Andrew Nierenberg, Deputy Director of Right of Way
This month, a guest deputy discusses what's going on in his division.
[Click on photos to read captions.]
Can you explain, in a nutshell, what your division's mission and primary functions are?
The Division of Right of Way is responsible for all of Caltrans’ real estate transactions. Our Project Delivery office appraises and acquires property, relocates homeowners, tenants, and businesses, relocates utilities that conflict with our projects, deals with railroad acquisitions, and removes structures in the path of construction. The Property Services office leases and manages numerous properties held for projects, sells excess land, and leases air rights to utilize sites under or surrounded by a freeway structure.
What do you see as the top priority issues currently facing Right of Way?
The top priority issue for Right of Way is delivering on the District’s commitments to the Department and our regional partners. We continue to strive for innovative ways to deliver projects while dealing with additional restrictions caused by the current economic and state budgetary climate. Our additional challenge is accomplishing our mission with a reduced staff, and limits on our ability to fill vacancies. Our other top issue is the management and maintenance of the 460 properties we own along the proposed I-710 corridor extension.
What are some of the division's latest accomplishments?
The Division of Right of Way is proud of our delivery record. We have achieved 100% delivery of project certifications for the last six fiscal years. The Excess Land Sales group has delivered 100% of our delivery goals since the inception of the Contract for Excess Land Sales in 2007.
How has your division been affected by the economic downturn, budget situation and furloughs?
Right of Way, like all other divisions in the District, is dealing with the challenges of the economy, the budget, and furloughs, and continues to persevere and be successful. I credit the professionalism of our staff and the positive and supportive attitudes of everyone in dealing with our internal and external customers. It’s difficult to acquire property and relocate people in any environment, but to do so effectively in a “down” real estate market, with the internal strain of three fewer working days every month, I think is a real accomplishment. The greatest impact from the economy has been the increased incidence of foreclosure and the need to condemn properties to obtain clear title, thereby increasing the number of eminent domain actions. Condemnation in turn has been delayed by closures and furloughs within the Court system.
What's new and what's on the horizon for your division?
The Division is currently trying to hire additional Right of Way Agents and fill a Senior Right of Way Agent position in Acquisition. The need to hire and fill positions is great because we have well over 350 properties scheduled for acquisition in the next two fiscal years. This includes projects on I-5 north and south, I-10 and I-405.
What might you do differently if you had all the resources in the world at your disposal?
If I had unlimited resources I would push to update our technology. We still run on paper and technology exists today that would allow Right of Way to become paperless and more mobile. Digital technology gives us the ability to create a virtual office wherever we meet the public. We could be much more productive with high tech equipment.
What has changed for the better in Right of Way? The worse?
I believe the Division is a better place to work now than ever before. Our processes, however, became more complex in the recent past with the adoption of laws making acquisition of property more difficult for public entities. These laws were directed at redevelopment agencies that were acquiring property to increase local revenue bases but other public agencies were caught up in the process.
What would you say to people who might like to work in your division?
People who work in Right of Way need to like working with people. It is a people- oriented job. Also Right of Way is a problem-solving job. You need to convince people who don’t want to sell you their property and who had no intention of relocating to do so, and within a fixed budget and a set time frame, and keep them fairly happy while doing so! But if you work in Right of Way you will also be working with some of the friendliest and most supportive professionals you have ever had the pleasure of working with.