Wednesday, December 10, 2008

California budget woes whipsaw highway contractors

Posted in the Sacramento Bee
By Jim Wasserman and Jon Ortiz
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008 | Page 9A

Excuse some mood swings in the construction industry.

On a good day, President-elect Barack Obama says he will spend untold billions of dollars on infrastructure work to wake up the U.S. economy.

Then, on a bad one, California officials say they'll cancel $5 billion worth of infrastructure projects in two weeks unless there's a fast budget fix.

"One week we're getting fantastic news and this week you wake up and it's complicated. Is it a roller coaster? Absolutely," said Diane Meehan, owner and president of Sacramento's Richard A. Heaps Electrical Contractor Inc. The company works on highway traffic lights from Merced to Oregon.

"There are a couple of things pulling against one another," said Steven Hiatt, Sacramento office director for the engineering firm Nolte Associates Inc. The firm's 500 employees operate in three states and Mexico. "The (federal) economic stimulus package tends to weigh toward some quick projects that may take place next year. But the state's budget problem tends to counter that. How that works out remains to be seen."

This can, indeed, seem like the best and worst of times for an embattled construction industry competing for fewer projects with ever-lower bids. Yet many area construction executives who work throughout California and the West say they're largely looking past the state's budget problems to a coming boom.

If the explosion of work comes "it's going to be huge for firms in the Sacramento area," said Meehan, who has 65 employees.

Collectively, Meehan, Hiatt and many others are watching as an incoming presidential administration considers massive deficit spending to rebuild the nation's bridges, highways, tunnels and schools.

Days ago, Obama promised to create millions of jobs with the "single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s." He also promised to create new jobs by upgrading schools and making buildings more energy-efficient.

Obama said that such action is necessary – and soon – to offset the loss of 2 million jobs in this recession. In California, the construction industry alone has lost 66,100 jobs in the past year – mostly in the home-building sector.

Ken Kayser, president of Sacramento-based Teichert Construction, said, "It's huge. With the private side all dried up, it really is the only game there is for companies like ours."

Teichert specializes in paving, grading and widening roads and highways from Bakersfield to Marysville. While much of its work was for housing developers during the boom, the collapse of the Central Valley housing market has heightened its need for public infrastructure jobs. The firm has about 3,000 workers.

Sacramento-based highway contractor C.C. Myers said Tuesday that building infrastructure to stimulate the economy "is good for everybody. Other people make and supply the things we need. It puts them to work, too."

But consider this, too, he said. "We need it done. We're way behind the curve in where we should be on maintaining our highways. One of the reasons it doesn't get done is because we haven't had the money for years. This infusion will help."

Myers, like Kayser, is waiting to see a game plan from the California Department of Transportation. Caltrans has outlined plans to spend $107 billion on transportation projects in the next decade.

Department spokeswoman Tamie McGowen said those plans contain the likeliest candidates for construction under a federal stimulus. For big contractors like Myers, that's a shot at projects like 550 miles of new high-occupancy vehicle lanes and 750 miles of new highway lanes.

Myers said his firm largely depends on public sector work, such as rebuilding a damaged Bay Area freeway interchange and overhauling a section of Interstate 5 last summer in Sacramento. His firm is currently building what Myers calls "the longest arch bridge in the U.S." on Highway 395 near Carson City, Nev. He employs 450 to 500 people.

While heavy construction firms await stimulus moves by the federal government, the state is proving – at least momentarily – more worrisome. Monday, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer warned the Legislature that cash is running so short that $5 billion in public works projects are threatened with a halt within two weeks.

He said that could force thousands of layoffs.

"Our ability to give our struggling economy a much-needed shot in the arm will be lost," Lockyer said.

Paul Meyer, executive director of the American Council of Engineering Companies of California, said it's critical that California "get its act together in time" to provide matching funds for the federal stimulus. The Sacramento organization represents 1,100 private consulting, engineering and land-surveying firms in California.

"If California doesn't have the funds available to match, it could delay projects, at a minimum. We could miss out on some," he said. "It's a competitive situation between the states."


Call The Bee's Jim Wasserman, (916) 321-1102. Read his blog on real estate, Home Front, at

Monday, December 8, 2008

California Surveyor Paul Cuomo Passes

Written by Tony Cuomo (as posted in American Surveyor Magazine Online)

Paul Cuomo, PLS, of Newport Beach, California, founder of Pacific Land Seminars and owner of Paul Cuomo Press, Inc., passed away on December 2, 2008. He had been diagnosed with a brain tumor in August 2008. He passed peacefully with his family by his side. Paul began his surveying career in 1958 with the California Division of Highways (Cal Trans). He became a licensed Land Surveyor in 1973 and that year started teaching boundary classes at Santa Ana Junior College. He left Caltrans in 1980 and joined the Orange County Surveyor's Office as Deputy County Surveyor. In 1985, Paul founded Pacific Land Seminars and began offering exam preparation workshops for the California Land Surveyor in Training (L.S.I.T.) and Professional Land Surveyor (P.L.S.) exams. He "retired" in 1993 to become a consultant in the boundary and mapping fields, and to focus more on surveying education. Paul was a founder and past chairman of the California Foundation for Land Surveying Education. He was a major supporter Cal Poly Pomona's efforts to obtain ABET accreditation for their 4-year Surveying option program. As a result of the Foundations efforts, over $100,000 in scholarships have been awarded to surveying students at Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State Fresno. In addition to scholarship funding, the foundation also provided over $50,000 in equipment donations to the Fresno, Pomona, Santiago Canyon Community College, and San Jacinto Community College surveying programs. Along with Michael Pallamary and the late Roy Minnick, he co-authored "Advanced Land Descriptions", and authored "Surveying Principles for Civil Engineers" as well as the yet to be published "Elements of Boundary Control." He has been an Expert Examiner for the State Board of Registration, held the office of president at both the local and state level for the California Land Surveyors Association, and, through Pacific Land Seminars, has presented classes, seminars, and workshops across the United States.

Paul was born on March 23, 1937, in Brooklyn, New York. He was a devoted husband and doting father. He is survived by his wife of nearly fifty years, Peggy, by his two sons, Tom and Tony, their wives Janessa and Rachelle, and his four grandchildren, Julian, Elena, Zoe, and Cole. In his youth, Paul was a devoted Brooklyn Dodger fan. In the late fifties, he followed the team to Los Angeles, California. In spite of his team's defection, Paul loved to travel back to his native New York to take in the theater in Manhattan, and visit family & friends. He was an avid pool player where his skills earned him the moniker 'Paulie Fats' Paul played a wicked and deadly game of 9-ball. He loved music of all types and had a wonderful singing voice.

As an educator and mentor over the past four decades, Paul's passion and devotion to the advancement of surveying education has touched thousands of lives and careers. Based on his extraordinary commitment to Land Surveying education, two separate memorial funds have been set up, one through his local Orange County, California, chapter of the California Land Surveyors Association, and the second through California State University at Fresno. Donations can be made payable to either the "Paul Cuomo Memorial Scholarship Fund" (the C.L.S.A. Orange County Chapter fund) or the "Paul Cuomo Memorial Educational Fund" (the Cal State Fresno fund), and forwarded to Pacific Land Seminars, 2832 Tigertail Dr., Rossmoor, CA., 90720.

A memorial celebration is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, January 17th. Please contact,, or visit for details as they become available.