Letters to the Editor: Public Works needs licensed engineers

Letters to the Editor: Public Works needs licensed engineers

Letters to the Editor

Reading Alameda Public Works Director Bob Haun’s May 21 op-ed, “The City Does Employ Engineers for Its Projects,” reminded me of the old adage, “saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.” Mr. Haun does a fine job of laying out the “facts” as he wants you to believe them, but when you scratch the surface of his claims, you uncover the telltale glint of fool’s gold.

First, let’s get one irrefutable, overarching fact straight: California law requires that a licensed civil engineer must be in responsible charge of professional engineering work at the public works department. Moreover, recent changes in state law require cities to have a qualified engineer approve alternative design criteria. It’s Mr. Haun’s job to follow these laws to the letter.

Yet, under Mr. Haun’s supervision, city planners are making crucial engineering decisions regarding traffic safety design standards. Mr. Haun says public works has nine engineers on staff with 238 years of combined experience; however, when I asked recently for a list of the city’s licensed engineers, I was given the name of only one person who works full time and names of two retired engineers working part time and very limited hours. And four of the lead licensed civil engineers have left the city: Former Public Works Director Matt Naclerio, former city engineer Barbara Hawkins, former senior engineer Obaid Khan and civil engineer Eddie Sommerauer. The city records did not provide a name of a licensed civil engineer in responsible charge of civil engineering work.

If there are nine civil engineers on staff, he should provide their names and civil engineering license numbers. Saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.

I don’t know how Mr. Haun came up with “238 years of combined experience.” Perhaps he included these retired engineers in the count. Saying they are just doesn’t make it so.

Mr. Haun triumphantly claims Caltrans engineers reviewed and approved the Shore Line cycle track. But Caltrans only performs detailed engineering reviews for state highway projects and merely looks at local projects for general compliance, relying on the city to provide detailed engineering reviews. Many residents in the East End remember the Southwood and Gibbons school children crossing grant which Caltrans had approved. The community spoke up, resulting in the withdrawal of the grant. And many of us too, remember the bikeway grant on Fernside Boulevard that had been approved by Caltrans in 2001, but then the bikeway was rebuilt a few years later. Saying so doesn’t make it so.

For a city the size of Alameda, engineering decisions must be made every day, yet Alameda’s licensed engineers who retired or left City Hall have not been replaced by equally qualified personnel. As public works director, it is highly probable Mr. Haun is making crucial engineering decisions with no licensed civil engineers in responsible charge to review and approve them and perform the independent checks of consultants like for the large infrastructure program at Alameda Point.

Mr. Haun was also the lead preparer from public works for a major city report, and his name is followed by the credentials “P.E.” for professional engineer. Indeed, the city’s website lists Mr. Haun as a “P.E. ” since 2013 although he is not listed as a licensed professional engineer in the Alameda Point final environmental impact report. (See Chapter 7 List of Preparers, http://alamedaca.gov/alameda-point/eir.) This never was corrected even though the city had been formally notified of this on October 21, 2013. That is false credentialing and gross misrepresentation. And again saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.

We all would agree that the public involvement process is a positive thing; it is always good to get information out to the public, as long as it is straightforward and supported by facts. But public involvement can never take the place of the educated assessment of a licensed engineer trained to identify and eliminate design flaws early in the process – before the designs are fully engineered. This type of oversight would not add to taxpayer costs; on the contrary, it would save taxpayer dollars.

I tried to resolve the lack of qualified civil engineers regarding the Clement Avenue project and other projects by letter on April 8. In my letter, I included facts supporting the need for qualified civil engineers to be in responsible charge at City Hall, but no action has been taken to date. Transportation Commission member Jesus Vargas also tried in an April 14 e-mail to public works, stating he did not vote for the Clement Avenue project because of its many flaws and that he had been asking for qualified staff on the city’s projects for more than 18 months. Residents and business owners recognized the major flaws in the Clement plan, too, and went before the Transportation Commission on March 25 to fight it. None of these actions would have been necessary if the city had qualified licensed civil engineers in responsible charge of the Clement project.

Mr. Haun can reinvent and repackage the details, but when all is said and done, there remains one indisputable fact: California law requires that a licensed civil engineer must be in responsible charge of professional civil engineering work at the public works department. Saying the city has them doesn’t make it so. It doesn’t make us safe. And it doesn’t make for smart spending of taxpayer dollars.

Eugenie P. Thomson

Eugenie P. Thomson, P.E. is a licensed civil and traffic engineer, retired, and a longtime resident of Alameda.


Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Wed, May 27, 2015

Here is a new intersection that could use some help.

Submitted by Ken Peterson (not verified) on Wed, May 27, 2015

"Saying that something is so, will not make it so, if it is not so otherwise."
I have long thought Alameda could display a couple of well known commercial or popular slogans,
from Burger King "The home of the whoopers."
Alameda could be known as "Newman's Own". Not Paul Newman, of course, but Alfred E. Newman, with the slogan, "What me worry?"

Submitted by Patrick (not verified) on Thu, May 28, 2015

It doesn't appear Bob Haun is a licensed engineer in California. You can look it up on the California board for professional engineers and professional land surveyors. If he is using the term PE then that is pretty disrespectful and I think most of us in the industry would consider that fraud.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, May 28, 2015

The intersection near In and Out burger was originally designed and implemented with sufficient travel lanes on Willie Stargell to "receive" those southbound existing the tube and turning right.

However, the City of Alameda - lacking a responsible engineer in charge - made changes to Willie Stargell to reduce the number of traffic lanes, necessitating the no-turn-on-red sign that everyone ignores in the People Behaving Badly video.

That intersection is a mess, and the fault is plainly at the hands of the planning department and public works.

Submitted by Maureen (not verified) on Thu, May 28, 2015

The intersection by the In and Out IS a mess. When they were building it, I contacted public works to express concern, to no avail. The paint lines on the road are extremely confusing, the "no turn on red" sign is hung too high and too the right to see in time to stop if you are the first car coming upon it, and now the timing of the light is off. For public planning, its all "details details details." Too many of our public projects recently are lacking in good execution of details. PLEASE will somebody from Public Works go take a look at this light with a fresh set of eyes? It needs to be fixed before causing a major accident.

Submitted by liz (not verified) on Fri, May 29, 2015

I'm grateful to Eugenie for raising this issue over the years. What mystifies me is why Alameda continues to make major traffic and growth decisions without competent civil and traffic engineers. The table of clearly bogus traffic numbers Eugenie recently published in the Alameda Sun tells the tale: http://alamedasun.com/news/traffic-impact-numbers

Why isn't our city council on top of this? Why is the city not adhering to engineering guidelines? Why has there not been a credible traffic impact report conducted? Something is very wrong here.

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Sat, May 30, 2015

How does the City of Alameda plan on addressing the problems at Webster and Stargell? This does not build confidence in the City's ability to solve transportation problems at Alameda Point or the Northern Waterfront.

Submitted by Calvin Lee (not verified) on Mon, Jun 1, 2015

@Steve: What is the problem at Webster/Stargell? The red lights are working as intended now (after the initial glitch).

The bigger problems are: the chaotic traffic from the Anitques Fair at the Point (on the last Sunday of the month) and the long line of cars on Stargell (and overflowing to Webster) that are waiting to enter In-N-Out!

Unfortunately, the Planning Commission decided to approve In-N-Out despite this being a known concern at the time.

How do we unring the bell now?

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Mon, Jun 1, 2015

These are questions that need to be addressed by our traffic engineers. Motorists seem confused as to the intent of the intersection. Ironically, after all of the discussion, there is no direct pedestrian path to In-N-Out. Instead, access is via a long walkway that requires pedestrians to cut through the In-N-Out parking lot. In my mind, this calls into question as to whether we will need to "unring the bell" for Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront. Who do we hold responsible? Who will be required to fix problems? Will the cost of unringing bells come entirely out of taxpayers pockets? Are we seeing another instance of problem solving being accomplished by IBGWBG?