The city of L.A.'s Bureau of Engineering has been struck hard by cuts to staff and the loss of expertise and experience that came along with the Early Retirement Implementation Program. Currently engaged in $3.2 billion in infrastructure projects, including visionary landscape-altering projects like the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan, City Engineer Gary Lee Moore has plenty to keep him busy. Here, in a TPR/MIR exclusive interview, he updates readers on the status of the river revitalization and the recent adoption of Green Streets Standards.
Given the financial and workforce challenges in the city presently, what projects are on your plate, and how able is the Bureau of Engineering to deal with its current workload?
The Bureau of Engineering currently has over 400 active design and construction projects, totaling $3.2 billion. We're very busy. We saw a 20 percent reduction in our staff from July 1, 2009, through July 1, 2010. That was a tremendous reduction in talent and expertise. The existing staff is extremely talented and is rising up to the challenge.
What did the early retirement plan do to you leadership? How are you trying to adjust after the implementation of that plan?
Due to the Early Retirement Implementation Program about 180 people retired. Most of those people had 25-35-years experience. We lost a lot of expertise. The retirements came from up and down the entire organization. This has given the existing talented staff opportunities to step into new leadership roles. I'm excited to see the new ideas and enthusiasm that they are bringing to their new roles.
Elaborate on the standards the Bureau of Engineering recently adopted regarding stormwater runoff and filtration.
We just signed seven new standard plans that are associated with Green Street Standards. The plans were finalized in the beginning of July and are available on the Bureau of Engineering's website at www.eng.lacity.org. These detailed engineering plans show how stormwater runoff can be infiltrated in streets and alleys. Some of the plans are designed to remove pollutants in conjunction with the landscaping by filtering the stormwater runoff through a natural system. The goal is to divert runoff prior to it reaching the ocean.
Are these plans being approved in reaction to legal mandates, or are these long-term projects the result of environmental goal setting by the city's elected leadership?
It is not a reaction to a legal mandate. The city has always been an environmental leader. Working with the Board of Public Works and the Bureau of Sanitation, we want to infiltrate the rain where it lands. With 6,500 miles of streets, there are opportunities in the public right of way to infiltrate this water. Other cities have had guidelines, but these new standards allow for developers and for us, the city, to implement these standards so that we are not reinventing the wheel every time.
With the passage of Prop O and the implementation of these plans, would you say that the city of L.A. is on the cutting edge of dealing with TMDL? TPR/MIR will also carry an article this month by Mark Gold of Heal the Bay, where he laments the actions of some other cities. Give our readers some perspective on how L.A. is handling/leading on these challenges.
I would definitely say that the city is on the cutting edge and a leader in dealing with TMDLs. As the manager for implementation of the Prop O projects, it is very exciting that the voters understood the importance of clean water and have made such a major investment in making it happen.
TPR/MIR last interviewed you as Prop O and L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan projects were just beginning to be defined and approved. What is the status of public projects under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Engineering?
The city adopted the Master Plan in 2007, and the next major step is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on their ecosystem restoration study. That project is looking for opportunities for ecosystem restoration in the areas where we can remove concrete in the river and increase habitat opportunities along the river. Like everybody, their funding has been reduced, but it looks like we are in the home stretch now. We should be able to finish up that study in the next 18 months.
One of the things the city did was to make a major investment by purchasing the Albion Dairy site near the Spring Street Bridge and the Los Angeles River. This was an $18 million investment that will help build a stormwater retention area, recreation facilities, and provide a green edge to the river. Another project that is almost complete is the addition of a 2.5-mile bike path between Fletcher and Arroyo Seco.
Some environmentalists are concerned that not all of the Prop O money has been committed and that patience isn't a virtue in light of the environmental challenges. Can you update readers on whether all the $500 million has been allocated?
The funds have been allocated. The administrative oversight committee and the citizen's oversight committee have been extremely diligent in reviewing the projects and making sure that the residents' money is wisely spent. I am very happy to say that everything is really moving well.
Can you elaborate on some of the projects that will be started in the next six months?
The Hansen Dam Wetlands Restoration project will reduce stormwater pollution entering the Hansen Lake riparian wetlands from parking lots and surrounding residential areas. The project will direct stormwater runoff into vegetated swales and infiltration basins that provide treatment by infiltrating the water into the soil.
Another project, the Penmar Water Quality Improvement Phase 1, is designed to direct some of the area's dry-weather urban runoff and wet-weather stormwater to the sewer for treatment. As a result, up to nearly three million gallons of the first flush per storm event that is currently untreated will be kept out of the Santa Monica Bay. Although it is outside of the six month window, in year from now, we begin the construction of the $50M Echo Park Lake Rehabilitation project. This project will remove the contaminated sediments in the lake, replace the lake liner, and replace in-lake vegetation and habitat improvements to the lotus bed.
TPR/MIR has been covering, for a few years now, that the city of L.A. seems to have to adopted: a "One Water" management system, linking planning and infrastructure. Can you talk about that notion of linking planning and water management to accomplish the environmental goals mandated by the law?
One of the things the city is currently working on is the Low Impact Development Ordinance. The Bureau of Sanitation and the Board of Public Works have been leading this effort.
Your colleague, City Planning Director Gail Goldberg, just announced her retirement. There seems to be a notion that everything should be focused on expediting new projects. Is there a capacity in this city to link planning and infrastructure constructively in the next couple of years, given the financial crunch in the city?
I believe that Mayor Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council are committed to improving the infrastructure while continuing to plan for the future. Gail did a great job and I'm excited to see what the next planning director will bring to the city.
The U.S. EPA announced recently that the L.A. River is navigable. From you vantage point at the Bureau of Engineering, what is the significance of that decision?
This is as a key commitment on a national level and a validation of the importance that the Los Angeles River plays in recreation and habitat. The Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan (LARRMP) is about connecting the communities with the river. This protection that Administrator Jackson announced is very important in that I believe it will also help bring additional funds to assist in the implementation of the LARRMP.
The last time TPR interviewed your deputy, Deborah Weintraub, she said that there is a generation of champions for livability working in Los Angeles right now, and we are doing a better job of placemaking in the city everyday. Is that still true, given the financial crunch in the city? Is there still a generation of champions employed by the city?
I absolutely agree that this is a generation of champions. On a daily basis, I see great projects that the women and men of the Bureau of Engineering deliver, and their enthusiasm is contagious. They are always looking to innovate, and their commitment to the community is truly commendable. This economic downturn has pushed us to be extremely creative, and we have built new cooperative relationships that will position us to accomplish even further when funding levels are increased.
It is hard for the public, given the huge size of the media hole, to appreciate the champions working in City Hall. Can you acknowledge some of the people who are stepping up and doing a yeoman's job so the public has a better idea?
I would like to acknowledge all of the 763 employees of the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering. Many of them have to take on new roles, sometimes two new roles, while dealing with furloughs and the retirements of their mentors. I am truly appreciative of their professionalism.
When MIR/TPR interviews you next year, will we be addressing the same issues? Will the Bureau's challenges in 2011 be the same as today?
I am an eternal optimist. I always think tomorrow will be better than today. We can use this economic challenge as an opportunity to get smarter. The Standard Plans for Green Streets is a good example. There are economic challenges remaining, but this is a dynamic city. We have great people here, and we have to continue to make changes that will positively impact the residents here in Los Angeles.