SBE News

Capitol Update 2/23/24

Sunny Disposition, Cloudy Reputation

The LA Times brings us the latest episode in America’s favorite drama: “Everybody Loves (or Hates) California.” Spoiler alert: We’ve still got some pull, but the state itself should probably come with a trigger warning for Republicans. First up, California as a role model? 39% of U.S. residents are chuckling at the thought, probably while sipping less expensive coffee in a state with more reasonable rent. A paltry 15% are waving California flags, and let’s be honest, they might just be in Maryland saddled with a horrifically ugly flag and they like our bear. The remaining 46% are on the fence, enjoying our weather and cultural hegemony from a distance.  Now, let’s talk about where everyone agrees: the Golden State’s golden price tag. A whopping 87% agree that it’s too expensive to live here. (They’re not wrong!) Diversity? 76% nod approvingly. Tourist destination? 65% are packing their bags, probably for the Instagram opportunities. But only 37% think it’s a good idea to raise a family here, and let’s not forget the 52% who believe it’s an unsafe place across the board.  Considering moving? Only the bold 23% are willing to brave the wild west of real estate and politics, primarily drawn by jobs and that eternal sunshine. The rest — 77% — are giving a hard pass, their reasons ranging from lifestyle mismatches to not vibing with our unique blend of azure politics with a few red polka dots.  Now, for the juicy bit: We’re a partisan piñata. Troublingly, nearly 50% of Republicans across the country believe that California is “not really American,” according to the poll. Perhaps we should take those concerns with a boulder-sized grain of salt though: Nearly a third of GOP respondents believe that California — the land of Yosemite, Big Sur, Sequoia and the Mendocino coast — has a “worse natural environment than most states.” A third of Republicans also believe that the home of the UC system, Stanford, Cal Tech and USC has “worse colleges and universities than most states.”  Huh. OK.

Despite Jan. dip, US economy remains strong

Retail sales fell more than expected in January, dropping by 0.8% compared with December, data from the Commerce Department shows. Data from the Federal Reserve shows industrial production declined 0.1%, compared with expectations of a 0.2% increase. But spending on food services and drinking increased, showing the economy’s continued resilience. Full Story: The Wall Street Journal


Federal Reserve Officials Concerned Progress On Inflation Could Stall

The AP reports that, during the January meeting of the Federal Reserve officials acknowledged “significant progress” in reducing inflation but some “expressed concern that strong growth in spending and hiring could disrupt that progress,” according to minutes of the January 30-31 meeting released Wednesday. Additionally, most Fed officials expressed worries “about moving too fast to cut their benchmark interest rate before it was clear that inflation was sustainably returning to their 2% target.” They cited the possibility of aggregate demand strengthening, faltering progress in improving supply chains, or increased disruptions in Red Sea shipping.

        CNN reports the minutes suggest that, with the economy’s future uncertain, the Fed believes its “best bet is to just hold rates steady until it becomes clearer what policymakers should do.”

        MarketWatch also reports.

Architecture Billings Index edges up in Jan.

The American Institute of Architects’ Architecture Billings Index remained in negative territory in January with a reading of 46.2, up slightly from December’s 45.4. But the index for new project inquiries registered 53.8, a positive result highlighted by AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, who notes as well improvements in the broader economy. Full Story: The Architect’s Newspaper

Granite posts profit for 2023, earns $26M in Q4

The California-based road builder’s pivot to small jobs is paying off, but charges from outstanding legacy projects left a blot on its quarterly results.

Judge pushes back on federal transfer of CWA permitting authority

A district judge has found the Environmental Protection Agency and US Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when they transferred wetlands permitting authority under the under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act to Florida. “After considering these requests and weighing the seriousness of the defects as well as the potential disruptive consequences of vacatur, the court concludes that the appropriate remedy is to vacate the EPA’s approval of Florida’s assumption application,” the judge wrote. Full Story: Courthouse News Service  

Water projects get $5.8B federal infusion

Vice President Kamala Harris and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan have announced $5.8 billion in federal funding for US water infrastructure, with $3.2 billion headed for drinking water projects and $2.6 billion for sewer and stormwater efforts. “With this investment, we are continuing our urgent work to remove every lead pipe in the country and ensure that every American has access to safe and reliable drinking water,” said Harris. Full Story: The Hill

DPR cautiously optimistic about AI

DPR Construction is casting a “curious, but cautious” eye on artificial intelligence and advising those in the industry to do likewise. A new DPR report reviews the company’s own experience with AI and expresses cautious optimism, noting that ChatGPT can be somewhat limited with generic responses, but when used effectively within a data-driven, but people-first framework, it can “guide us toward smarter, more effective outcomes.” Full Story: Construction Dive

EPA seeks comment on low-carbon materials proposal

Public comment is invited on the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft proposal to employ a label program for low embodied carbon construction materials. Funded by the Inflation Reduction Act, the $100 million initiative aims to standardize data for environmental product declarations and would define “clean” construction materials in support of the White House Buy Clean Initiative for federal procurement. Full Story: Concrete Products

Progress made on roadway safety, but more work remains

A new report from the US Department of Transportation notes a handful of successful efforts in 2023 to address serious and fatal injuries on our roadways, including the publication of a new edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the expedited rollout of new motor vehicle safety technologies through rulemakings for automatic emergency braking. However, the road to the ultimate goal of zero deaths is long, and DOT Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg has called on “stakeholders across the country, at every level of government, philanthropy, advocacy, and the private sector,” to help drive “a cultural shift that treats roadway deaths as unacceptable and preventable.” Full Story: Department of Transportation

$250M in grants target urban traffic congestion

States and local governments are invited to apply for $250 million in competitive federal grants for plans to reduce traffic congestion in metropolitan areas. The funding is offered by the Federal Highway Administration under its Congestion Relief Program with money provided under the federal infrastructure law. Full Story: Roads & Bridges

Leading major projects planned in Calif., Fla.

A $13 billion project to raise and elevate San Francisco’s Embarcadero and waterfront heads a list of the top 10 construction projects currently in the planning stage in California. In Florida a similar list is topped by the $31 billion Virgin Hyperloop One project in Miami. Full Story: Daily Commercial News (Ontario)

Mall redevelopment in Calif. fits a national pattern

A defunct shopping mall in Cupertino, Calif., will be transformed in a development offering 2,669 residences, offices and retail space under plans announced by Sand Hill Property. The plans follow a typical pattern for mall redevelopment, with more than half across the US incorporating housing and about a third offering offices. Full Story: CoStar Group  

Nucor plans $860M rebar mill in Pacific Northwest

Nucor has shared plans for an $860 million rebar mill in the Pacific Northwest. The steelmaker still must select a specific site and win regulatory clearance for the micro mill, which will be capable of producing 650,000 tons of various sizes of rebar per year. Full Story: The Construction Broadsheet

Calif. lawmakers urge US support for levee project

California’s Pajaro River Flood Risk Management Project merits continued federal funding to provide flood protection for disadvantaged communities in the state’s Central Coast area, according to four California lawmakers in Washington. In a letter to the Biden administration, they note the urgency of the situation as the river’s aging levees have broken several times over decades, causing extensive flooding across communities and farmland. Full Story: The Monterey County Herald (Calif.)

Retaining wall to protect trains in Calif.

Construction is scheduled to begin next week and continue well into March on a retaining wall to avert a landslide hazard threatening trains in Orange County, Calif. The 10-to-15-foot-high, steel beam-reinforced wall will stretch 160 feet at a location north of the San Clemente Pier.

Story: Times of San Diego

Progress marked on $65M Calif. wastewater project

A $65 million effort to upgrade and address deferred maintenance at Oxnard, Calif.’s Wastewater Treatment Plant is nearly one-third complete, and City Council has cleared a cost increase and time extension for construction management firm Kennedy Jenks. The project includes a $19 million electrical building, $6.5 million in upgrades to an odor control station and $9 million worth of security and storage upgrades.

Full Story: Ventura County Star (Calif.)  

Arevon says it has $1B in place for Calif. solar plant

Renewable energy firm Arevon Energy says it has secured over $1 billion to finance completion of its Eland 2 solar power production facility in Kern County, Calif. Scheduled to be fully operational early next year, the plant will also house 150MW to 600 MWh of storage. Full Story: The Construction Broadsheet

Calif. county considering Highway 101 express lane

California’s San Mateo County Transportation Authority is currently running an environmental review on potentially building a new express lane along Highway 101 or converting an existing lane into an express lane. An express lane is being considered to reduce traffic congestion between San Bruno and San Francisco, with a decision expected in November. Full Story: KNTV-TV (San Francisco)