ACEC California-Sponsored Legislation Signed into Law, End of Session Preview

2018 is proving to be another successful year in ACEC California’s legislative undertakings. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 920 (Cannella) last week, which extends the permission for engineering, land surveying, and architectural firms to organize as limited liability partnerships (LLP) in California. Without this legislation, these professions’ ability to form LLPs would have expired on January 1, 2019; instead, the permission is extended for an additional seven years. ACEC California enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres)—the organization’s 2017 legislator of the year—and co-sponsors, the American Institute of Architects California Council.

ACEC California members and the design professional community at large have prioritized preserving this form of partnership option because LLPs provide flexible management, operation, and taxation structures. LLPs are a hybrid of a corporation and a general partnership.  Like a general partnership, all partners have equal rights in the management of an LLP. Simply, SB 920 ensures one more tool that California businesses can employ that allows them to be nimble in a 21st Century economy. ACEC California is confident that after several more years of design professionals demonstrating successful and responsible use of LLPs, the Legislature will eliminate the sunset altogether.

Although ACEC California achieved early success by having its sponsored legislation signed in July, it is anticipated that the remainder of the session will be fast-paced and demanding. Before the two-year legislative session adjourns at midnight on August 31, legislators will make decisions on the hundreds of remaining bills. ACEC California leadership, Legislative Committee and advocates continue to be actively engaged in monitoring bills, lending support to policies that promote the design professions, and negotiating to remove language from bills that would hinder California’s business climate.

This year, ACEC California has already been effective in staving off an attempt to require the use public employees for certain public works projects in Orange County, neutralizing an unreasonable CEQA expansion, and working in coalition to sideline a bill that would excise design and construction companies from statutes of repose for water contamination lawsuits. In the coming weeks, ACEC California will continue to participate in, among other things, the Legislature’s ongoing discussions related to restructuring California’s tax-scheme. One proposal, Senator Bob Hertzberg’s (D-Van Nuys) SB 993, includes a new tax on services, which would include engineering and land surveying services. While SB 993 is not expected to progress this year, it is imperative that ACEC California and other professional associations educate lawmakers about the chilling economic impact such a tax would effect. Stay tuned for a complete legislative wrap-up in September!


Senator Cannella and ACEC California Recognize Engineering Scholarship Recipient

Senator Cannella and ACEC California Scholarship Award Winner Linda Lim

Senator Anthony Cannella (R – Ceres) joined representatives from the American Council of Engineering Companies, California earlier this month to recognize an aspiring engineering student from California State University, Fresno State.

Linda Lim, a third-year undergraduate student with an emphasis in Structural and Transportation Studies, is one of eleven recipients of the 2018-2019 ACEC California Scholarship Foundation Awards. Ms. Lim was presented with a certificate from Senator Cannella at the Senator’s district office in Ceres, California. In addition to pursuing her undergraduate degree, Ms. Lim is also currently working on two research papers alongside Dr. Aly Tawfik: the first is estimating the future costs of shared autonomous vehicles; and the other on evaluating California’s current road infrastructure.

In a statement congratulating all of the scholarship award recipients, Senator Cannella said, “I am a proud member of the engineering industry, and I am encouraged that the next generation of intelligent, promising engineers are dedicating their time and effort to complete their degrees and start a career in this noble profession. The students receiving these scholarships from ACEC are certainly the pride of California.”

Senator Cannella being honored as ACEC California's 2017 Legislator of the Year

Also, during the small commemoration, Mike Cooper – 2018 ACEC California President and, senior project manager at Mark Thomas – recognized Senator Cannella as ACEC California’s 2017 Legislator of the Year for his outstanding service and representation of the engineering profession. Mr. Cooper was joined by his ACEC California colleagues: Jason Paul of Blackburn Consulting, Henry Liang of MKN Associates, Mike Auchter of Teter, and Bill Wagner of HMH.

ACEC California Announces 2018-2019 Scholarship Foundation Recipients

UntitledToday the American Council of Engineering Companies, California announced the recipients of its 2018-2019 Scholarship Foundation awards. ACEC California’s Scholarship Foundation awards annual scholarships to accomplished graduate and undergraduate college students working toward a degree in engineering or land surveying, with the top award recipient nominated to apply for the ACEC National scholarship competition.

“ACEC California members are proud to help support the bright and promising careers of these students,” said Brad Diede, Executive Director of ACEC California. “As California moves forward to strengthen its transportation, water and housing infrastructure, it is important to help invest in developing the next generation of engineering and land surveying professionals.”

In total, ACEC California awarded a total of $52,000 in scholarship funds to 11 students: five graduate students and six undergraduate students. This year’s scholarship recipients have demonstrated notable achievement in their respective areas of study and a strong interest in pressing policy issues facing California, including: co-authoring international conference papers regarding seismic behavior of tall buildings; drafting research estimating the future costs of shared autonomous vehicles; and leading a research project involving the study of the mechanical behavior of hybrid fiber-reinforced concrete.

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ACEC California Joins Supporters Urging Water Districts To Move California WaterFix Forward

CAL_WATERFIX_Logo_4CCalifornia’s water supply is at risk. 40 percent of our drinking water travels long distances through 100-year-old dirt levees – leaving our water supply vulnerable to salt water intrusion or such natural disasters as earthquakes. Governor Brown recognizes the critical need to modernize the state’s water distribution system and is supporting the California WaterFix – a comprehensive water storage and distribution solution that is the culmination of nearly a decade of planning, design and expert analysis from the state’s leading water policy experts.

That is why ACEC California joined a large and diverse coalition of nonprofits, businesses, environmentalists, elected officials and local governments that support the California WaterFix to communicate the need for the project to a number of local water districts, officials, and the public. As a result, this summer resulted in significant momentum for the project, with positive opinions from the federal government and project approval by the state.

Since September, State Water Project (SWP) contractors across the state have recently voted to more forward and support WaterFix, including Metropolitan Water District, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Kern County Water Agency, Zone 7 Water Agency, and others.

Unfortunately, the large agricultural Westlands Water District, that receives water from the federal Central Valley project, opted out of the current financing plan. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move forward with a “user-based” financing plan that ensures water contractors only pay for the water they receive.

It is also important to clarify that the while the Department of the Interior confirmed publicly that it does not support the current funding plan, the federal government will continue to work with the state and stakeholders in an effort to move the project forward.

The bottom line is that the system of century-old dirt levees that delivers water to 25 million Californians is vulnerable to both natural disasters and rising sea levels. The state must act to fix this infrastructure; and fortunately, despite these minor setbacks, the dialogue continues to move forward. Experts are continuing to explore how SWP contractors and Central Valley Project stakeholders can continue to work together on the project.

The California WaterFix has undergone unprecedented review and analysis by the state’s leading water experts, engineers, and conservationists. It will improve the safety and reliability of our water distribution system by upgrading aging and outdated infrastructure, and ACEC California will remain a supportive partner of improving and protecting the state’s water supply.

Meet Kwasi Akwabi at Kimley-Horn

The engineering industry attracts professionals with wonderfully diverse and varied backgrounds. And last year, ACEC California launched a Diversity Leadership Council, as part of an effort to highlight just that.

For the next few months, will be publishing blog posts that introduce engineering and land-surveying professionals with varied and diverse backgrounds. The engineering profession, after all, is made up of people – people from all walks of life, with different cultural influences, different academic backgrounds, and different (and oftentimes extraordinarily unique) stories about how they came to be an engineer.

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Kwasi Akwabi is a registered civil engineer and project manager in the intelligent transportation systems group at Kimley-Horn, with 13 years of experience leading a wide range of transportation planning and design projects throughout California and other parts of the country. Kwasi graduated from UC Davis in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Kwasi’s core practice focuses on planning and design of freeway and arterial intelligent transportation systems projects. Outside of the office, Kwasi is an avid golfer and soccer player, and enjoys spending time traveling with his wife and two young daughters.

Q: What first attracted you to becoming an engineer? Was there a specific childhood connection? Or did you come across the engineering profession in your later academic career?

I loved to draw as a kid, and I was pretty good at it, so I really wanted to become an architect. However, the colleges I wanted to attend either required an art portfolio/evidence of formal art training (which I didn’t have) or didn’t have an architecture program at all. So, I scratched that idea.

I entered college as an electrical engineering major, but after a few quarters of computer science classes, I realized that wasn’t something I really wanted to do. My roommate was a civil engineering major, and had taken a lot of the same prerequisite classes I’d taken. His civil engineering classes seemed way more interesting and more practical, so I decided to switch my major to civil engineering. I’d always wanted to do something technical, specifically in engineering or architecture, but I sort of stumbled into civil engineering.

Q: What do you work on in your current capacity and what project(s) are you most proud of?

I mainly manage staff working on transportation infrastructure and operations projects. A lot of my projects involve designing systems and infrastructure that make transportation networks “smart,” allowing those who maintain and operate roadway systems to communicate with roadside devices, and roadside devices to communicate with motorists. I’ve had the chance to work on a lot of really cool projects in my career, but the one I’m probably most of proud of is the I-80 Integrated Corridor Mobility project here in the Bay Area. It was a cutting-edge project that was technically complex and involved a lot of different stakeholders.

What is the one thing you wish people understood about your job or civil engineering in general?

One specifically comes to mind, especially regarding transportation: not all roadway projects are intended to make things “better” for drivers. Oftentimes, we’re looking at roadways as a whole, and trying to figure out how to make them more efficient and safer for everyone, including motorists, transit users, cyclists, and pedestrians. Sometimes what’s better for one type of user, may not be as good for a different type of user. But at the end of the day, the idea is that it’s better for all users as a whole.

The other thing I wish people would recognize is that small changes can make a big difference. I know it’s difficult for people to get excited about a project that reduces their commute time by 5-10 minutes. But if you think about all the other cars on the road making the same trip 4-5 days a week over the course of a few days, a month, year and beyond, the travel time savings really add up. That also results in reduced wear and tear on your vehicle, less fuel consumption, reduction in vehicle emissions, and more time to spend with friends and family.

Q: Is it important to you to help develop the next generation of engineers? From your perspective, how might the profession do better at helping recruit both more students of color and women into the engineering profession?

It’s extremely important. I think a lot of the issues and challenges we face today in the engineering world are very similar (if not the same) to the challenges that our mentors and predecessors faced throughout their careers. The difference is that we now have significantly more powerful technological tools at our disposal to help take on those challenges and an opportunity to come up with more useful, comprehensive, and (hopefully) lasting solutions. We need people who can understand and fully embrace those tools, but also know when to use their best judgement and trust their instincts rather than relying on the machine to do all the work. It’s a pretty challenging time for young engineers outside of tech. Young civil engineers may feel like they’re being left behind, in many ways. But I feel very optimistic about our industry. I think the demand for the skill set that civil engineers possess will continue to grow, and grow more quickly, into the very near future. 

In terms of recruiting more women and minorities, I think this is an issue with as many obstacles as there are solutions. But I’m optimistic that it’s a solvable problem. My perspective is that a big part of it (though certainly not all of it) comes down to exposure. If we want more women and minorities in the profession, then we need to expose more women and minorities to the profession to get them interested and engaged early on. There aren’t enough women and minorities in the engineering workforce because there aren’t enough women and minorities studying engineering in school, or in the pipeline behind those who’ve already made it to college. We have some now, but we need many more. So, we should work with engineering departments of universities and colleges to actively recruit women and students of color, similar to the way universities recruit student athletes. I’m not saying we need to offer all of them a scholarship, but be serious and deliberate about recruiting: seek out and invite students who have demonstrated high aptitudes in math and science (or even just those who are interested) to spend some time discovering what it’s like to be an engineering student. Provide them with information on scholarships and financial aid. Put them in contact with current students and alumni who are in, or from, their area. Make it clear to them that being an engineer isn’t something out of their reach.

And while I truly believe it will take an all-hands-on deck type of approach to increase the number of women and minorities in engineering, I also believe it’s very powerful to see people who look like you doing things you maybe never thought you could do, or maybe never even considered. So, having strong representation from the demographics we’re looking to encourage is also very important.

On the professional side, I think companies and agencies are doing well to break down internal barriers to advancement for women and minorities in the workplace. So, that obviously needs to continue. I think the next logical step is for companies and agencies to actively promote a diverse workplace, and articulate the benefits (both from a business perspective, and a company culture perspective) that come with it.

Q: What would be the dream project you would choose to work on?

My dream project would probably involve some kind of cutting-edge technology. I think in the transportation world, connected and autonomous vehicles are something we all know will very shortly be entering our everyday lives and will disrupt our industry. I hope to work on a design project that will accommodate this technological advancement and provide the infrastructure needed to maximize its potential so it can be safe, efficient, and improve people’s lives.