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Feature Story - March 2007

Building San Jose

Contractors partner with city on multitude of successful projects

By Robert Carlsen

Check out this statement regarding some recently completed public-private construction projects: "Success was defined as projects that were built with the city and contractor working in partnership with an established commitment on both sides to communicate openly, resolve issues in a timely manner, and to develop a strategy for completing the project in spite of any challenges that arose."

This is not a pie-in-the-sky wish list. It's the real policy of the city of San Jose's Public Works Department.

This partnering policy was developed by Katy Allen, who came aboard as the city's director of public works in 2002 after 25 years working for the city of Spokane, Wash.

Russ Snyder, a district manager with the Associated General Contractors of California, says that shortly after Allen started in San Jose she met with AGC-CA to find out about contractors' concerns regarding bidding work in the city. Allen adds in an interview she did with Snyder in the November issue of California Contractor magazine that the San Jose City Council had set as its No. 1 priority the need to develop a Dispute Resolution Board policy.

"It [the DRB policy] really addresses how to resolve areas of dispute," Allen says. "Rather than litigate, we get the entities together and select a third party to hear both sides. The findings are non-binding.

"But let me say that in five years and the awarding of 600 construction contracts, we have had virtually no litigation."

Allen says that the development of a DRB is a preamble to partnering. "It's a mindset, focusing on building projects and making the project a success for both the city and the contractor," she says.

Allen adds that she considers contractors "our customers, just as much as the public."


Once the DRB policy was implemented, the AGC and the city co-sponsored partnering training at a session three years ago at the San Jose Convention Center. Allen says the city's staff of inspectors and project managers sat down with a group of AGC contractors and came to a mutual conclusion that all efforts must be made to resolve problems before going into dispute resolution.

"Our inspectors are trained on the partnership aspect," she says. "We believe in open and honest communication as well as trust."

These relationships have resulted in a number of contractors that have bid on city projects over and over again.

Allen points out the city's relationship with Hensel Phelps Construction, for example, which recently was awarded a design-build contract for the $513 million major expansion project at San Jose/Norman Y. Mineta International Airport.

Hensel Phelps's San Jose office is also currently working on the city's new $24 million Central Service Yard project, which is slated for a July 5 completion. It finished a city parking garage last year.

"The CSY was the city's first taste of the design-build program," says Jeff Fredericksen, Hensel Phelps project manager. "What can the city not like about being ahead of schedule, no claims and under budget?"

Fredericksen says that the city bought into the design-build delivery method because "it works."

Allen says Santa Cruz-based Bogard Construction is another of the city's "good-performance-rated contractors." Bogard recently finished building the Cambrian Branch Library, a two-story, 27,000-sq-ft LEED project, and is working on another library project, the Pearl Avenue Branch.

Tim Boyles, Bogard's project manager at the Pearl Avenue construction site, says there have been no disputes or problems. "The city put together a good team and it's been smooth sailing," he adds.

Ed Suarez, president of Hayward-based Suarez & Munoz Construction, another San Jose favorite, says that San Jose "is the only sane large city in the state."

The general contractor recently completed three city projects - Penitencia Creek improvements, the Wenlock Drive pedestrian corridor and Welch Park improvements.

"Everyone in public works and other departments is professional and accessible," Suarez says. "They know what they're doing and they realize that contractors are not the enemy. Bureaucracy has not taken over yet."

San Jose's Good Performance Contractors

Following are some other contractors and projects that Katy Allen, director of public works, says are good city partners:

  • BRCO Constructors, Loomis (Gardner Satellite Community Center, Hillview Branch Library)
  • R&L Brosamer, Walnut Creek (San Jose Airport)
  • Golden Bay Construction, Hayward (McLaughlin Avenue streetscape, King Road, Elizabeth Street, Aborn Square sidewalk)
  • John Plane Construction, Brisbane (Edenvale Branch Library, Almaden Winery Community Center seismic retrofit)
  • Wattis Construction Co., San Jose (Senter Road improvements, Lucretia Avenue widening)


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