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Berkeley Public Works:
Moving into the Twenty-First Century

Berkeley Public Works: Moving into the Twenty-First Century 1997 Produced by Berkeley Citizen. x

Berkeley Public Works: Moving into the Twenty-First Century
Producer: L A Wood, December 1997
A twelve-minute video that chronicles the growth and development of Berkeley's Public Works Department over the last century including issues of fleet management, the municipal workforce and land use. This public policy video presentation was produced and narriated by L A Wood, then citizen member of the City Council Subcommitte on Alternative Fueling Site(s).

Moving into the Twenty-First Century was first viewed as part of the subcommittee's agenda on the 10th of December 1997. Though the Council Alternative Fueling Sites Subcommittee achieved little in actual changes to the city's fueling regimen this video did contribute to a greater awareness to fleet management issues in Berkeley.

Grand Opening Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Station Berkeley CA July 27, 2001 Berkeley's first ultra-low emission Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) station grand opening was held on Friday, July 27 at the new West Berkeley station.
Traffic in Transit" a West Berkeley area traffic plan (SUDS) presentation 1995

Berkeley Public Works: Moving into the Twenty-First Century
Script and Narration: L A Wood, December 1997

Across the country, millions of municipal employees come together every day in an effort to maintain our cities and provide services. Among these are the men and women of Public Works who clean the streets, care for our parks, collect garbage, and more. Hello. We are here in Berkeley to take a unique look at this municipal work force, and to begin to understand some of the challenges facing Berkeley’s Public Works as it moves into the twenty-first century.

Berkeley Public Works horsesLet’s begin our investigation by taking a step back in time and reviewing the Public Works’ history of development. Our story begins nearly 100 years ago when Public Works was little more than horses and stables. This was a time of growth for the city and the formative years for our municipal services.

Back then, Berkeley’s City Hall and the Public Works Corporation Yard were located at Sacramento and University. In 1915, almost two decades after the city hall was moved to the Civic Center, the stables and equipment yard were situated away from the City’s main street, further southwest to a new location on Allston Way. It was then that Public Works began its steady move to modernize. By now, the work force had risen to about 150, and was supported by a number of specialized vehicles and equipment.

In the early 1920s, the municipal garbage collection was added to the activities list of this “rock and gravel” yard. With the increase in city vehicles, Public Works soon began to take on a different look.

By the 1930s, the growth of the city’s fleet forced horse stalls and storage areas to make way for shop space and vehicles. Fleet management had finally emerged as a critical element of planning for Public Works’ future growth. The many changes which came with street construction and city maintenance during this period also produced additional demands for materials storage and processing of street oils and macadam and asphalt.

The Public Works Department had entered an era of planning and design. They were forced by the rapid changes in technology and increased demands for services to look for better ways to operate.

Berkeley Public Works vehicle maintenance facilityIn 1930, a new oil re claimer at the maintenance yard resulted in a 40% decrease in oil costs that year for the fleet. That same year, a new truck body design by the Public Works superintendent lowered the sides of garbage trucks to just 56 inches from the ground which not only made it easier to dump cans, but also saved two hours a day for two workers. The war years limited much of the expansion that occurred during the two preceding decades. However, the area’s residential growth continued. By the 1950s, city planners began to discuss the idea of moving the Public Works’ operations.

The Master Plan noted the yard’s nonconformance to zoning of the surrounding area and indicated need for relocation. Yet, no plan existed to accomplish this task. It was at this time that the maintenance yard underwent its second capital renovation since its relocation some 35 years earlier. The improvements were to the work and storage areas.

The yard’s operations were shifting toward vehicle maintenance and storage as more road materials were being purchased and shipped directly to the job sites. Other activities like woodcutting, asphalt processing and the use of the old boiler had all been phased out too.

For more than a half a century, Public Works had managed to keep abreast of the growth in city services, its municipal work force and fleet operations. However, it soon faced an undeniable reality. First, the refuse or solid waste division could no longer be accommodated at the Corporation Yard. And then there was the landfill crisis.

It was projected that the Marina landfill would reach capacity by 1978 and something must be done if the city were to remain in the collection and disposal business. This meant that a collection center was needed to sort, recycle and transport the remaining refuse to a landfill outside the city.

In 1968, the Refuse and Disposal Fund started the process to acquire an industrial property and made possible its construction in the early 1880s. Yet, even with changes which already occurred at the Corporation Yard, the neighborhood began to organize and demand certain improvements in the remaining operations.

Among these were further concerns about traffic mitigations, an accounting of hazardous waste storage and disposal, and the relocation of some traditional yard activities out of the residential area.

In addition, the community had called for the completion of the current Master Plan for the corporation yard, which included additional onsite parking, the removal of several buildings, and the unfulfilled promise of a sound wall near the fueling station. Some of this project remains incomplete today.

These operations had sparked a public discussion which forced an evaluation of the Corporation Yard’s operations. The report, completed in 1993, identified the need for additional space for Public Works and suggested that a further investigation be done in identifying the project. This effort was never funded. An interesting point in this report was the inclusion of the School District in a possible joint vehicle maintenance facility.

It should be noted the Berkeley Unified School District has moved its maintenance operations and bus storage several times, but still has not solved its future maintenance yard and fueling needs. School buses are currently fueling at the City’s second street Transfer Station. As we have seen, the steady expansion of Public Works over the last eighty years continues to leave a legacy of operational concerns. Let’s examine these problems by focusing on fleet management and land use.

Fleet Management

One of the greatest growths seen in Public Works has been in the numbers of vehicles and their maintenance. In 1952, the fleet consisted of about 100 vehicles and specialized equipment. Today, this number has grown by over 500 percent.

City tour of Corportation yardEarlier in 1991, there was some discussion regarding vehicle reduction when Berkeley adopted the state-mandated Clean Air Act. The plan committed the city to trip reduction of both city employee commuters and in its maintenance activities.

Nevertheless, the corporation yard failed to affect the commuting patterns of its 200 workers, citing poor public transit accessibility.

Instead, Public Works elected to mitigate this requirement by purchasing several electric scooters for parking control housed at the south Berkeley site. Since that time, the state requirements for large businesses like the city’s fleet have lessened, and this has slowed Berkeley’s clean air efforts. Two Years ago, a fleet audit affirmed that the city efforts at fleet reduction had been unsuccessful. It also indicated that a number of problems existed with data collection and monitoring of fleet activities.

If an army moves on its stomach then surely Public Works moves on its gasoline. This was certainly understood in 1929. Staff changed the hand-operated gas pump at the Corporation Yard to an electric one achieving a savings of three fueling hours a day. It was recognized then, as today, that the cost of fueling is more than the current price of gasoline, which incidentally was 12 cents wholesale, back then. Where vehicles are stored, fueled, and driven can have an enormous impact on productivity and the environment.

Traditionally, the fleet has used one centralized fueling station at the corporation yard. There was a slight shift in this pattern a decade ago, with the development of the Transfer Station and fueling. Today, most of the large trucks stationed at the Corporation Yard visit the Transfer Station each day and consequently have equal access to either fueling site. Yet they fuel at the vehicle maintenance yard as do other large trucks located outside the area.

Although there have been some attempts to understand the dynamics of city fueling, there have never been any origin and destination studies done. Where do city vehicles actually operate? Can a more diversified fueling scheme, which includes public stations, enhance the city’s operations and emergency preparedness?

Land use1992 newspaper article: City site laced with toxic waste

Since the 1950s, the city has acknowledged the inappropriateness of the Corporation Yard to the adjoining residential area. The R2 zoning of this area certainly has influenced many changes that have occurred in recent (years) at this industrial site.

In Berkeley’s early days, land use was less of a problem than it is today. Now, with our understanding of the effects that chemicals, traffic and noise can have on our lives and environment, issues of land use are now more seriously considered.

1992 tour of city corporation yard L A Wood & Director Jordan Rich The community awareness to the city chemicals and other stored materials spans more than two decades. As was seen with fueling, the Corporation Yard continues to function as the city’s primary storage location for road materials and street chemicals.

Little more than a year ago, the community requested the Public Works Department reconsider its hazardous waste activities at the Corporation Yard. Concerned that the city’s plan was to centralize all its waste storage activities at the Corporation Yard, citizens asked for an evaluation and a new hazardous waste plan.

In addition, they requested that all street materials and the large trucks associated with road repair activities be moved to the Transfer Station. The waste plan, drafted by the city’s Toxics Management Department supports less onsite storage of virgin materials, minimization of generated waste, and a relocation of the emergency spill response activities of the city. In recent years, the city has re-configured some part of Public Works each budget period: shifting staff, moving activities and budgets like playing cards, with not overall long-term vision and with little understanding of how these changes impact the surrounding community.

This can be observed by looking at the alternate fueling station project slated for next year at the City’s Transfer Station. No evaluation has been done to consider the impact on traffic patterns, site operations, and most importantly, other development plans. Next year, state requirements will force the reconstruction of the 2nd Street fueling station. How will these two projects affect each other? How big should each be? Will an already crowded Transfer Station safely accommodate these activities in the future? These are some of the questions and challenges ahead as Berkeley’s Public Work’s plans to move into the Twenty-First Century.

Berkeley Public Works: Moving into the Twenty-First Century
Script and Narration: L A Wood, December 1997

Producer's Notes

The public policy video, Berkeley Public Works: Moving into the Twenty-First Century was produced for the Alternative Fueling Sites Subcommittee of City Council and was first viewed as part of its agenda on the 10th of December 1997.

The council subcommittee was comprised of council members Woolley (chair), Breland, Spring and Mayor Dean, City of Berkeley Toxics Management Division, Public Works, both Public Works and Environmental Commission representatives and Berkeley citizen, L A Wood.

The issue of fueling city vehicles arose from community outcry over the Public Works vehicle maintenance yard. (See video Traffic in Transit 1995.) At that time, Public Works was asked to bring back a report regarding fueling options for the city fleet.

Because the City report raised more questions than answers, council then elected to create a subcommittee to address the issue. Though the group met for more than a year, little was achieved in actual changes to the city's fueling regimen. However, this video did contribute to a greater awareness to fleet management issues in the City of Berkeley.

Also SEE: Fuel Line Repair and Alternative Sites Reports
L A Wood, July 17, 1995

East Bay Express, 26 December 1997, Volume 20, No. 12
Editors Desk: Stories We Decided Not to Cover
December 10-"The Premier showing of Berkeley Public Works: Moving into the Twenty-First Century, a twelve-minute video that chronicles the growth and development of Berkeley's Public Works Department over the last century. Fleet management, the municipal workforce and land use issues will be featured."

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