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Jim Comas and Steve Margaroni, both with the Psomas office in Roseville, Calif., and John Pedri, public works director for Lincoln, observe grading operations at a new development site overlooking the city of Lincoln. Photo: Robeert Becker
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Above: Crews install a 72-inch reinforced concrete storm drain pipe for a new development in Lincoln. Photo: Psomas. Right: John Pedri, public works director for Lincoln, overlooks the Lincoln Crossing Development. Photo: Robert Becker

Nestled in picturesque western Placer County just north of the state capital of Sacramento, the historic city of Lincoln, Calif., is called “a small community with big ideas.” In 1998 this small agricultural town had just 8500 residents. Today it is the fastest-growing city in the state. Lincoln's population has been growing at a rate of 54% annually and now stands at 30,000.

Del Webb Corp. was the first to recognize Lincoln's potential. In 1998 the city council approved a development agreement paving the way for Del Webb's 6000-home Sun City Lincoln Hills community. Since then development has exploded-the city is adding more than 2000 residential units each year.

Lincoln's city fathers are solidly behind well-managed growth. “We wanted to minimize the hemorrhaging of sales tax revenue to the nearby towns of Roseville and Rocklin and reach the city's maximum potential in sales tax revenue with a balance of commercial and retail development,” said city councilman Ray Sprague. But since Lincoln did not have the sewer or water capacity to accommodate this dramatic influx of new residents, rapid growth presented city officials, and its public works department in particular, with serious infrastructure challenges.

To address the rush of development, the city focused on two important goals. First, said Sprague, the city council was adamant that existing customers would not be required to financially carry the construction and operational burden created by new development. And secondly, the council saw infrastructure as an investment that must last as long as possible to limit future costs to ratepayers. “We are building a legacy,” said Sprague. “It's not often that a city gets the opportunity to start with all new infrastructure; we've got one shot, and we better do it right.”

To meet these goals, public works director John Pedri spearheaded the creation in 1998 of regularly updated construction standards for all development within the city. These state-of-the-art standards were carefully crafted to provide long-lasting, quality infrastructure. For example, the soon-to-be-completed, $75 million wastewater treatment and reclamation facility is designed to meet not only existing, but also future, state and federal waste discharge and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting standards. Pedri and Sprague agreed that a unified negotiation strategy for development agreements between the city and developers was crucial. In the beginning, according to Pedri, there was some resentment from developers, but they soon realized that they would need to meet the city's high standards if they wanted to build in Lincoln.

Sprague proudly makes the point that the infrastructure improvement standards have strong and consistent support from the city council. “It is a huge asset to have council backing,” said Pedri, who has been public works director since 1997. “Developers know they can't use the council to try to circumvent the new standards; there is no compromising or buckling to developer demands.”

Adds mayor pro tem Tom Cosgrove, “As council members, we sometimes disagree or feel pressure on a particular issue, but when it comes to what is in the best interest of our community, we think more in terms of how our decisions will affect future generations.”

The development standards were incorporated into an agreement signed in 1998 with Del Webb and Placer Holdings Inc. Developers are financing 100% of the backbone infrastructure, including water, sewer, and storm drain facilities; roadways; parks; and the new wastewater treatment and reclamation facilities. The cost-sharing agreements are complex because so many developers are involved in the financing. In response Pedri has hired an in-house certified public accountant for his department to audit the funding and cost sharing of the completed infrastructure projects. Today, almost $1 billion of new infrastructure investment is in the ground and owned by the city.

To cost-effectively manage the infrastructure, development standards emphasize the use of innovative technologies that are not static and always in the forefront. All new water meters, for instance, have radio-read technology that allows one meter-reader to read from his vehicle any water meter within a 1000-foot radius.

As of the end of April 2003, the city had added about 6000 new water meters representing a 166% increase since 1998. Yet with this new technology, Pedri only increased his water department labor force by one full-time employee and one part-time employee. The water department is seeing operational savings of between $350,000 and $400,000 per year. The city is also making extensive use of global positioning and geographical information system technologies.

Relying On Outside Consultants

The Sacramento Business Journal gave Lincoln top grades in its survey rating cities and counties on their handling of development proposals. “Lincoln has become a focal point for development and is apparently responding efficiently,” the Journal reported on Feb. 23, 2004.

Essential to the city's success in managing growth is its reliance on engineering consultants to provide specific expertise for design and construction management. Public works brought on board Psomas, an engineering and construction management firm located in Los Angeles, to oversee the work of the developers' contractors working out of the firm's Roseville office.

Psomas's staff helped the city staff develop new construction standards, manage an aggressive and detailed onsite construction management and inspection program, and assisted in upgrading the construction standards each year. Psomas vice president Steve Margaroni, who oversees the firm's services to the city, makes the point that since all the sewers, roadways, underground utilities, streets, and sidewalks ultimately will be turned over to the city to maintain, tight oversight is essential to ensure everything is built to the city's high standards. At the same time, they must keep up with the rapid pace of development.

Margaroni said that the challenge is to bring everyone up to speed on the city's design and construction standards each time a new developer comes in to the city. “It's different in Lincoln-contractors pay close attention to city standards and specs and build it the way they are required to,” he said. “It's an education process, and we guide them along the way to make sure they know what the specs require.” The united city front with solid council backing, he said, “makes our job in the field a thousand times easier; it allows us to reach the necessary consensus.”

In a larger city, staff would normally perform this oversight function. But faced with rapid infrastructure expansion and a construction management staff of just four people, Pedri decided to treat his staffing needs like a business. By using outside consultants, the department can quickly staff up for the peak construction season and staff down in the less-busy winter. According to Margaroni, at the peak. Psomas may have more than 20 employees working on Lincoln projects but only a skeleton staff of six in the off-season.

This approach keeps the city from shouldering the burden of staffing costs and keeps its employees on full-time in the slower season. “And this way, the people you do hire have job security; they don't have to worry about being laid off like they would if the economy takes a downturn,” said Pedri.

A Bustling City

Just a few years ago, Lincoln was a city of older homes and an aging population that was struggling financially. Today, Lincoln is bustling, with a revitalized downtown and a brand new city hall. Now considered a prime up-scale area, Lincoln's housing prices are rising. Commercial areas have expanded and retail revenues are streaming into city coffers, generating an impressive amount of tax revenue to bolster city services.

Lincoln's success in meeting head-on the challenges of rapid growth stems from the unique partnership of city agencies, developers, and consultants. This partnership has resulted in a well-planned city with high-end infrastructure that pays its own way.

“We are in the enviable position of being able to make land use decisions without being hamstrung by unfulfilled infrastructure demands,” said city councilman Primo Santini. “This freedom is central to building a city that is financially sound and provides a high level of service to its citizens at a fair price.”

Henry is a Los Angeles-based writer specializing in engineering and public works.