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From emergency preparedness to autonomous vehicle deployment, the Public Works Officers Institute builds a foundation of knowledge

Annual event attracts 135 public works directors from throughout California

March 24, 2021
The first-ever virtual Public Works Officers Institute wrapped up last week delivering two- and-a-half days of essential education, inspiration, and information sharing for city public works directors throughout the state.
Cal Cities Public Works Department President Rene Guerrero of Pomona welcomed attendees with an inspiring message recognizing the difficult year city officials had experienced, “Despite a global pandemic, public works departments throughout the state have continued to deliver and provide for the infrastructure needs of their communities.”

Guerrero noted that this year’s event would provide public works officers with the information, educational materials, and networking opportunities necessary for the continued innovation and excellence that their residents demand and deserve.

The event featured 33 speakers, including a powerful keynote address by award-winning author and autonomous technology futurist Patrick Schwerdtfeger, and a host of other experts during dozens of sessions touching upon legal issues, project labor agreements, finance, and other key topics.

Acknowledging the innovation and changes that the transportation sector is poised to undergo, Schwerdtfeger highlighted the companies leading the charge in the autonomous vehicle industry, the likely deployment trajectory, and how California cities can position themselves ahead of the curve. "Autonomous electric vehicles will fundamentally change the way our cities operate, and how we operate within them, “Schwerdtfeger said during the opening keynote presentation. “Those cities who stay ahead of the curve will attract fresh investment capital, high paying jobs, and a host of other peripheral innovations."

Another opening day presentation included the advantages and disadvantages of project labor agreements. Session moderator and San Leandro Public Works Director Keith Cooke emphasized that project labor agreement can work for any size organization and can be beneficial for all partners in the agreement.

Attendees were also briefed on how public works departments can prepare for emergencies, from ensuring specific contracts are in place to what to know and produce in order to qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursements. “The only thing we can control is our preparation. Review and update your contracts and your internal procurement procedures so that they’re FEMA compliant and can be flexed for your emergency procurement needs,” said San Leandro City Attorney Richard Pio Roda.

On day two of the conference, the morning featured multiple topics and sessions, such as how to modernize local government, how stormwater and tobacco waste relate, and what retiring public works directors need to know in order to transition smoothly. Concurrently, during the legal speed session, two affirmative defenses were presented by attorney Robert Ceccon with Richards, Watson & Gershon. The first case featured Ventura County’s successful use of the design immunity defense to avoid liability following a landslide. The second presentation provided an overview of Huckey v. City of Temecula (2019) and how the case was extremely favorable to public entities because it doubled the “3/4 inch rule” set forth in the prior decision of Fielder v. City of Glendale (1971).

A presentation addressing the challenges posed by homelessness populations was given by Joan Cox and Mark Austin with Burke Williams & Sorensen. “The recurring theme is that addressing homelessness issues has been made even more complicated with the COVID-19 pandemic — a crisis on top of a crisis — which renders enforcement even more challenging for the moment, but there are myriad public and private resources available, whether it be grant funding or partnering opportunities, as well as statutory streamlining mechanisms, to assist municipalities in identifying the solution that best suits the needs of their population.”

Cal Cities legislative staff updated participants on current legislative bills needing attention. Cal Cities Legislative Representative Derek Dolfie stressed that the strength of the organization comes from the engagement and expertise of Cal Cities members. “When public works directors provide feedback and participate in the legislative process, they make sure their city’s technical expertise is heard.”

In addition to the educational sessions, networking events provided colleagues with an opportunity to exchange ideas with their peers, explore virtual exhibitor showcases with interesting prospects for cities, and experience a virtual wine tasting thanks to the League Partners Virtual Wine Tasting.

One the final day, Institute for Local Government’s Director Karalee Browne spoke about the factors that are driving the transportation choices of constituents in California communities. “In your city planning, take advantage of recent advances in transportation: shared mobility, vehicle electrification, and connected and automated vehicles. With this in mind, look at existing and future funding opportunities to improve city infrastructure. Opportunities also exist to partner with your universities on various pilot deployments.”

At the closing lunch and learn, attendees were treated to fast-paced insight into the latest hot topics in municipal public works financing that directors need to know.

Thank you to our sponsors!
Precision Concrete Cutting
ScholarShare Investment Board-State Treasurer’s Office
Transtech Engineers, Inc.
West Coast Arborists, Inc.
California Water Service
Griffin Structures, Inc.
Richards Watson & Gershon
Techline Sports Lighting
CSG Consultants
Jones & Mayer
Mid Valley Disposal
Southland Energy
Twining, Inc.

Registered participants can access nearly all of the conference sessions until Sept. 15, 2021. For those unable to attend last week, there is still time to register and access the recorded sessions and materials.

The 2022 Public Works Officers Institute and Expo is scheduled to take place in Monterey, March 23-25.

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