Yard space is tight for the public works department of La Habra, Calif., so employees replaced a diesel dump truck with a multipurpose vehicle of their own design. Photo: Steve Castellanos

We live in a time of miracles.

Thanks to satellites and the Internet, a single human being can locate and monitor a piece of construction equipment anywhere in the world from the comfort of his or her office. From that same office and same computer, he or she can program and control streetlights in groups or individually.

On a personal level, I'm the recent beneficiary of our ability to manipulate light waves. Almost a century after Albert Einstein published On the Quantum Theory of Radiation, the work that opened the door to “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” technology, a doctor used an excimer laser to physically reshape my corneas. In less than 12 hours, my vision was better than it had ever been. To me, that is a miracle.

(Alas, lasik surgery does not relieve presbyopia, the loss of the elasticity of the eye's lens that makes it increasingly difficult to focus on things up close. But while I must don “cheaters” when working at the computer, I can spot a bug on a fencepost from a mile away.)

Such wonders are the result of human ingenuity and collaboration over a long time. Let us not forget the ability of our co-workers to concoct long-lasting solutions in a short amount of time.

Recently, fleet and street employees Mark Compton, Rick Mc-Gauran, Louis Montes, Willie Morales, and Paul Hamilton neatly addressed and resolved some challenges for their community.

They saved La Habra, Calif., taxpayers 13% on a new roll-off truck by specifying a compressed natural gas engine, thus qualifying for a $25,000 grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Then they developed the specifications to outfit the truck with a removable dump bed or flat bed, enabling it to serve as a 10-yard dump truck, a flatbed truck, a 40-yard bin loader, and a tow truck. They're working on building a removable spray unit and a water truck bed as well.

They just received an “Innovative Project Team Award” from the city for eliminating the need to invest in multiple vehicles and furthering green purchasing goals.

“In these times, it's great to see staff thinking out of the box,” says Public Works Director Steve Castellanos. “The vehicle's full cost, before the grant, was slightly more than $188,000. It's a lot, but we feel that the benefits in lower maintenance and better use will far outweigh the costs in the long term.”

And in these times, what greater financial miracle could there be?