Praful M. Kulkarni
Praful M. Kulkarni
December 10, 2020

How Civic Leaders are Rethinking Capital Planning and Innovative Project Delivery

Praful M. Kulkarni
Praful M. Kulkarni

While the pandemic has disrupted our lives and created myriad challenges in 2020, it was inspiring to spend time recently hosting a HORIZON discussion with key civic leaders from across Southern California on leadership strategy, resiliency, capital planning and creative project delivery.

While the pandemic has tightened capital and operating budgets and introduced new challenges related to safety and collaboration, the group was clear inaction isn’t an option. They kindly offered looks at how they are keeping connected with their teams and moving projects forward at this unique time.

In hopes their strategies can inspire others and spur even broader positive action, the full discussion is available via video below. This post also summarizes key points and takeaways.

Establish Guiding Principles and Goals
The disruption of the past year has shifted priorities and required many people to work from home full-time. To keep their teams focused during this challenging year, the speakers echoed the importance of establishing guiding principles.

Mark Pestrella, P.E., Director of Public Works for Los Angeles County shared they established key guidelines around keeping employees safe, keeping community members safe, all while maintaining the essential services they bring to the community and catalyzing economic recovery. As part of this discussion, Mark shared that the county is working on several projects related to mental health, wellness, homelessness, and more that simply can’t pause. Keeping in regular communication with his teams and reminding them of the critical nature of their work has been key to keeping motivation, morale and progress strong.

Embrace Creative Delivery Strategies
As counties across California and the country work to move projects forward amidst tighter budgets, many are shifting to creative delivery solutions that accelerate project timelines while reducing budget and maintaining quality. All of the speakers highlighted this shift with discussion around design-build, best value job order contracting, construction management at risk, progressive design build, and public private partnerships (P3) as delivery models in play.

Nardy Khan, Deputy Director of Infrastructure Programs for the County of Orange Public Works, shared they have used design build and P3 to deliver numerous horizontal and vertical construction projects. They’ve integrated scoring rubrics related to project delivery into their RFP process and are constantly seeking out new ideas, innovations and technologies that can advance their projects. Her comments were bolstered by Mark Pestrella sharing LA County’s experience advancing progressive design build and Mark Medved highlighting numerous creative approaches San Diego County is also implementing to keep projects moving forward successfully.

Plan for Uncertainty
While it has been an unprecedented year full of financial uncertainty, all the speakers shared they have avoided layoffs to their team and long-term delays to projects. Marko Medved, Director of San Diego County Public Works, shared that their team strategically paused budget planning to see what 2020 would bring once the pandemic arrived.

According to Marko, his team constantly re-evaluated the budget and found creative ways to separate efforts into pre-construction and construction phases, that allowed them to have both a short- and long-term snapshot. Ultimately, their proactive planning helped them realize higher revenues than anticipated and continue on a strong path forward for the county on numerous fronts. He highlighted exciting projects around public housing, workplace, infrastructure and more that continue to move forward.

Understand Local Economies
Knowing there are real economic struggles for families across Southern California during the pandemic, it’s critical to prioritize recovery efforts to have the most impact. Stephen Cheung, Chief Operating Officer for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, helped shape this portion of the discussion with key data around the region’s economic makeup.

As Stephen noted, LA is fueled by small businesses with 93% of the organizations in the county having fewer than 20 employees. The pandemic has been especially challenging for these small businesses that lack the deep spreadsheet and savings to sustain slow periods. Through the LAEDC, Stephen has reminded his team members they are on the front lines as they work with small businesses to keep them moving forward. This has buoyed motivation and also helped the LAEDC teams focus strategies to best help small businesses over the past year and moving forward.

It was truly wonderful to have the group together and I hope all can take the time to watch the video above to hear more on how these leaders are innovating for success during the pandemic. We look forward to continuing the discussion in 2021.