By Samantha Garcia and Eric Turner

Since 1967, The Standard Specifications for Public Works Construction, commonly known as “The Greenbook,” has fostered uniform project designs and promoted competitive bidding. The City of San Diego has taken the concept — standardizing codes, regulations, and policies — a step further by developing a supplement with standards specific to its projects.

The Whitebook is a single, comprehensive source that streamlines references for project managers. When The Greenbook doesn't address situations that are unique to the city, they know The Whitebook takes precedence.

Released last September, the 2010 edition specifically addresses solid waste in Section 802. By providing contract language specifying waste reduction measures, potential impacts are considered early in the planning process as part of the project description. This minimizes the time required for review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

An interdepartmental team met for nearly a year and a half to hammer out the details. Solid waste specialists described the measures that should be taken to reduce waste on various types of projects. Project managers identified ways to make the provisions useful over a wide range of projects. Contract managers and environmental specialists provided input that shaped the requirements to the needs of contractors and the environmental review process.

The result is language that provides three key benefits:

Reducing the volume of waste entering the Miramar Landfill, which is scheduled to reach capacity by 2022.

Closing this facility will increase the city's costs related to hauling and disposal fees. Including minimum waste reduction goals and onsite separation of recyclable materials in contract specifications extends landfill life by minimizing the volume of waste city projects send to the facility. Although they don't specifically define clean construction and debris requirements, the specifications also help move projects toward developing better segregated, cleaner loads.

Streamlining project review. One of the most time-consuming aspects of discretionary projects is review under the California Environmental Quality Act. Under this law, impacts must be determined and, when possible, mitigated.

Section 802 contains measures, such as following the city's Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Program (EP3), to reduce such impacts. Project managers must translate these measures into contract specifications.

These measures become part of the official project description, avoiding the need to conduct further analysis in the environmental document.

Ensuring compliance with municipal code and administrative regulations. For example, San Diego's Construction and Demolition Debris Deposit Program Ordinance requires all public and private construction and demolition projects to post a bond to ensure that a certain percentage of construction and demolition debris is taken to an approved recycling facility. Section 802 summarizes these requirements so project managers and city contractors don't have to reference the municipal code to find the applicable forms required by the city's permitting department.

The Whitebook's goal is to enable managers to design projects from the outset that comply with all mandates, thereby achieving political and public approval more easily. The end result should be well-designed projects with faster processing times and maximized cost savings. The manual ensures projects are managed with consistency and uniformity, comply with requirements, and consider and balance the many values local governments must address.

Seeing results

San Diego's experience suggests that centralizing policies, administrative regulations, and regulatory codes provide benefits well worth the time it takes to develop such a standard document. The Whitebook has effectively increased the uniformity and consistency — and decreased the size — of advertised contracts. With thinner contract documents, the city can process contracts up to three times faster with the same number of employees.

The effort also pays off in real dollars and cents.

“Taking the time to develop specifications like this gives cities a jump on regulatory requirements that may be imposed by federal or state agencies regarding solid waste management and/or greenhouse gas reduction, and will pay off in the long run,” says Lisa Wood, senior planner for environmental services.

California law focuses on reducing the amount of material entering landfills, she explains, and cities are fined if they fail to meet disposal reduction targets. Thus, San Diego's standard specifications help the city avoid enforcement actions from the state.

However, the process requires patience and determination. One employee closely involved in the process offers advice for other managers looking to undertake such a project: A work plan and a dedicated staff who can “think outside the box” are essential.

San Diego plans to keep enhancing The Whitebook with annual updates. “This is particularly important for solid waste practices, because the regulatory landscape frequently changes,” notes Wood.

— Garcia is a former intern and Turner is the current intern for the San Diego Environmental Services Department.


To view San Diego's The Whitebook, click here.