August 29, 2005 - From the August, 2005 issue

Deputy City Engineer Weintraub Manages City's Capital Programs With A Designer's Eye

The Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering plays a vital role in the implementation of capital investment programs and the realization of the city's most elaborate dreams. As a Deputy City Engineer and the Bureau's highest-ranking architect, Deborah Weintraub directs essential elements of these programs. TPR is pleased to present Ms. Weintraub's thoughts, from an Aug. 2 interview, on the functions of the Bureau, the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan, and the city's commitment to the environment.


Deborah Weintraub

Deborah, could you begin by telling our readers what the Bureau of Engineering's responsibilities are with regard to capital infrastructure projects and facilities construction for the City of Los Angeles?

Essentially, we are a capital improvement delivery organization. We provide the expert architectural and engineering assistance to formulate the projects, and we are the primary organization for delivery of the projects.

The Police Bond Program is a good example. The original idea for the bond came from an extensive study done on the needs for Police facilities. As the study was a couple of years old, the Bureau of Engineering was involved in helping to scope the bond measure that was passed, and to define the projects that were presented to the voters. The Council approved the ballot measure, and it was then approved by the voters. The City then turned to the Bureau of Engineering to manage and deliver the program. In delivering the program, the Bureau has responsibility for working with the Los Angeles Police Department, our client agency, and for proposing the location of the facilities, making sure the facilities are designed well, and that they are built on schedule and on budget. Another example of current work within the Bureau is our collaboration with the Department of Recreation and Parks to implement Proposition K. Proposition K is a large source of funding for park improvements right now. We work with the Department on all of the details of delivering these park facilities.

About half of the Bureau does wastewater work, focused recently on replacing some very large sewer mains. This is very important infrastructure work that is somewhat under the radar screen as it is out of the public's eye. We have recently completed some very significant sewer main projects, and are looking ahead to more sewer work that is part of a settlement agreement. We will be replacing a significant number of branch sewers in the next 5 to 7 years, targeting 60 miles a year.

Let's turn to your responsibilities. Talk a little bit about what role you have been given by Gary Lee Moore, City Engineer.

In a strictly organizational sense, I oversee the Architecture and Engineering Consulting Services (A&E) groups. There are eight groups with about 350 staff people, which include professionals ranging from civil engineers, structural engineers, environmental specialists, geotechnical engineers, architects, landscape architects and other disciplines. The A&E group is in effect a core technical staff for the City – one could say an "Essential Services" group for the Bureau of Engineering.

In terms of my role in the Bureau of Engineering, I am the most senior architectural staff person. In this capacity, I am a vocal internal advocate for strong design and for the transformative benefits of thoughtful design. This past year I organized the first design competition for a new City building, in partnership with the Community Redevelopment Agency, which gave the community a chance to see three detailed alternative approaches to a project, and to choose the one that was best. I would like to expand on the use of competitions, as it can elevate the designs the City sees, and it is a mechanism to reach out to our first rate local design community in a more inclusive way. I will be talking with the local American Institute of Architects to discuss how best to use competitions for City projects. I also helped mount the first gallery show ever of City projects at the A+D Museum last summer, entitled "Public Works: Architectural Designs for the City of Los Angeles", highlighting the design work being done on behalf of the City. Key projects from the show were printed and distributed as a supplement to the magazine "LA Architect" earlier this year.

I am also the Bureau's advocate for environmentally sensitive design and construction mandated by the Council, via the use of LEED. In April 2005 I accepted a Building Program Award given to the City from the Los Angeles Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council in recognition of the City's adoption of the LEED rating system for municipal projects.

In addition, I am the lead senior professional under Gary Lee Moore working on the L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan, which will be an 18-month master plan for 32 miles of the L.A. River.

This master plan will provide a vision for restoring our River as an urban amenity for all of the residents of L.A. We will explore creating parks, wildlife habitat, open space, water features, potential development sites, and more, and lay the groundwork for realizing the historic Olmsted vision for a 32-mile central park that will knit the City together. From my perspective, this is a seminal project for the future development of the City. We have an opportunity with this project to impact the lives of people in our City for the next 100 years, and to shape a significant element of the public realm that will improve the quality of life in our city. I am very excited about working on this project with my colleagues in the City, with the public, and with key agencies that include the Army Corps of Engineers and the County of Los Angeles.

What is the status of the RFP for the LA River project?

The river master plan project is a joint project between the Bureau of Engineering and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, with the Bureau of Engineering acting as the Project Manager and the Department of Water and Power funding the master plan. A national search was conducted to select a team to provide the master plan. We had 11 very good proposals. We interviewed and created a short list of three teams, and then we held a public meeting. We then chose a team with whom to negotiate. The contract came before the Board of Public Works on Wednesday July 27th and was approved. We hope to initiate the master plan in early August 2005. Our team is led by Tetra Tech, Inc., and we are very excited about the talent on this team who will be consulting to the City.

As there was a wealth of talent on all of the teams who proposed, we also intend to set up a peer review panel to comment on the master plan during the process. In addition to doing a master plan, which will be a broad approach to developing the area along the L.A. River, we will also be developing five nodes along the river in greater detail. The idea is to get to an executable project as quickly as possible. We are in the process of signing an agreement with the Army Corp of Engineers, which will be the next step for the Corps in analyzing one of these nodes, and hopefully will position the L.A. River for requests for federal funding.

Could you tell our readers more about the team and what the public can expect over the next year?

The Master Plan will be an 18-month process. There will be a project website that will be linked to the City's website via the Ad Hoc Committee to Council on the Los Angeles River, and all of the meetings will be posted here, as well as project updates. In fact, what we intend to do is schedule all of the meetings for the 18 months on day one, so the trajectory of the issues that we will be addressing will be very clear for anyone who wants to participate. This will be a participatory, community design process, and it is going to move fairly fast.

We will be holding a minimum of 18 community meetings to gather public input, and we will be aggressively publicizing all of the opportunities for public input. There are many river advocacy groups who have put a lot of time into helping us get to this point, and we anticipate they will continue to speak up. We also hope to reach out to community members who have not previously participated in discussions about the river.

And who serves on this design team?

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The master plan team is lead by Tetra Tech, Inc, which is a locally-based engineering firm. In addition we have Civitas and Wenk Associates, firms who are both based in Denver and bring extensive experience in large master plans and in particular in river revitalization projects, and we have a local landscape architect, Mia Lehrer and Associates, who has focused on river related issues for some time. The Robert Group will be providing community outreach, and there are multiple other sub-consultants for zoning, economic development, and governance proposals, additional tasks that will be part of the Master Plan process.

In 18 months what will you have?

We will have a master plan, conceptual designs for five nodes of approximately 1?4 mile in length, a programmatic Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement, an analysis of the economics of the design proposals with a focus on funding alternatives and on economic impacts, and proposals for governance and zoning.

Building police stations, fire stations and other public works projects obviously affects the quality of life in specific neighborhoods and in the city as a whole. Elaborate on the responsibilities of the Bureau of Engineering for assuring well-designed city projects are built?

The Bureau proposes the locations for all of these facilities and monitors the purchases of the properties. Of course we work very closely with the City Council offices and with the operating departments who will use the facilities, as well as with the City's General Services Department who negotiate the purchases of the properties. Unless others in the City have specific sites in mind, the City family often turns to the Bureau for the site location suggestions. In this way, our decisions do impact the urban design of a specific community, and the quality of life.

While the bond programs, which are doing a large amount of building designs, do not fall directly under my responsibility, I am an internal advocate for thoughtful urban design and for quality architectural projects. Sometimes this is not a comfortable position to be in as others are rushing to deliver promised projects, but I am vocal where I feel I need to be.

I have also been instrumental in projects that were not buildings, where I felt design needed to be

considered more thoroughly. With the Santa Monica Transitway project, I was the internal advocate for creating a distinctive, thoughtfully designed retaining wall that is a significant insertion on the urban landscape on Santa Monica Boulevard. Now that the wall is done, the community has been very vocal in their appreciation of this retaining wall, and it is gratifying that this functional project element has also brought something more to the project. Recently the wall was featured in the New York Times.

I feel it is my role in the City to be one source of comments on the design of these kinds of public works projects as well. As in many of the great cities of the world, the design of our public realm has an enormous impact on the overall feel and livability of a City, and certainly plays a role in improving neighborhoods.

Also, I played a key role in presenting to Council the motion to mandate the use of LEED, a green building rating system, for all city funded projects, and all of the buildings financed by the bonds are pursuing LEED certification. It is likely that within two years we may have the largest number of LEED certified buildings in the country.

There is no turning back in terms of our commitment to environmental building. In fact, the City needs to move forward. We should be looking at raising the bar for certain building projects, and we need to be looking at environmental standards infusing other aspects of design and infrastructure. I have a seen a sea change in my time at the City, and an environmental perspective is more ingrained than ever in City decision-making. This makes it an exciting time to be working at the City.

Newly elected Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has a long record of being environmentally proactive. What kind of direction do you expect to receive from the mayor's office regarding advancing a green building agenda?

I cannot speculate as to the direction we will get from the Mayor's office, but I am aware of his environmental perspective. I look forward to working with his staff on all fronts, as the Bureau has a lot of exciting projects underway.

Our newsletter carried an address by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley about the importance of revitalizing neighborhoods through strategic investment of capital resources, particularly joint and shared use projects. The Planning Department, Redevelopment Agency and Bureau of Engineering have tended to work in "silos". What unofficial advice could you share with the mayor-who is dedicated to an agenda not unlike Mayor Daley's-about making strategic capital resource investments for neighborhood revitalization?

I think that the City has great talent in all of the offices and departments that directly impact neighborhoods. I think there is an opportunity to bring this talent together around a table, to make even more strategic decisions on pubic investment. I look forward to more dialogue and stronger cooperation.

I look forward to improving the likelihood of neighborhood revitalization through coordinated urban design decisions made by the individual departments, so that the cumulative effect of individual projects is a greater whole. The City of Los Angeles has historically been more dispersed than other cities in terms of decision making on issues that impact the public realm. Internal dialogue can help to link these issues together.

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