “We try very hard to communicate the importance of keeping to schedules so that we have deliverables in a timely fashion.”
Njoroge’s team has the sometimes unenviable task of making the first contact with the property owner. The most challenging aspect of that process, he said, is that “most projects take so long” from the first contact to the point of purchase. In the meantime, property can change hands, housing prices may go up or down, and even environmental elements can affect the sales climate. “We educate the property owners and then we listen to their concerns,” he said.
Currently, their office is getting a lot of calls regarding right-of-way acquisitions for projects on I-5, Njoroge said. “The market is bad and property owners are concerned.” He stated that no one has to get hurt by selling at a loss. “If the State needs the property and it’s upside down, we will make sure owners are not left still owing money on their house.”
His team is part of a project from beginning to end. “We go to public hearings and communicate what will happen as part of the acquisition process,” Njoroge said. “We tell property owners to continue with their lives, since it might be years before we will need the property.”
The relationship with potential sellers does not always start out positive, he added, because of its nature. However, the office will do whatever it takes to establish trust with affected community, he said. Between that and the deliverables, it’s not an easy job. “Fortunately, I love challenges,” Njoroge said.
His entire Caltrans career, which began in 2001, has been spent in Right of Way. Flexibility has been a major asset in working with so many different, sometimes competing, interests. “We have to remember that the public only sees Caltrans, so we have to work together and provide a unified front.”
This flexibility also comes in handy for Njoroge in his role as first-time father to a baby daughter. The precocious 10-month old has just started walking and “it’s like she’s training for a marathon.” She’ll need those skills to keep up with her parents, who are both avid hikers.
Njoroge said he intends to continue climbing the ladder and, when the time comes to promote, he hopes someone else will be ready to step into his shoes. “What I see is that we need to empower current employees. You always need to train folks to take over your job.”