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Representative Projects, Client References and Important Links

Many of the projects UA has completed, while differing in size, scope and location, have had the following elements in common:

  1. A heightened concern by potentially affected interests about the possible health, safety, financial, environmental and/or quality of life effects arising from the proposed project or its alternatives.
  2. A concerned "public" consisting of individuals and groups with organizational skills, political and legal savvy, and awareness of relevant state/federal guidelines and requirements.
  3. A period of conflict and controversy about the proposed project occurring prior to Urban Alternatives’ involvement.

Brief descriptions of some of UA’s representative project experience during its 24 years of operation are presented below and are organized by functional area:

  1. Water/Wastewater Management and Planning
  2. Housing, Community Development, and Land Use Planning
  3. Environmental Planning
  4. Hazardous/Solid Waste Management
  5. Transportation Planning and Analysis

1. Water/Wastewater Management and Planning

Designed, developed and assisted in carrying out a public involvement program to support the planning, environmental study and project selection phases for a long-term regional wastewater management project in Sonoma County, California — one of the most controversial capital improvement efforts in California history. Responsible for managing an $850,000 public involvement contract services budget for this $18 million planning and study effort. Prepared a detailed public involvement plan describing the recommended strategy, information support materials and public consultation techniques needed to promote agreement among all key stakeholders about a wastewater management solution and provided advice, oversight and direct management of the plan's implementation. The public involvement program covered all phases of the planning and decision-making process including scoping, environmental study and project selection. At the conclusion of the project selection phase, the City of Santa Rosa was able to choose a wastewater management alternative acceptable to key stakeholders (including long-time critics and opponents) and which was supported by the environmental documentation in the project’s EIR/EIS.

Prepared the public information program plan, developed supporting public information materials and provided strategic advice to the City of Benicia for the implementation of a public outreach program to build informed support among Benicia ratepayers for the approval of a $30 million general obligation bond to finance essential wastewater facilities improvements. The bond measure, which required a 2/3's majority to pass, was approved by 80% of Benicia voters in a June, 1997 election.

Designed, developed and implemented a public information/involvement program to support a 25-year wastewater facilities master plan for the City of Fresno, California. Explosive and unanticipated growth in population and wastewater flows had rendered the City’s current facilities inadequate to meet near and long-term community needs. As a result of the master plan public involvement process, the City achieved agreement with key interests about the recommended master plan, culminating in its adoption by the Fresno City Council in late 1996.

Provided focused public involvement consulting services for the development of a regional wastewater plan designed to address the needs of the three client jurisdictions to the year 2020. Provided training to key client staff in consent building, prepared a detailed public involvement plan and provided coaching and technical assistance to key staff to implement that plan.

Designed and implemented a public involvement program for a study of the potential market for using highly treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation in the Stockton, California area. The study was conducted in response to the rapid depletion of the area's groundwater supply. The public involvement program resulted in agreement among key interests, many of whom were initially opposed to the agricultural reuse of reclaimed water, that the final study was a fair analysis of the potential market for recycled water.

Managed consultant team which designed, developed and implemented a public information/outreach program to make customers of the East Bay Municipal Utility District aware of an early 1998 conversion from chlorine to chloramine disinfection of the municipal water supply provided by the District. The change to chloramine disinfection posed potentially adverse risks for specific users ranging from local industrial customers and fish hobbyists to ethnic seafood retailers and kidney dialysis patients. The public information program was carefully designed and carried out to reach all District water users including multi-ethnic, multi-lingual audiences.

Designed and implemented a comprehensive public participation program for the development of a 20-year wastewater treatment facilities master plan for the unincorporated portion of Sacramento County, California. The issues of greatest public controversy were the potential growth-inducing aspects of the master plan, the applicability of more stringent state and federal water quality requirements to the conditions in the Sacramento area, and the potential cost to ratepayers of upgraded treatment facilities. The master plan and related rate increases were ultimately adopted and implemented.

Designed, implemented and advised on a public participation program to support planning and decision making for the selection of a wastewater treatment strategy for this large southern California sanitation district (2.2 million customers). The principal issue of contention was whether the District should continue to provide partial secondary treatment to the wastewater it discharges to the Pacific Ocean under a federal waiver or upgrade its treatment facilities to meet the full secondary standard. UA managed a two-year program of public consultation on the wastewater treatment options under consideration. As a result, the Districts were able to reach effective agreement with all key interests about the appropriate wastewater treatment approach (renewal of its full secondary waiver) and officially adopt it as the agency’s operational treatment strategy. The waiver is still in effect today.

Served as consultant to a combined total of 14 permitted wastewater dischargers and local municipalities and the Santa Clara Valley Water District to assist their developing and implementing a public information program designed to change the practices of local communities regarding the introduction of toxic pollutants into local waterways, storm sewers and, eventually, the southern reaches of San Francisco Bay.

Provided consulting support service and advice for the preparation, development and public acceptance of a 20-year wastewater master plan for the City of Napa, California. By implementing a carefully conceived consent-building process, UA enabled the Napa Sanitation District to reach agreement with local developers and ratepayers about the provisions of the up-dated master plan and its supporting financial program.

Provided public involvement consulting services for the development of a flood control plan for the Beach/Stone Lakes area of Sacramento County, California. Provided orientation training to county staff in the consent-building public involvement strategy and follow-up coaching and consulting assistance in its application through the project planning process, resulting in the adoption of a practical flood control plan for the study area.

Assisted with the design and planning of a scientific workshop to determine whether higher levels of wastewater treatment would risk the re-exposure of DDT previously buried within the Pacific Ocean floor where the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts discharge their treated wastewater. Assisted the District in developing the workshop structure and support materials; and facilitated all individual work groups comprised of blue-ribbon marine scientists exploring the DDT re-exposure question. Prepared a feedback report which communicated the results of this highly technical workshop to the interested lay public, other scientists, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Planned and directed a public participation program supporting the South Saskatchewan River Basin Planning Project. The program involved 10,000 participants including 200 communities and hundreds of interest groups in strategic water resources planning for a 50,000 square-mile river basin. Developed and used computer simulations in over 50 presentations to sensitize potentially affected interests to the principles and tradeoffs related to the river basin and water management alternatives under consideration.

Provided public involvement support services for the design and layout of a reservoir to be located within a residential neighborhood in the City of Pleasant Hill, California. The prospects for public acceptance were complicated by the fact that most of the impacted neighborhood, which was served by another water district, would not directly benefit from the proposed reservoir. A sensitive community relations program was undertaken to consult with project area residents about potential issues such as site configuration, construction access, environmental impacts, and potential seismic risks. The reservoir was constructed in 1993 and placed in operation in 1994.

Completed a public attitude and opinion study about a future sewer rehabilitation and modernization issues affecting San Francisco area East Bay residents. Included the design and conduct of a statistically valid opinion survey to measure area resident’s willingness to pay $2,000 to $4,000 per household for new connecting sewer lines to solve chronic wet weather sewer overflow (infiltration/inflow) problems affecting their neighborhoods. The results of this public opinion project helped guide EBMUD’s Board in establishing publicly-acceptable financial program to support the implementation of this major sewer modernization project.

Assisted with the development, planning and management of a community relations program designed to minimize the disruptive effects of a major sewer improvement project upon residents of Danville, Alamo and Sam Ramon, California.

CLIENT: Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, Martinez, CA

Assisted with developing a public involvement program to achieve agreement among key stakeholders about the best ways to resolve the sewer capacity problems facing Central Contra Costa, California. Assisted with a public consultation process and developed a consensus plan to satisfy the concerns of a wide range of potentially affected interests including no-growth, managed and pro-growth advocates, environmentalists and neighborhood associations.

Provided consulting assistance to the City of San Francisco in developing the public participation and community outreach program for the City-wide comprehensive wastewater facilities improvement program funded in part by the federal Clean Water Act.

Provided public participation program development services for a sewage transport project involving the construction of a 25-foot diameter sewer pipeline through San Francisco’s Richmond District. Developed a sensitive public involvement program to respond to citizens’ determination to actively protect the neighborhood from undue construction impacts. Assisted with the design and facilitation of neighborhood meetings which resulted in agreement about the adequacy of the EIR on the project and, eventually, the preferred construction route.

2. Housing, Community Development and Land Use Planning

UA designed and is currently implementing a public involvement program with the express objective of achieving agreement among the key interests about where and how much future growth should occure in Monterey County, California. The County General Plan, which has not been fully revised since 1982, is not an up-to-date tool for guiding current housing, land use and natural resource planning and management decisions. In addition, years of conflict among polarized stakeholders and with the County over housing/commercial development polices, inconsistent land use regulations and vague environmental standards caused the County to conclude that achieving agreement among these chronically-contentious interests was essential to the success of the update process. Accordingly, UA, assessed the project's public involvement needs and designed a public involvement program and plan based on the Consent Building approach in conjunction with County Staff and Supervisors receiving training in Consent Building from the Institute of Participation Management and Planning. UA is responsible, in Phase I, for obtaining agreement among key interests about the the public involvement program to be used to consult with stakeholders about the General Plan Update. This agreement, once reached, will define the program and participatory process for attaining agreement on Phase II about the conceptual planning scenarios and policies regarding traffic, growth, affordable housing, and natural resource/agricultural preservation to be incorporated into the updated General Plan.

UA designed and is currently implementing a community involvement program in support of the preparation of a land use plan for the buffer lands surrounding Kiefer Landfill, the principal solid waste disposal facility for Sacramento County. To-date, UA has prepared a detailed public involvement plan for this project; completed stakeholder identification and development for a "smart" database (mailing list); designed and developed public information materials; designed and facilitated the first of three public workshops; and completed a feedback reports summarizing public input and how it was used in project planning/decision making. Because of the controversy surrounding the recently completed Kiefer Landfill Extension Project and prior groundwater contamination problems at this site, UA developed a public involvement program which addresses the pre-existing fears and concerns of key stakeholders, especially the landfill's neighbors, in order to achieve agreement among all interests about a land use plan for the buffer lands.

As part of a team of consultants headed by Gabrielle-Roche and Vernazza Wolfe Associates, UA designed a public involvement program for the development of a Housing Action Plan to address a range of current housing needs such as affordability (the median price of a single family home in Menlo Park is approximately $680,000), which the City of Menlo Park is committed to defining and addressing. In addition, UA is also providing training to City Housing Program staff in consent building and advising staff on notification/outreach strategies/procedures to support the public involvement process. UA will be responsible for implementing the public involvement program and for facilitating public workshops to solicit the community's views about current housing needs and subsequently about the housing strategies and alternatives to meet them.

Conducted department-wide introductory training sessions on consent building to help institutionalize its use by program managers in the County Department of Public Works. UA continues to provide follow-up coaching and technical assistance to division chiefs, program managers and departmental staff managing projects with potential public acceptance problems. This effort includes managers and staff responsible for County airport and corporation yard development, highways and transportation, housing and redevelopment, building design, County administration, and parks and recreation.

After Planning Department staff had received training in consent building from the Institute for Participatory Management and Planning, UA "front-end loaded" its services to quickly build the Department’s skills in applying consent building to help implement twelve projects with potentially-difficult public acceptance problems. These projects ranged from specific neighborhood development and zoning plans to urban transit studies to freeway mitigation programs. As the public involvement skills of department staff expanded, UA was able to reduce its role to the provision of coaching via memos and teleconferencing. This effort enabled the Planning Department to accomplish its principal objectives – to institutionalize consent building as a routine part of departmental project planning and management, and to implement the twelve projects selected to receive public involvement consulting assistance.

Designed and implemented a public involvement program to support a development proposal for the annexation of 635 acres of unincorporated area on the northeast border of the City of Hercules, California. A previous annexation attempt had been stopped five years before UA’s involvement as a result of a successful lawsuit by Contra Costa County. The public involvement program developed by UA was in support of a reformulated proposal for annexing and developing this site. Using a systematic consent building process, UA and City staff were able to achieve effective agreement among all key interests about the proposed annexation and development proposal and the EIR on it.

Conducted an introductory training session for the sanitation district board of directors and staff on veto power and the alternative public participation approaches. Prepared a "Veto Vulnerability Analysis" which assessed the viability and potential for public acceptance of a land development project which would permit a private developer to construct a hotel/golf course complex on sanitation district-owned pasture land irrigated with reclaimed water.

Designed and implemented a public involvement program for a development plan for a 33-acre residential parcel in Novato, California. Developed the project’s outreach strategy and mass-mailing campaign and conducted public workshops in the community to solicit key interests’ concerns and preferences about candidate development alternatives. Integrated community concerns and preferences into the draft development plan which ultimately proved acceptable to the project neighborhood and overall community.

Assisted the council of governments for the San Francisco Bay Area with the design and implementation of a public involvement program for the preparation of Regional Housing Plan for the agency’s nine-county service area. Designed the overall program, prepared information support materials, directed public outreach and notification activities, and facilitated twelve regional public workshops to identify and analyze the public’s priorities and concerns regarding housing in the region. Assisted with integrating the findings from the public involvement program into the final Regional Housing Plan ultimately adopted by ABAG’s member governments.

3. Environmental Planning

Designed, developed and implemented a public participation program for the preparation of an EIR on the proposed modernization of the Pacific Refining Company oil refinery in Hercules, California. The project and its environmental review were extremely controversial. Residents of neighboring Rodeo, which was located downwind of Pacific Refining’s facilities, feared that the proposed facilities, although intended to produce cleaner-burning fuels, would result in increased odors, noise and health and safety risks for their community. By implementing a strong consent- building public consultation process, UA was able to help the City of Hercules achieve agreement with all interests about the final project and the adequacy of the EIR.

Designed, developed and assisted with the implementation of a public involvement program to support the preparation of an EIR for the proposed siting of electrical power facilities in and around the area of Tustin, in Orange County, California. The public acceptance problem facing Southern California Edison was that residents near the proposed facilities and power corridors were extremely concerned about adverse health effects from EMFs (electromagnetic fields) which might be associated with the proposed project.

Developed a public participation program to support planning for an Army Corps of Engineer’s project to rejuvenate Kaneohe Bay on the north shore of Oahu Island in Hawaii. The public involvement program enabled UA and the Corps of Engineers to identify the concerns of key interests, including local recreational, residential, fishing and environmental groups regarding Bay enhancement. As a result of this public consultation process, project modifications were made which resulted in a consensus plan for Kaneohe Bay revitalization.

Provided public participation program development services to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region IX office on an "on call" basis. Assistance was provided for a variety of controversial projects including water, wastewater and site remediation efforts in the U.S. Western Region requiring sensitive community relations in the context of Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) preparation.

4. Hazardous/Solid Waste Management

Provided advice and consulting support for the planning, siting and construction of a permanent household hazardous waste (HHW) drop-off and collection facility to serve central Contra Costa County, California. Public consultation strategies and information developed by UA were instrumental in achieving agreement with the County and the adjacent neighborhood about the siting and operation of such a facility by the sanitary district. The HHW drop-off and collection facility opened in late 1997.

Currently providing public involvement consulting assistance for the evaluation of the proposed expansion of Kiefer Landfill and seven other alternatives being considered to solve an impending solid waste disposal crisis in Sacramento County, California. Assisted with developing a collaborative decision-making process for the project’s citizen advisory committee and with guiding public communications regarding the County’s efforts to control groundwater contamination from the original landfill. Designed and now implementing a comprehensive public information/outreach program to consult with key interests about the adequacy of the project’s Supplemental EIR and the best solution to the County’s solid waste disposal problem. Public input from this program will be used by the County Board of Supervisors to guide their selection of a solution to the County’s waste disposal problem.

Provided community involvement assistance for the preparation of state-mandated Hazardous Waste Management Plan (Haz Plan) and the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the Plan. Prior to UA’s involvement, the Haz Plan and EIR had been vetoed by residents of potentially affected neighborhoods in San Francisco’s southeastern sector. UA assisted in designing and implementing a revised community involvement program which resulted in effective agreement among all interests about the Haz Plan and EIR and adoption of the Plan and certification of the EIR by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission, respectively.

Assisted with the design and implementation of the public outreach and
involvement programs to inform and consult with residents near the Elk
Grove and Kiefer Landfills in Sacramento County, California about methane gas build-up problems at these facilities, the potential risks associated with these problems, and the gas control projects proposed to reduce or eliminate the methane build-up problems at each landfill.

Planned, developed and assisted with implementing a public involvement Program in support of a county-wide solid waste management plan and Program EIR . The plan was needed to avert an impending trash crisis which would result in Los Angeles County’s exceeding its solid waste disposal capacity within two years of the plan’s conception. Provided a full range of services to carry out the public consultation program including: development of a detailed public involvement plan; preparation of information support materials including brochures, fact sheets and slide presentations; and the design and facilitation of county-wide public workshops. The public involvement program results were used to guide decision making about a long-term waste management strategy and helped shape the content of the Program EIR

Assisted with the design and implementation of a community outreach, education and training program to reduce the hazardous waste generated in San Francisco by small businesses — the source of approximately 60% of the City’s hazardous wastes. The program was targeted to reach small quantity generators such as dry cleaners, auto repair shops, printers and commercial painting contractors, and resulted in a measurable reduction of hazardous constituents in both the wastewater and solid waste streams.

Developed a public information/outreach program to inform the sanitation district’s customers about the potential health, environmental and public safety issues surrounding the closure of International Technologies’ (IT) nearby liquid hazardous waste treatment and disposal site. Public concern focused on the question of whether the sanitation district’s wastewater treatment facilities should be used to treat and dispose of hazardous liquid wastes from the soon-to-be closed IT facility.

Planned and implemented a public participation program for a solid waste master plan for northern Santa Clara County, California. The program’s objective was to consult with key interests regarding the most acceptable sites and technologies for managing the solid waste generated in the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley. Prepared a detailed public involvement plan and implemented the project’s outreach/ notification strategy. Planned and facilitated a series of public workshops to identify areas of possible consensus/consent about the most acceptable technologies and locations for future waste management facilities. This information was integrated into the project planning and decision-making process and, ultimately, into the recommended solid waste management plan.

Designed and delivered seminars to train participants to recognizing signs of potential toxic waste contamination on properties considered for purchase, valuation or financing and to alert their organizations about potential problems requiring a site audit by qualified environmental professionals. The seminars’ hypothetical cases, portrayed through written case descriptions and slide presentations, enabled participants to sharpen their practical recognition and inspection skills and to learn how to use a checklist and toxics decision flow chart prepared by UA.

Designed and implemented a comprehensive public involvement program for a county-wide landfill siting study. Accomplished the program’s principal objective: to identify and describe the most publicly acceptable locations for a new landfill within Contra Costa County, California. Integrated the findings from this 16-month public involvement program into the final study report which ultimately led to the County Board of Supervisors’ selection of a publicly-accepted location for future landfill facilities in Contra Costa County.

5. Transportation Planning and Analysis

Provided consulting support to the City of Phoenix Planning Department for the development and implementation of a community involvement program for a $17 million freeway mitigation plan. The Squaw Peak Freeway, constructed in the late 1980's, had resulted in adverse impacts to the adjacent neighborhoods in southeast Phoenix. Community representatives from the impacted neighborhoods had expressed strong dissatisfaction with the initial draft mitigation plan prepared by the Phoenix Planning Department several months before UA's involvement. As a result, residents of the affected neighborhoods and City staff were in sharp disagreement about the freeway mitigation plan which had been proposed.

In order to achieve agreement between the City and the affected neighborhoods about a mitigation plan, UA evaluated the Department's existing planning and community involvement process, identified deficiencies in the program, developed a plan of recommended actions to correct them and worked directly with City staff to implement the recommended plan. These actions ultimately resulted in a specific plan for freeway mitigation that was acceptable to the impacted neighborhoods and which was approved by the Phoenix Planning Commission and City Council.

A city hall-supported public transportation project with a rapid rail transit component (Val-Trans) as its centerpiece was soundly defeated by Phoenix voters in 1990. Subsequently, UA was called in to evaluate the public acceptance aspects of the project and to assist the City Planning Department with developing a successful public outreach/involvement program to support a possible future ballot measure.

UA completed independent fact finding about the rail transit project and its failed public information program, and worked with Planning Department transportation planners to get the public involvement and communications aspects of the project back on track. UA consulted with City staff to restructure the project's communication plan to reflect a consent building approach and prepared a series of "strategy memos" outlining the steps that City staff would need to take to achieve successful public communications and outreach about rapid rail transit in the future in Phoenix. As a result of UA's consultation efforts, it became clear to Phoenix's transit planning and executive staff that rapid rail transit was a "project in search of a problem" in Phoenix and that additional fact finding about the compelling need for such a project would have to be completed before a convincing case for rapid rail transit could be made to Phoenix voters.

This Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) study was designed to provide critical quantitative and qualitative information about Bay Area transportation requirements (both land and sea) that would affect future seaport planning in the region. Urban Alternatives was part of a team of consultants which prepared a quantitative analysis of the land-based movement of waterborne cargo (both imports and exports) within the Bay Area. This information was derived from a survey of Bay Area Freight forwarders conducted by UA. UA's report was used by the study's transportation consultants to project future highway and rail needs generated by waterborne commerce coming into and going out of the Bay Area.

UA also completed a qualitative survey of Bay Area steamship company upper managers and CEOs to determine the important criteria and typical internal decision processes used to select marine terminal facility locations in the region. Case studies detailing each of the sampled steamship lines' decision process and criteria were prepared along with a comprehensive report summarizing key findings and conclusions about terminal selection behavior in the local steamship industry. The findings of this perception study were considered sufficiently significant to merit selection by the U.S. Maritime Association for publication.

UA's Senior Project Coordinator, Dr. Jim Marks was a key member of the Institute's research team studying various aspects of demand responsive transit service delivery systems in California. He was responsible for issue analysis, questionnaire development, outreach to potential users, respondent interviews, data analysis and report preparation. Studies included:

The research team's analysis won the national Transportation Research Board's prestigious Pyke Johnson award as the Outstanding Paper of 1980 in the field of transportation user analysis, systems planning and administration.

Provided public involvement technical support to improve the public acceptance prospects for an airport master plan update. The objective of the updated plan, which was adopted by the Port of Oakland Board of Directors, was to ensure the orderly development of passenger and airfreight carrier facilities at Oakland International Airport over a 5 to 20 year period.

Designed and implemented a public involvement program for an airport master plan/development program EIR/EIS. The possible future expansion of the airport into the wetlands of San Francisco Bay and potential noise impacts to neighboring communities from new flight paths under consideration were the sensitive public issues resolved during this program.

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