The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

caltrans logo.gifA Caltrans worker was killed on the job in San Diego this morning, state officials announced just a few minutes ago. It's the third department employee's death in the line of duty in the last two months. Caltrans hasn't yet released the name of the victim pending notification of family.

In response, the department is ordering a statewide halt to all projects so that employees can review safety procedures. Caltrans also will use the time to plead for public caution in construction and maintenance zones. Officials haven't yet said when it will OK employees to resume work.

All three recent deaths happened in Caltrans District 11, which encompasses San Diego and Imperial counties.

On May 4, a trolley struck and killed 64-year-old Stephen Palmer Sr. in National City near San Diego. Then on June 7, Jaime Obeso , 53, was killed by an errant vehicle while he was working on Interstate 8 in Imperial County.

Caltrans roadwork jobs are among the most dangerous in state government. In the past 87 years, 178 Caltrans workers have died in the line of duty, most after being hit by inattentive or reckless drivers.


110428 memorial.JPGMore than 1,000 people have gathered at the Capitol this morning to remember Caltrans workers who have died in the line of duty.

Caltrans roadwork jobs are among the most dangerous in state government. In the past 87 years, 175 Caltrans workers have died in the line of duty, most after being hit by inattentive or reckless drivers.

The somber proceedings, emceed by Sacramento TV personality Beth Ruyak, opened with a bagpipe dirge and a singing of the national anthem. A stretch of street on the Capitol's west side is closed to accommodate dozens of Caltrans vehicles parked there as part of the tribute to fallen employees. This is the 21st year for the memorial ceremony.

PHOTO: Caltrans vehicles fill 10th Street on the west border of Capitol Park during a memorial for department employees who died in the line of service. Jon Ortiz / Sacramento Bee

110418 McKim.JPGCaltrans Director Cindy McKim has put out the word that she will be retiring, effective May 17. The department hasn't made a formal announcement, but department spokesman Matt Rocco confirmed the news this afternoon.

Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't yet named a successor, Rocco said.

McKim's departure is the third time Caltrans' top administrator has stepped down in less than two years.

McKim's predecessor, Randell Iwasaki, left on April 15, 2010, for a better-paying job with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. (The resignation caught then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unprepared, which upset the administration.)

Iwasaki had replaced Will Kempton, who left the department for a more lucrative job with the Orange County Transportation Authority in August 2009.

McKim was the Caltrans chief deputy director before Schwarzenegger appointed her to the top post in May 2010. She earned $130,322 last year. Her retirement marks the end of more than 30 years with the department.

PHOTO: Cindy McKim /

110307 Anderson press conference.JPGWe never get all of what we learn into a news story, but this blog can give users the notes and quotes from the notebook that informed what was published.

We wrote an item for today's Bee that looks at Sen. Joel Anderson's statement that Caltrans employees' average pay and benefits package is more than $100,000 per year.

Turns out that he's correct about the average compensation cost per employee if you look at proposed positions and wages for 2010-11, but the department's personnel composition -- lots of engineers with education and specialized skills -- skews the statistic.

Here are sources we considered for our analysis:

101029 McKim.jpgIn a recent message to department staff, Caltrans Director Cindy McKim praises them for cranking out their work despite furloughs and staffing cuts. The comments appeared in a "Director's Corner" piece for the October edition of Caltrans News. Here's the top of the column:

In 2009-10, Caltrans once again posted impressive achievements toward our goal of improving mobility across California. We delivered 99.3 percent of projects included in our contracts for delivery, obligated all available federal dollars, paved 3,936 miles of highway, and authorized 1,664 state and local construction projects for available federal funds. All of these achievements are remarkable. But with the fact that we did this in the face of furloughs, understaffing, and operating expense reductions, the achievement is elevated from remarkable to extraordinary!

Click here to read the rest.

The Caltrans employee who flagged the item for The State Worker sent it with this comment: "Please look at this. We are working our butts off and no one seems to know. I appreciate the message from our Director, but she's preaching to the choir."

McKim's message and the e-mailer's insight prompted us to think about "attaboys" from management. We want to know what you think. Take our poll:

PHOTO: Cindy McKim /

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has promoted Caltrans Chief Deputy Director Cindy McKim to the department's top post.

McKim, 57, is Caltrans' third director in less than a year. She replaces Randell Iwasaki, who left last month to become executive director for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority. His new job pays $190,000 per year.

Iwasaki replaced Will Kempton, who quit Caltrans to work for the Orange County Transportation Authority to the tune of $255,000 annually.

Caltrans' top job pays $142,965 per year and requires Senate confirmation.

Assuming McKim is confirmed, the appointment will be the 11th time she has changed jobs a 25-year Caltrans career that included a stint as the department's chief financial officer from 2004 to 2009.

McKim lives in Roseville and is a registered Democrat. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Bachelor of Science degree in organizational behavior.

100429 caltrans.JPGCaltrans is holding a memorial at 11 a.m. on the west steps of the Capitol this morning to honor department employees killed on the job. Tenth Street in front of the building is closed for the event, Caltrans trucks fill the street, and workers are displaying traffic cones as a reminder of their fallen colleagues and that drivers should slow down around construction sites.

Two Caltrans employees died at work last year. The first was Don Lichliter, a Modesto resident who was killed in July when a passing truck hit him on Highway 99 in Lodi. Deborah Ross, a 51-year-old toll collector, was shot and killed on in August while working at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

Lichliter and Ross marked the 173rd and 174th deaths for workers on the job for the Department of Transportation and its predecessor, the Department of Public Works. Click here to see that list.

You can view the memorial live by clicking here.

PHOTO: Parked Caltrans trucks fill 10th Street in front of the Capitol this morning prior to an annual memorial for department workers killed in the in the line of duty.
CREDIT: Jon Ortiz, Sacramento Bee.

We can never get everything we learn into a news story. "From the notebook" posts give you some of the extra details behind the news.

This blog reported on Thursday that Caltrans Director Randell Iwasaki has resigned his post, effective April 15. (The Bee also ran a short story in today's print and online editions.)

We have Iwasaki's resignation letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Click here to read it.

Thumbnail image for 100318 Iwasaki.JPGCaltrans Director Randell Iwasaki is leaving the department's top job to take over as executive director for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

He will take his new post in mid-April, according to a press release issued today by the transportation authority. The job will pay $195,000 per year, said transportation authority spokeswoman Arielle Bourgart.

As the department's chief deputy director and director last year, Iwasaki earned $140,417, according to payroll data from the State Controller's Office. He earned $153,330 in 2008 as chief deputy.

Iwasaki has worked for Caltrans for 26 years. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted him to Caltrans' top job last August after Will Kempton went to work for the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Caltrans hasn't yet returned a call seeking comment, but The State Worker has received several copies of the e-mail Iwasaki issued this afternoon to Caltrans employees. Click here to read it.

3:21 p.m. UPDATE: Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco confirmed that Iwasaki will be leaving the department. He said that no interim has been named yet: "We have until mid-April to determine who that will be."

Click here to read the Contra Costa Transportation Authority's press release about Irwasaki's hire. You can read his Caltrans biography by clicking this link.

IMAGE: Randell Iwasaki /

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 081212 caltrans_logo.gifAs reported in this blog post, the Legislative Analyst's Office yesterday issued a report that recommended 1,500 job reductions at Caltrans, suggesting that the department's Capital Outlay Support program is overstaffed. LAO said that at the very least the Legislature should require Caltrans to provide more justification for its need to maintain 10,359 positions in its COS program.

Caltrans responded last night with this e-mailed statement:

We are in the process of reviewing the Legislative Analyst's Office report and conclusions. Caltrans is committed to ensuring that the public's tax dollars are used as effectively and efficiently as possible to build and maintain California's transportation system. We disagree that we are overstaffed at this time given the daily demands and efforts to upgrade and maintain our transportation system. This includes the implementation of Proposition 1B, the 2006 voter approved transportation bond, and the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which represents nearly 2,000 projects to date, will continue to grow, and has resulted in thousands of jobs for Californians. However, these two programs are fast approaching the end of their fiscal cycles and the Department will be re-evaluating its staffing levels to match its workload needs in the future. We are constantly working to improve our business practices while ensuring the safety of our workers and the traveling public. This review and the resulting discussions will help us continue our ongoing efforts.

Hat tip to Bee Capitol Bureau colleague Kevin Yamamura for his capable coverage of this story on Tuesday.

From Kevin Yamamura of The Bee Capitol Bureau:

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said in a report today that Caltrans' Capital Outlay Support program is overstaffed and recommended that the state eliminate 1,500 full-time positions if the department cannot justify its staffing needs.

The Capital Outlay Support (COS) program is responsible for environmental review, design and construction oversight of highway projects, among other responsibilities. LAO found that costs were higher at Caltrans than for comparable projects in other states and local transportation agencies.

"We reviewed Caltrans' COS budget for recent years and found that the program's budget lacks sufficient workload justification," the LAO report states. " In order to gauge the reasonableness of the department's COS requests for staffing and funding, we evaluated the program using several different methods. The cumulative evidence from our review shows that the program is over-staffed and lacks strong management."

LAO further concluded that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's three monthly furloughs have had little apparent impact on the COS program's productivity.

"The department's inability to estimate the impact of the furlough program indicates overstaffing in the COS program," the report states. "Because the furlough program was not accounted for when the current-year staffing request was developed, the 15 percent reduction in resources should have a quantifiable reduction in outcomes of the program, such as achievement of project milestones. Given that there is little concrete evidence that the program's output has declined due to furloughs, the program appears to be overstaffed by as much as 15 percent."

LAO said eliminating 1,500 of 10,359 COS positions would save roughly $200 million in special state and federal funds that could be used for project construction, though it would have no direct impact on the state's general fund budget. The Analyst's Office recommends that the Legislature require Caltrans to justify its need for all of those positions. If the department can't do so, LAO said the Legislature should cut those jobs.

UPDATE (12:45 p.m.): Bruce Blanning of Professional Engineers in State Government called the LAO report "outrageously irresponsible." Blanning said that the LAO's recommendation would punish Caltrans workers for working hard despite Schwarzenegger's furloughs.

"What (LAO) has said is that Caltrans delivers its projects in the face of the furloughs, but because there has been an approximately 15 percent furlough and Caltrans is delivering projects on time, it must be overstaffed by 15 percent," he said. "That is ridiculous. Caltrans is getting its work done, getting projects out capturing federal funds, and he's criticizing them for it."

In response to LAO's criticism that Caltrans has not provided sufficient information to justify the department's staffing needs, Blanning said, "The main thing Caltrans is doing is getting projects out, building infrastructure and relieving traffic, rather than taking measurements of how many people it takes to perform functions."

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 081212 caltrans_logo.gifMany Caltrans employees continue to fume over outgoing Director Will Kempton's message that the department has ended alternative work schedules for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

In response, District Director Raymond Wolfe last week sent an e-mail to employees in his district outlining his work schedule policy. We're posting the e-mail here after confirming its authenticity with the department:

Click the link below to read the e-mail.

A bill signed recently signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, AB 561, extends highway workers' legal protections against abuse from the public to other workers, including,

employees of a city, county, or city and county, as well as employees of a contractor while working under contract with the Department of Transportation, contractors and employees of contractors while working under contract with a city, county, or city and county, and volunteers, as defined, and to include additional specified activities related to local roads or streets.

We found the Senate analysis of the bill particularly telling:

Unfortunately, local streets and road workers, who may be perceived as the cause of traffic congestion and delay, often become the targets of motorists' ire. Examples of particularly serious recent incidents have included an employee shot with a paint ball gun, another shot at with a BB gun, and one attacked with jumper cables. Employees who work on local streets and roads believe that verbal abuse is very common and that the incidence of more serious incidents may be increasing.

While assault and battery are already criminal offenses, current penalties do not appear to be sufficient to deter dangerous, and in some cases potentially deadly, assaults on local streets and roads workers. Due to the nature of their work environment, these employees' safety can be at risk even under the best of circumstances. Given their vulnerability, they deserve the greatest protection possible against abuse by the public.

And in case you were wondering, the legislation went to the governor's desk on the strength of a unanimous vote in both the Assembly and the Senate.

How often do you see that?

Click here
to read AB 561, which was authored by Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto. Her office put out this press release.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 081212 caltrans_logo.gifFrom a DOT release:

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has received two national awards from the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO.) Both honors were for key construction projects completed this past year in California. Each year, AASHTO names high-profile winners in a number of categories. These awards went to Caltrans in the "On Time Project Delivery" and "Innovative Management" categories.

Click here to read more details.

Several CalTrans employeesThumbnail image for 081212 caltrans_logo.gif passed along the Will Kempton e-mail we posted this morning. If you missed the note, in which the Department of Transportation director (now the former director) informed employees that alternative work schedules are over until the end of the fiscal year, click here.

One CalTrans worker who flagged the Kempton e-mail added this comment:

On Director Kempton's last night on the job he sent an email at 9:16 pm to all Caltrans employees eliminating the alternate work schedules (AWS). In a previous email, he said with 3 furlough days it was too difficult for the supervisors and managers to figure out. This was despite the fact the State Personnel Board posted AWS to follow.

The Oakland office has bombarded HQ with pleas to keep the AWS. They noted that overall the same amount of hours would be worked but they would be required to be in the office more days thus increasing commute expense, less time for those having 2nd jobs to make up for the pay cut, and less days to tend to family care issue and increasing the cost of family care.

Morale was terrible last week. This morning it is morose. If people didn't want to participate in strikes, work slow downs before, now they are talking about it. With a 14% paycut the elimination of the AWS further erodes our ability to make ends meet.

Two projects by Caltrans workers earned American Public Works Association awards - an emergency repair of the Interstate 580/880 interchange in Oakland and a repair of Interstate 5 by downtown Sacramento.

Both are tricky projects because of high commuter traffic. Both were accomplished in collaboration with contractor C. C. Myers, Inc.

The Interstate 5 project, in particular, required repair of extensive damage from the Sacramento River. A new drainage network was installed, including pumps to eliminate river seepage. It is believed to be the first project to use 50 percent "slag" in the concrete, making it more environmentally friendly, the magazine says.

Info about the award from the APWA:

The American Public Works Association (APWA) presents Projects of the Year awards annually, recognizing management and administration excellence of public works projects. The awards highlight alliances between managing agencies, contractors, consultants and their cooperative achievements.

Visit pages 78, 80 and 81 of the magazine to view information about the awards and read features of the repairs.

After reading in last Thursday's state worker column that it took 12 hours to clean up a lubricant spill in Marin County while all Caltrans workers were on furlough, some of you wondered: How much did the people who ended up cleaning the mess get paid? Overtime?

Well, no. They got regular time. You can't pay Caltrans workers overtime unless they've worked more than 40 hours that week, even though it's a day they're supposed to be on furlough, spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said.

Even though the people who finally cleaned up the mess came all the way from Geyserville.

Last week's "Furlough Friday" delayed CalTrans crews from responding to a traffic-snarlinig lubricant spill on Highway 101 near San Rafael last week, according to a story by Marin Independent Journal reporters Jennifer Upshaw and Gary Klien.

Here's the part of the story we thought you'd find particularly interesting:

The lubrication slick forced police to close two lanes of southbound 101 near the Highway 580 connector ramp, causing a bottleneck that backed traffic up for miles into Marinwood and Novato.

The California Department of Transportation was delayed for several hours in sending cleanup crews because of the statewide furloughs that fell on Friday, said CHP Officer Mary Ziegenbein.

A regional spokesman for Caltrans, Bob Haus, could not be reached for comment. His voicemail message said he was furloughed.

By early afternoon, the estimated time of the cleanup was around 7 p.m. Then it was pushed to 10 p.m.

The spill occured at 10:45 a.m.on Friday.

You can read the story MIJ story by clicking here.

Thanks to TWS blog user MW for alerting us to this story.

This just in from CalTrans:

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has been acknowledged by Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology magazine for being among the state's top performing companies who have successfully instituted key elements of diversity in the workplace.

Click here to read the entire press release.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Gavel.jpgWe attended a news conference at the Hyatt this morning about a new lawsuit that an individual rights / limited government group, the Pacific Legal Foundation, is filing in Sacramento Superior Court to keep Caltrans from using sex and race as a factor in some contracts it awards. You can read the story here. We're getting a little bit more from Caltrans for tomorrow's fiber/cyber Bee.

Meanwhile, we thought State Worker blog users would like to go a bit deeper. Click the items below for documents and details related to the lawsuit:

The complaint, Associated General Contractors of America, San Diego Chapter Inc. v. California Department of Transportation ...

Caltrans' Mar. 4 letter about the change in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise policy.

A February letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation to Caltrans Director Will Kempton about meeting Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program goals.

The 2007 DBE program study commissioned by Caltrans. (Warning: It's 539 pages.)

And if you don't want to download the full report, you can get the 11-page executive summary by clicking here.


BAY BRIDGE model.JPGHere's a cool new Web site about the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge that shows off all of the work that CalTrans and its partners are performing to upgade the busy span. You can click here to access a dozen video clips, fly over simulations, mini-documentaries and more on Bay Bridge 360. Just click on the multi-colored dots at different points on the span.

One time-lapse clip compresses the amazing Yerba Buena Viaduct project into about 30 seconds. You'll recall that C.C. Meyers Inc. over last year's Labor Day weekend demolished the football field-sized span and replaced it.

Another clip simulates soaring through the "self-anchored suspension span," which will be the most striking feature of the retrofitted bridge. "Wrangling Rebar" shows construction crews working in unique and precarious situations.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, based in Oakland, produced Bay Bridge 360.

Got a site that shows off some aspect of state work? Let us know. We'd love to share it.

IMAGE: Sacramento Bee

About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz started The State Worker blog and column in 2008 as a member of The Bee's business staff, where he covered workplace and labor issues. He moved to the Capitol Bureau in January 2009 to cover state employment issues full time. Join him for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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