Tue, May

Engineers Like to Solve Problems

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-Los Angeles may be hunkered down against COVID-19, but its infrastructure doesn’t take a break.

Garbage needs collecting, streets need repairing and traffic lights need fixing. And we can take this time, when our own lives are on hold, to look at some of the City’s lesser known but important departments and bureaus. 

What the Bureau of Engineering does for the City 

The Bureau of Engineering (the Bureau) is part of the Los Angeles Department of Public Works and focuses on the planning, design, and construction management of public buildings, infrastructure, and open space projects. 

Projects include municipal buildings, bridges, street and transit projects, stormwater and wastewater systems, development of parks, and the restoration of wetlands. The Bureau also manages permits for construction in the public right-of-way. 

Its street program is responsible for the planning, design, and construction management of projects such as widening streets, improving intersections, and enhancing safety for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. 

Its stormwater program provides emergency storm drain repairs as well as planning, design and construction management for flood control and stormwater pollution abatement projects, enforcing private development regulations in areas prone to flooding, and working with FEMA to mitigate flood hazards and provide insurance premium discounts to City's residents. 

The Bureau has taken the lead in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building projects for Los Angeles, and with Envision, a nationally recognized green assessment tool for civil engineering projects. 

The Bureau does not initiate projects: if another City department has a project that requires the Bureau of Engineering’s services, that department contracts with the Bureau for its services. 

Fiscal year 2018-2019 was a success for the Bureau with over 125 projects completed including: 

  • using Proposition O money to build a water infiltration system at Albion Riverside Park to capture storm water and filter it underground before it is released into the Los Angeles River; 
  • completing the 430-foot Red Car Pedestrian Bridge over the LA River from Glendale Boulevard on the north end to the Los Angeles River Bike Path to provide safe passage for bicyclists and pedestrians during the major rehabilitation of the Glendale-Hyperion complex of bridges; 
  • demolishing the old LAPD Parker Center to allow for the construction of the new LA Street Civic Center Building; and 
  • converting the Gardner Street Library in Hollywood into bridge housing for homeless women using HHH funds to reinforce the masonry, upgrade the plumbing, install a new roof, and repave the street, all while maintaining the building’s historic designation. 

At any one time the Bureau has close to 500 projects in development; 82 projects are planned for completion in fiscal year 2019-2020. 

All of these provide challenges on many levels – and it is up to the engineers at the Bureau to find solutions to these problems, be they physical, logistical or financial. 

Since many of their projects take multiple years to complete, the Bureau generally budgets based on three-year projections. The exception is sanitation projects that are budgeted for 10 years. In all cases they create timelines for each phase of a project, allowing for a detailed overview and how various projects will intersect for planning, outreach to the community, staffing, materials and financing. 

This year, the Bureau’s budget is a little over $100 million, with 36% from the City’s General Fund, 43% from the Sewer Capital Fund and the balance from other sources. 

You can find Information on Bureau of Engineering Projects by Council District, Neighborhood Council or Business Improvement District here.  

What the Bureau does for Angelenos 

Along with the Department of Building and Safety, the Department of City Planning, the Bureau of Street Services, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Water and Power, the Bureau is involved with the Plan Checks & Permits, Inspection, and Code Enforcement  required for private property construction, alteration or repair work within the City of Los Angeles.  

For the City, the Bureau handles pre-development and engineering services for all infrastructure work within the public right-of-way as well as recording survey data and maintaining ownership records of real property within the City. They also maintain maps in support of various City services (including Navigate LA), and conduct real estate and environmental assessments as needed 

The Bureau’s focus in connection with the public is to ensure that minor street construction -- driveways, sidewalks, tree root trimming, or anything else in or near that may affect the public right-of-way -- and features such as retaining walls on properties in the hills all meet the City’s design and materials specifications and are properly inspected to keep our neighborhoods safe. 

Last year, the Bureau initiated a mobile app that walks people through the steps of obtaining a permit and then allows them to pay online, allowing the Bureau to increase the number of permits issued and reduce turnaround without additional staffing costs. 

Using outside consultants to augment permanent employees for short term projects contains cost while increasing flexibility and ensuring existing staff are at less risk for layoffs in economic downturns. 

A Challenge 

But. . .if engineers really do like to solve problems, what is happening on Via Marisol just east of the 110 freeway which started falling into Herman Park five years ago? (photo below)  

While they’ve rebuilt the sidewalk for pedestrians and the worst of the damage on the street is blocked off by concrete barriers, is there some underlying problem that could endanger bicyclists, or motorists heading to the freeway? 

There has been a game of finger pointing between the Bureau, Street Services, StreetsLA, the resurfacing department, the Department of Transportation and Councilmember Huizar’s office for five years or so. 

Clearly the initial work has to be the responsibility of the Bureau of Engineering for slope stabilization. So why won’t they step up? 

Are there similar hazards elsewhere in Los Angeles?


For the full Budget Advocate’s report on the Bureau, go to page 68 (page 71 of the pdf) of the NCBA White Paper 2020  link in the right column.


(The Budget Advocates are an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.