Two Small but Highly Productive Agencies

When a large public agency is confronted with a new problem or added responsibility the tendency is to hire new people to handle the new work. There are several problems with this approach. First it is often difficult for a public agency to identify prospective employees with the needed experience and qualifications. Delays in deploying competent people in a timely manner often lead to very bad outcomes. It should also be noted that whenever someone is hired by a large agency the tendency is for that individual to remain on the payroll long after the need for his or her services has passed. It is partly because of this reaction to new problems and responsibilities that large agencies tend to continue to grow in size.

Bureaucracy vs Efficiency

But there is another model of how things can work that seldom gets the attention it deserves. Below are two examples of Bay Area agencies that have achieved astonishingly high levels of achievement with very small staffs.

Experience has shown that a small team of honest, dedicated and otherwise qualified contract managers, backed by competent engineering and other technical support,can be very effective in guiding and overseeing the work of qualified consultants and, through them, securing high quality designs, developing and holding to realistic schedules and maintaining good and productive relations with contractors and unions.

The Contra County Transportation Authority (CCTA). While BATWG regards the CCTA as still too highway-oriented and still too accepting of the destructive sprawl that continues to occur in eastern Contra Costa Counties (and in other counties), we are very impressed with how the Authority operates. Well led by Executive Director Randell Iwasaki, a staff of 20 carefully-selected managers and support personnel effectively manage the design and construction of many highway and other major infrastructure projects. In part because of the lack of a large staff the CCTA is able to acknowledge and correct errors quickly, make decisions quickly and pay for properly completed work quickly. Because of these essential but rare attributes and because it packages and phases its projects thoughtfully, the CCTA normally receives multiple bids per project. When a responsive and effective owner is able to attract five or more bidders, competition usually drives costs down. Because of its rapid responses to problems and general efficiency, CCTA projects almost always come in on time and within budget, and without bogging the Agency down in the protracted battles with contractors that so often plague large Bay Area agencies with staffs of hundreds or even thousands.

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA). The TJPA and its Transbay Transit Center/Downtown Caltrain Extension (TTC/DTX) project was initiated in 1998, literally on the back of an envelope. With an initial staff of one, a staff that even today 22 years later still numbers just 13, the TJPA was nevertheless able to get a remarkable amount of work done between 1998 and 2013, when the project came to a halt, thanks to the Lee Administration’s ill-fated Mission Bay full build-out study followed by the uninformed meddling of the San Francisco’s County Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors.

Lead by multi-talented Executive Director Maria Ayerdi during these highly productive years, the tri-partite TJPA Board was established and 19 acres of prime downtown San Francisco acquired from the State of California at no cost to the City. During that same period the project was laid out and conceptually designed, environmentally cleared and formally approved by all the local, regional, State and federal agencies with jurisdiction. As the funds needed to complete the design and construction of the Transbay Transit Center (now called the Salesforce Transit Center) were accumulating from timely federal subventions and the proceeds of selling off 13 developable acres of the erstwhile State land, the staff initiated an international competition geared to selecting the final designer of the Transit Center. At the same time it hired separate consultants to design and manage the construction of the 1.3 mile DTX extension of Caltrain from its present terminal at Fourth and King to the new Transit Center at First and Mission. The construction of the Transit Center was essentially complete by mid-2018. Since that time, as indicated above and through no fault of the current TJPA Executive Director or his staff, things have again bogged down.

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