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Rebuilding California's Infrastructure

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer Draws Big Crowd to USC Construction Industry Symposium

April 12, 2008 — “Becoming Part of California’s Rebuilding,” the theme of this year’s USC AGC (Associated General Contractors) 14th Annual Symposium, drew a record crowd of industry representatives, USC students and faculty to the Galen Center April 9 for a  keynote address by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer and a panel discussion on ways to rebuild the state's aging infrastructure.
State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, left, and USC Trustee Ronald Tutor, president and CEO of Tutor-Saliba Corp.

Approximately 650 participants filled the basketball arena to hear Lockyer’s analysis of a five-year, $113-billion proposed plan to renovate and augment some of the state’s highways, bridges, airports, rail lines, pipelines, dams and schools, and other publicly owned or publicly regulated facilities.  

Part of the funding would come from a $42 billion California infrastructure bond package passed in 2006, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants much of it to come from private sector competition.  Meanwhile, Lockyer, working with the governor, has launched a program to “green” state buildings. The program would be funded with “California Green bonds” financed, he hopes, with the money saved in energy costs from retrofitting buildings with renewable energy technology.  The 206-million square feet of building the state owns makes it the largest building owner in California, he said.
Sonny Astani, left, who recently named the Viterbi School's Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and department chair Professor Jean-Pierre Bardet.

Public-private partnerships pose both challenges and quagmires, Lockyer said, but no one can get around the exorbitant amount of infrastructure renovation that is looming on California’s horizon.  State agencies estimate that it will take close to $500 billion in the next 20 years to rebuild deteriorating highways, bridges, power lines and schools -- an estimate that Ed Reynolds, Jr., president of The Reynolds Group and a member of the USC Viterbi School Board of Councilors, called low – but that would be far too much money for state government to absorb without massive tax increases or cuts to other programs.  Conversely, privatization could favor affluent over impoverished areas and encourage less-than-satisfactory work.   

A panel discussion with prominent industry representatives, including Richard Little, director of the Keston Institute for Public Finance and Infrastructure Policy, David Thorman of AIA, who is California’s state architect, and Ronald Tutor, president and CEO of Tutor-Saliba Corp. and a USC Trustee, touched on the pros and cons of both approaches.  With approximately 110 companies ranging from contractors to engineers to architects, realtors and lawyers in the audience, the discussion stretched well into the evening.   

Prof. Henry Koffman, Viterbi School faculty advisor for the USC AGC student chapter and director of the USC Construction Management Program, the second largest program in the country, said the turnout was the best ever.  
Professor Henry Koffman, standing second from right, and members of his family.

“I was very, very pleased with the symposium this year,” he said.  “The students did a terrific job of planning, organizing and publicizing it.”

“Jeff and Farrah [symposium co-chairs] put a tremendous amount of work into the planning and organization of this event- they were tremendous!” said USC AGC student chapter president Kim Pacheco, a senior majoring in civil engineering.  “Our student members also were crucial to the success this year, helping us plan before the event and setting up the day of.  Next year we would like to increase the number of guests and would like to start sign-ups a few months in advance.”

USC’s student chapter of the Associated General Contractors organization serves the nation’s construction professionals by promoting the skill, integrity and responsibility of those who build America.  The chapter is active in several nationwide competitions each year, including the Student Competition and Construction Management Conference, held in Sparks, Nevada. 

This past February, approximately 35 USC AGC members participated in the Heavy Civil, Design Build, Residential, Commercial and Graduate competitions, according to Pacheco.   The graduate team placed second “and all of our undergraduate teams were very successful,” she said.
More than 650 guests attended the banquet in Galen Center.

Pacheco and vice president Signo “Jesse” Uddenberg (civil engineering ’08) worked with more than 60 symposium committee members to host this year’s event, which was run solely by students, all from USC’s Schools of Engineering, Business, Policy, Planning and Development, and Architecture.  

Symposium co-chair Jeffrey Bowling, a graduate student in USC’s construction management program, called the evening an example of true “Trojan teamwork.”

“By bringing our current industry leaders together with our future industry leaders, we can bridge the gap and accomplish anything for California,” he said.

When asked about the importance of the event, Farzaneh, symposium co-chair, added: “No one can do this alone. We have to work together if we are going to fix these problems and give the people of our beautiful state the safe infrastructure they deserve.”  

Among the many faculty present from four USC schools were Viterbi School professors Jean-Pierre Bardet, chair of the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Najmedin Meshkati, a professor in the Sonny Astani Department and the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.  Sonny Astani, an inventive L.A. builder, who recently named the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department with a generous $17-million gift, was also present.