What Are PFAS? Are They in Your Drinking Water? And How QK Can Help.

What Are PFAS? Are They In Your Drinking Water? And How QK Can Help.




What are PFAS? Are they in your dringking water?


In August 2019, the California Division of Drinking Water (DDW) established notification levels for perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA). The notification level for PFOS is 6.5 parts per trillion and 5.1 parts per trillion for PFOA. Collectively, PFOS and PFOA are know as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Notification levels are a non-regulatory, precautionary health-based measure for levels in drinking water that warrant notification and further monitoring and assessment.



The ACE Mentor Program is an afterschool program that introduces students to careers in architecture, construction management, and engineering and oftentimes, other related disciplines. QK’s involvement with ACE mentorship began in 2011 and ended in 2014. I first became involved with ACE in 2012 teaching the students at Edison High School in southwest Fresno all about planning. Other mentors assisted with engineering, architecture, construction, estimating, and even biology. The Aquarius Aquarium Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization, establishes environmental teaching programs utilizing aquariums to help bring educational parity to central San Joaquin Valley students and citizens of all backgrounds and cultural groups in addition to being the organization behind the Fresno Aquarium project. A ten-acre site was donated at the intersection of the San Joaquin River and Highway 99 – a gateway entry site to the City of Fresno. In 2011, the Fresno Aquarium became the selected project to be studied by the Edison High students. The students developed 3-D models and presented their projects at a special event hosted by the Central California Builders Exchange. The previous project was the Dickey Park Youth Center near downtown Fresno. Following the aquarium project, students later chose to select their own projects for detailed studies. The selected project in 2013-14 was a Family Entertainment Center, an all-in-one arcade that included golf carts, video arcade, trampolines, batting cages, laser tag and more. Teaching high school students all about planning, architecture, engineering, and construction can be a rewarding experience.

Where did pfas come from?


The major sources of PFAS are: fire training/fire response sites, industrial sites, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants/biosolids. In 2019, the DDW ordered 600 water systems and 250 locations near major source area to sample for PFAS. The results of this sampling are available on the DDW website.

What should I do?

Public water systems are encouraged to test their water for PFAS. There are only a handful of analytical laboratories in the State accredited to test for PFAS. QK can assist you in attaining the proper samples and work with an accredited lab to have the samples tested.

What if I have PFAS?

If testing shows PFAS above the notification levels, QK can assist you in evaluating options to mitigate the concentration on PFAS. Treatment of PFAS is dependent upon which of the PFAS chemicals are present. Treatment may involve activated carbon, anion exchange, or membranes. Treatment should be considered a last resort. QK will work with you to investigate the options of blending, sealing off zone of high PFAS in an existing well or drilling a new well.

If you have questions on how to treat PFAS in your existing water system and would like to discuss, please don’t hesitate to contact Brian Shoener, Senior Engineer at (559) 449-2400 or Brian.Shoener@qkinc.com.

QK Engineering Design & Construction Management Services

QK Wins ACEC California Engineering Excellence Commendation Award

QK Wins ACEC California Engineering Excellence Commendation Award




American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) CA


Visalia, CA – Quad Knopf, Inc. (dba QK) is happy to announce our selection for an American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) California Engineering Excellence Commendation Award.

The profession of land surveying has experienced a technological sea-change. The latest new technology to emerge in the mapping world is UAV/UAS. UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (drone), referring to the aircraft itself, while UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial Systems.

QK is harnessing this technology to advance the civil engineering and land surveying professions, as well as reduce our clients’ bottom line, and we currently employ nine (9) FAA Licensed Part 107 Commercial UAV Pilots.

We used this UAS in the area of Rexland Acres, a disadvantaged community located just south of Bakersfield in Kern County, California which needed a topographic map, hydrology and hydraulic reports, and preliminary design for the future Rexland Acres Community Sidewalk Improvement Project.

There were several underlying components to the project that resulted in the decision to use UAS in addition to traditional surveying methods: the size of the area encompasses more than 400-acres, and the overall project has a limited budget, and every dollar saved in the initial survey could be diverted to construction of the much-needed infrastructure improvements. By incorporating UAS technology, and using modified drones to obtain enhanced aerial imagery, QK was able to drastically reduce the number of man hours required in the field, thereby saving money, and increasing the safety of our field crews.


One additional project for which this technology was incorporated was the Sequoia Springs Water slides addition to Visalia Adventure Park in Visalia, CA. For this project, QK used more than just standard UAV technology available to everyone. QK surveyors attached a Real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning unit to our drone. At the time, in April 2018, manufacturers weren’t making drones with capability of achieving the level of accuracy we felt was necessary for the project. As a result, our surveyors innovated and improvised by purchasing a 3rd party RTK unit so that we could obtain extremely accurate geotags.

UAS technology provides a significant impact to the engineering and construction fields for years to come. With better and more accurate data, the design, plans, specifications, and estimates on the deliverables end of a project, are much more accurate. The traditional deliverables to the client can be supplemented with highly detailed imagery, and we can also provide new deliverables, like 3D models of a site, GIS-based products, and dense point clouds if needed. All the while having drastically reduced client costs during survey with minimal crew time spent in the field.

The team at QK is proud to be recognized by ACEC California for our work in developing these innovative advancements and we look forward to continuing to serve our communities with this technology in the future.

For more information on QK’s UAV/UAS Services see below.

  • Do I really need a Land Surveyor’s license for that?
  • More information on Advanced UAS

ACT FAST: EPA Repeal of 2015 Clean Water Act Becomes Final in December 2019; may Lead to More USACE Regulation

ACT FAST: EPA Repeal of 2015 Clean Water Act Becomes Final in December 2019


By Cari Wingert, Senior Environmental Scientist

May lead to more usace regulation

On October 22nd, the EPA published a Final Rule in the Federal Register repealing the 2015 Clean Water Rule.

The effect of this Final Rule will be changes to the Code of Federal Regulations restoring the language that existed prior to the 2015 Rule.  The language would revert to a 1986 interpretation of the Clean Water Act’s definition of waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) with guidance from 2006 Supreme Court case of Rapanos v. US.  This new Final Rule becomes effective on December 23, 2019.

What this could mean for your project

  • The definition of WOTUS will become less clear and subject to greater discretion by United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regulators, making it harder for property owners to argue that a feature is not jurisdictional.
  • Waters that would not be considered WOTUS under the 2015 Rule could be considered WOTUS under the old regulations.  For example, ephemeral ditches that would not be jurisdictional under the 2015 Rule may be considered jurisdiction based on significant nexus under the prior regulations.
  • The distance-based metric for identifying jurisdiction is removed, which may result in a reduction of WOTUS determinations, but this benefit may be outweighed by the lack of clarity that will result from removal of other parts of the 2015 Rule.

Overall, repeal of the 2015 Rule is likely to lead to a lack of consistency and clarity for project proponents trying to determine if waters on their properties are subject to USACE jurisdiction.

Immediately after this repeal was published in the Federal Register several lawsuits were filed, both to challenge the repeal of the 2015 Rule and to challenge the 1986 interpretation that would come into effect on December 23, 2019. It is possible that the full repeal could be delayed by the courts, though the likelihood of that is low.

If you are working on potential permitting projects that involve the USACE, QK Senior Environmental Scientist Carie Wingert recommends the following:

 Accelerate the permitting efforts for submittal of applications prior to December 23, 2019.

  1. Submit an Approved Jurisdictional Determination request prior to December 23, 2019 if the jurisdictional nature of the waters on-site are questionable.
  2. Conduct a risk assessment for disturbing aquatic features before and after the repeal is in full effect.

Other things to keep in mind

  • The Regional Water Quality Control Board is requiring confirmation from the USACE that a feature is not a federal WOTUS before issuing Waste Discharge Requirement permits in lieu of 401 Water Quality Certifications.
  • Compensatory mitigation in the Central Valley is expensive and would be required at a 2:1 ratio of credits purchased from the In-Lieu Fee Program as there are no other mitigation options for waters and wetlands available south of San Joaquin County.

If you have questions about a project and you would like to discuss, please don’t hesitate to contact Carie Wingert, Senior Environmental Scientist at (559) 449-2400 or Carie.Wingert@qkinc.com.

What You Really Need To Know About SB 1000

What You Really Need To Know About SB 1000


By Jessica Bispels, Assistant Planner


State Bill 1000, otherwise known as “The Planning for Healthy Communities Act” was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 24th, 2016. It says that a local agency will now be required to address environmental justice issues when it adopts or revises two or more general plan elements. The starting date for his mandate was January 1, 2018. Thereafter, any adoption or revision of two of more General Plan elements will require an adoption of an environmental justice element or integrate environmental justice goals, objectives, and policies into other elements of the General Plan.


What is Environmental Justice?

The EPA defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial operations and policies. SB 1000 requires an environmental justice element that identifies disadvantaged communities within the area covered by the city or county’s General Plan. This part of the general plan needs to identify objectives and policies to reduce the health risks in these disadvantaged communities and to promote civil engagement in the public decision-making process.

Photo Credit:  https://www.senate.ca.gov/

Where Do We Need Environmental Justice?

Low-income residents, communities of color, tribal nations, and immigrant communities have disproportionately experienced environmental burdens and related health problems. Oftentimes most of polluting industries are located near the most disenfranchised communities.  This inequity can be mitigated by smart land use planning, enforcing proper zoning and regular inspections, preventing discriminatory housing and lending practices, prioritizing public health over business interest, and placing economic and environmental benefits in areas within disadvantaged communities. According to the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the following topics can be addressed in general plans so that it represents a positive vision for the future:

  1. Pollution Exposure and Air Quality
  2. Pubic Facilities
  3. Food Access
  4. Safe and Sanitary Homes
  5. Physical Activity
  6. “Civil” or Community Engagement
  7. Improvements and Programs that Address the Needs of Disadvantaged Communities

How Can We Help?

The list above spells out just a few of the many ways that cities and counties can incorporate environmental justice into their general plans. We at QK have worked with clients to include elements of environmental justice that are comprehensive and thoughtful. Our work toward environmental justice predates this law, and we are excited at the opportunity to assist cities in incorporating this essential aspect to their General Plans.

UAV/UAS (Drones) And Land Surveying: Do I Really Need A Land Surveyor’s License For That?

UAV/UAS (Drones) And Land Surveying


By Michael D. Knopf, PE, PLS – Principal Engineer/Land Surveyor


Do I really need a Land Surveyor’s License for that?

This article examines the use of Drones in Land Surveying and mapping, differentiating the roles and responsibilities of the Land Surveyor from that of the UAS operator.  While these roles may appear to overlap, each has its own set of laws, rules and regulations.


The profession of land surveying has been experiencing a technological sea-change, its tools and technologies transitioning from the Iron Age to the Space Age in a single generation. Within that short time period, surveyors have transitioned from using antique instruments, hand calculations and bound field books, to powerful new technologies such as electronic total stations, computing, electronic distance measurement (EDM), global positioning systems (GPS/GNSS) and robotics.

Today the surveying profession is completely dependent on the digital environment. The development of many advanced electronics, automation and computing tools has presented new challenges for surveying professionals. Like other professions, surveyors sometimes have a difficult time learning and adapting to this unending flow of disruptive new technologies. Often the earliest adopters of a new technology are not surveyors, but those whose primary skill is the new technology itself rather than the technical principals that ought to govern its proper use. For example, when GPS signals were ordered unscrambled by President Bill Clinton on May 1st of 2000, geodetic coordinates could theoretically be determined by anyone, simply by pressing buttons on a GPS device operating as a “black box”. Unfortunately, non-surveying professionals were mostly unaware of the limitations of such things. People, even educated geospatial professionals, often lack a complete understanding of different horizontal and vertical datums. Sometimes, hardware and software vendors suffer similar weaknesses and as a result, they are prone to advertise capabilities that are not always accurate.


The latest new technology to emerge in the mapping world is UAV/UAS, which is a confluence of all the earlier mentioned technologies.  UAS combines GPS, robotics, automation and computing in a single system.  Having some of the same “black box” characteristics as GPS, these amazing “flying robots” can present similar risks from use by non-surveyors who try to provide mapping solutions depending entirely on the magic of the software and results provided by the “black box”. Without having a solid understanding of the limitations of the system or the surveying principles involved, operators can unknowingly provide outputs that contain serious errors.

Regulatory changes by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in June of 2016 have unleashed a flood of new UAV/UAS users. By the way, UAV stands for unmanned aerial vehicles, referring to the aircraft itself, while UAS stands for unmanned aerial systems, which more broadly encompasses the aircraft, navigation systems, sensors, controllers, and any associated software and data processing apparatus. When used for any commercial purpose, FAA Part 107 regulations now treat all types of unmanned aircraft between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs., (including payload) as serious aircraft, requiring registration, strict operating rules and a commercial UAV pilot’s license to operate.  While pilot certification is required, the UAV regulatory environment is still developing, and it has been characterized by some as “the wild west”. The government has decided to take a light grip for the time being and let the technology “cook” for a while before adding new regulations and standards. Important safety factors such as aircraft maintenance, airworthiness, recordkeeping etc. are still, for now, the responsibility of the operator.

QK’s UAV – Matrice 600 Pro with RTK/GNSS Positioning

With the increase in drone operators, the marketplace has quickly recognized the value of UAV’s. The ability to safely gain visual access from an aerial vantage point has increased the demand for all types of services. Construction and industrial applications have already recognized significant benefits, particularly for locations or activities that fall into the dirty, dull, or dangerous categories, where drones offer significant advantages. The addition of sophisticated navigation systems, advanced sensors (especially better cameras) and automated software has added tremendous value to this technology, but it has also created the potential hazards mentioned previously, which certain users need to be aware of.

A specialized group of drone operators has begun developing applications for UAS in aerial mapping. Members of organizations such as Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS) and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) have begun testing UAS mapping applications using low altitude, high resolution photogrammetry and LiDAR, achieving results comparable with traditional manned photogrammetry missions.  A more limited number of land surveyors have gone even further. Undertaking extensive testing, some have achieved map accuracies with UAS comparable with terrestrial GPS surveys. These results are very exciting, both on a cost basis and in terms of the richness of the data being produced, likely indicating the next great advance in surveying and mapping technology.

However, UAS operators and their clients can get into serious trouble by relying only on the “black box” aspect of the system without the guidance of an experienced land surveyor or mapping professional. As already mentioned, despite the claims of various equipment and software providers, black box hardware and software solutions cannot by themselves, always be relied upon to produce desired results. When considering use of UAS for mapping purposes, it is important to adhere to Rule 415 adopted by the Board of Registration for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists, which states:

“A professional engineer or land surveyor licensed under the code shall practice and perform engineering or land surveying work only in the field or fields in which he/she is by education and/or experience fully competent and proficient.”

This mandate is especially applicable to UAS technology when used in mapping applications. Traditional standards of accuracy such as National Map Accuracy Standards were developed in an age of paper maps and are not easily applied to newer mapping systems. To better relate to the types of digital map data being produced today, ASPRS has developed a digital accuracy standard more suitable for UAS mapping applications called “ASPRS Positional Accuracy Standards for Digital Geospatial Data”. This change is important because land surveyors and photogrammetrists no longer provide only two-dimensional maps as their end-product deliverable. With digital data captured in three dimensions, the options for deliverables might just as easily be a series of measurements, a three-D model, a CAD surface or a domain-ready dataset.

3D Model Generated from UAV Data


Same Image Showing Detail Possible with High Resolution Imagery

Outputs Using uas

It should also be pointed out that producing certain outputs using UAS without the involvement of a certified photogrammetrist or licensed land surveyor is not only unreliable, it is also against the law.  State land surveying statutes are clear in defining the required role of the licensed land surveyor or photogrammetrist. Section 8726 of the Land Surveyor’s Act defines land survey practice to include any of the activities listed below, almost all of which can occur with any mapping project utilizing UAS:

(a) Locates, relocates, establishes, reestablishes, or retraces the alignment or elevation for any of the fixed works embraced within the practice of civil engineering, as described in Section 6731.

(b) Determines the configuration or contour of the earth’s surface, or the position of fixed objects above, on, or below the surface of the earth by applying the principals of mathematics or photogrammetry.

(g) Determines the information shown or to be shown on any map or document prepared or furnished in connection with any one or more of the functions described in subdivisions (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), and (f).

(i) Procures or offers to procure land surveying work for himself, herself, or others.

(m) Creates, prepares, or modifies electronic or computerized data in the performance of the activities described in subdivisions (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (k), and (l).

(n) Renders a statement regarding the accuracy of maps or measured survey data.

While the UAS operator or drone pilot is required to be knowledgeable about flight operations, airspace, flight characteristics of the aircraft, weather, FAA regulations and pre/post-flight procedures, etc. these factors, important as they are, do not address the other critical aspects of planning a mapping mission. Other critical elements for a successful mapping mission include an understanding of the clients required map accuracy, density and location of ground control points, proper sensor selection, proper flight altitude and ground speed, location and number of required ground check points, flight pattern overlap, to name a few. For these activities, as well as post-processing of data, quality control, etc. a licensed land surveyor or photogrammetrist must be in responsible charge.

It should be noted that many commercial UAS applications do not involve mapping and therefore do not require a land surveyor or photogrammetrist. The images that can be produced from even a modest camera sensor mounted on a low-altitude UAV can be stunning and capturing these high-resolution images for a variety of purposes is one of the most valuable uses of UAS. Most of the time this type of work does not fall within the definition of land surveying or photogrammetry, that is, unless it is accompanied by certain representations.

Qualified Mapping Professional

How can you know when the use of UAS might also require a qualified mapping professional to be involved? In discussing the planned work assignment, listen for project objectives that use certain words such as acreage, area, dimension, location, contours, volume, accuracy, scale, coordinates, or units of measurement such as acres, feet or cubic yards. These words usually indicate work intended to provide a geo-positional, relational or dimensional reference and as such are likely describing activities that should be performed under the direction of a properly qualified licensed land surveyor or photogrammetrist.

While the Land Surveyor’s Act regulations do restrict certain types of UAV activities, they hardly make a dent in the rapidly expanding number of other potential uses for this amazing new technology. When considering use of UAS, it is important to understand these distinctions.

Read More


3-Dimensional Terrain Model with Contours

Additional resources on the subject can be found at the links below:



About the Author

The author, Michael Knopf is a licensed Land Surveyor and Civil Engineer in California, Nevada and Arizona. He is also a licensed private pilot and Part 107 Commercial UAV pilot. First licensed as a land surveyor in 1977, he stepped down in 2018 after 12 years as President and CEO of QK and returned to a technical and supervisory role including leadership of the company’s Land Surveying practice.  QK is a multi-disciplined surveying, engineering, planning and environmental firm with California offices in Bakersfield, Porterville, Visalia, Clovis, Merced and Roseville.  The firm boasts nine (9) Part 107 Commercial UAV pilots and flies seven (7) UAV’s throughout the company’s practice areas, including surveying.

Suggestions For Growth Of The Central Valley

Suggestions For Growth Of The Central Valley


By Jessica Bispels, Assistant Planner


As the country’s population continues to grow, it should be no surprise that the United States is becoming more and more urban. Cities across the country are preparing for that growth by utilizing innovative methods that are particular to their identity. What does that mean for the cities in a primarily agricultural area like the Central Valley of California? Agriculture has been a fundamental property of the cultural identity of the Valley for decades, yet a growing population is changing the face of the valley’s economy. With increasing urban development in metropolitan areas combined with a continual population growth, the Valley’s economy is shifting away from being exclusively agricultural.

This raises questions regarding the future of the Central Valley. What are the social, economic, and cultural implications for this kind of growth? What are the potential problems that need to be solved to accommodate for this rapid growth, while still maintaining the area’s distinctive identity? Urban Planners of the Central Valley are asking these questions, and their role is changing along with the changing face of the Central Valley. Because of this, the role of the urban planner is increasingly indispensable. Planners will be working to help shape the Central Valley’s future, from how it looks, drives, functions, grows, feels, and everything in between. We need to look at the current state of the Central Valley in terms of density, economics, and transportation, and begin to understand how the valley will need to adapt in order to incentivize a strong, thriving, welcoming, and prominent area. By increasing population density, providing economic incentives, and decreasing the dependency on the automobile, the Central Valley can realize its full potential and become an attractive option for potential migrants.

In August 2019, several Clovis QK’ers braved the brutal summer heat and helped build a new home from the ground up for a deserving family in Clovis. A local fireman lost his wife during childbirth and was forced to raise his children, with the help of their grandmother, in the small space they live in. With the leadership and generosity of DeYoung Properties, a new home was built complete with in-ground swimming pool and playhouse for the kids.   Not many QK staff members know this, but a decade earlier, QK helped build a home in central Fresno for the remake of that same television show in 2009. Led again by our generous client, De Young Properties, QK was involved with assisting 5,000 volunteers who demolished a 1955 ranch home that was in serious need of repair and renovations. The homeowner, born without legs and only one fully developed arm, needed a wheelchair friendly home for her and her four children. This project began a decade long list of community involvement and public services that QK has been unselfishly engaged.

I spoke with members of the QK team who helped the television show achieve a better environment for the homeowner, and here is what they remember about that event. Jessica Louie: “It was a very cold day as we waited for the television crew to set up and film the episode. The QK volunteers arrived early in the morning and spent the entire winter day shivering while waiting for the big reveal…and I never met Ty Pennington”. She added, “I saw him, but never met him”. Scott Zaayer: “De Young Properties was the true hero here. They devoted an incredible amount of time and resources for the new home”. He added, “We had to jump through hoops just to get the house staked on the lot.” The home was completed in less than ten days from tear down to opening day. The new home was one of the earliest in Fresno that included a solar energy system cutting electricity use by 75 percent.


An example of mixed-use, with stores on the first floor and residences on the top floor.


Making Sense of the Density Question


It’s not a question of if the cities of the Central Valley will grow, but how. It’s the age-old question of development: do we grow out, or up? The previous trend in the valley was to annex new land into the city and develop in this unchartered territory. This in turn causes the surface area of the city to increase as the population density decreases. With this sprawl, the cities continue to be dependent on the automobile as their main form of transportation, bestowing harmful pollutants like hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon dioxide into an already dangerously polluted air supply whilst simultaneously decreasing the walkability of the city. Cities in the Central Valley will need to strategize ways to develop in a sustainable fashion that increases the population density of the city while maintaining the quality of life of its residents. This is not an easy task, nor is it impossible.

Planners can help facilitate this change by helping cities implement policies that will help them grow sustainably. Putting restrictions on annexations of cities will both protect the surrounding agricultural land and incentivize developers to utilize infill sites to their fullest potential. If they shy away from the costs of demolishing and beginning anew, they can get creative with adaptive reuse projects that involve transforming an existing building into something new, which reinvents its function while keeping the old structure. Portland, Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundary makes sure there is a clear distinction between what is and is not the city, pushing for the city itself to find innovative ways to grow without growing out. Granted, the Central Valley is not expected to grow as quickly or rapidly as Portland, but small cities in the area can look at and learn from the strategies of other cities and decide which they will implement to induce sustainable growth. In all, a wholistic approach needs to be utilized when cities welcome new development into their borders.


If You Incentivize It, They Will Come

The discussion of growth brings into question the next thought Central Valley residents might ponder: What kind of growth will we have? What will be the reasons that people come into the Central Valley? Since 1970, over half (59%) of the Valley’s growth has been due to migration. Since the beginning of the millennium, migration accounts for two-thirds of population growth in the Valley. So, what are they coming for? The Public Policy Institute of California says it’s for jobs, housing, and family. The Institute also observed how migration is changing the socio-economic profile, and if the valley is losing its best-educated adults and most promising high school graduates to other parts of California and the United States. The Central Valley needs to find incentives for its best-educated adults to stay here, and even more importantly attract and welcome the creative class to help bolster the economy.

There are many different strategies to help cities attract migrants and grow, but oftentimes the best strategies involve investing in particular economic sectors. For example, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania worked hard to invest in the education and medical sector (“meds & eds”) after the tumultuous decline of the steel industry and subsequently the economy in the 1960s. This investment helped transform the economy and the housing market and even shielded them from many of the symptoms of the Great Recession in 2008. As cities in the Central Valley are changing the face of the agricultural and gas economy, it’s imperative that they find ways to attract particular sectors, thus having an influence on the way they grow. The agricultural and gas economy is currently inefficient for continued growth and employment opportunities.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. The university is just one of many institutions of higher education in Pittsburgh, helping to bolster its economy.

Urban Travel, Rethought

Since the 1920s, Americans have been infatuated with the automobile. Having your own car means you have the freedom to travel where you want, and when you want. However, this comes at a price. Transportation is the top producer of greenhouse gas emissions, with 83% of those emissions coming from cars and trucks. The federal gas tax, designed as a mechanism for drivers to pay for the upkeep of roads they use, hasn’t been adjusted in two decades. Not adjusting the tax for inflation has reduced the tax’s value from 18.4 cents to 11 cents. In 2013, gas taxes, tolls, and motor vehicle fees covered just 41.4 percent of state and local road spending. The rest of the funding needs to come from other sources such as general tax revenue and issuing municipal bonds. California just recently tried to solve this problem by increasing the gas tax at the end of 2017, but it’s still not enough. Sixty-five (65) percent of the new tax money is used to repair the already damaged roads. The road & highway system is not self-sustaining, forcing the general public, many of whom might not even be drivers, to pick up the leftover tab.

Aside from the exorbitant cost of cars and the roads they drive on, designing a city road around the car creates a less walkable, more dangerous, and outmoded street system. There hasn’t been any organizing principle within cities themselves that creates roadways that welcome more than just the car. Former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan describes it well in her book, Streetfight:

“Let’s look at a one-way street with four twelve-foot lanes. It’s two parking lanes on each side, along the curb. The two center lanes are dedicated to moving vehicles. A twelve-foot lane is a standard width on many highway lanes, as laid out in the federal guideline meant to create highway lanes able to accommodate the widest semis safely. A 2015 Toyota Camry is only about six feet wide, and the vast majority of trucks and commercial vehicles are less than eight and a half feet across. When you multiply the up to fix feet of excess lateral space built into every traffic lane, you can begin to see how this street is grossly overbuilt.”

An example of a creative rideshare program: Seattle to Portland, on a school bus.

Cities in the Central Valley were designed with the understanding that the car was going to be the main way to get around the city, and because of that, it is extremely difficult to get around the cities without owning a car. Designing cities in a way that not only encourages but demands ownership of the car creates more sprawl, pollutes the air, and doesn’t allow for a sense of community on the streets. Also taking into consideration that cars sit idle 92% of the time means that we are building our cities and communities around something that Morgan Stanley called the world’s most underutilized asset. Let’s reconsider transportation in our cities. Let’s consider rideshare options like Uber and Lyft, see where bicycle lanes can be added to our grossly overbuilt roads, and use the bus as a viable mode of transportation. Most importantly, let’s build cities having the understanding in mind that we will want to walk throughout them, not just drive.

Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is known for being the most bicycle-friendly city with over a million people in the world.

The People’s Place

This article has sought to promote the indispensability of the Urban Planner and the future of the profession. It has thus far failed to discuss the most important part of the Planning Profession, the variable that is essential to the success of any planning project: the people. In essence, the role of the Planner exists purely to help the citizens of a particular area create a community that serves, represents, and invigorates them. This is no different in the Central Valley, as citizen engagement will guide the planners toward projects and policies that are representative of the people they hope to adequately serve. Cohesive solutions to difficult problems involve just that, cohesion. Cohesion of the multitude of different backgrounds, stakes, motives, ideas, fears, loves, and hates will ensure a well-thought-out, comprehensive solution to our most critical problems. This is no easy feat, as more problem solvers can ironically create more problems. But Planners exist to ease these tensions and secure the progression of the communities they represent. It is the only way to ensure that we actualize a community of, by, and for the people.

Types Of Plans That Planners Use

Types Of Plans That Planners Use


By Steve Brandt, AICP, LEED AP

The simplest definition of a planner is “someone who plans.” So here are a number of different types of land use policy plans that you are likely to encounter in California, with a description showing how they differ from each other and why you want to use them. These plans usually take the form of documents with text, charts, maps, and figures. Some are mandated by State law and must be regularly updated. Others can be used as tools by cities and counties when the situation calls for them.


General Plans

The General Plan is the most important document for a planner. Each city and county is required by State law to adopt a General Plan and keep it updated. State law requires that each General Plan contain the following topics, which are called elements: land use, circulation, conservation, open space, housing, noise, and safety. San Joaquin Valley jurisdictions are also required to include air quality. Often, the General Plan document organizes these elements into chapters, but the General Plan can be organized in any way as long as the required elements are included. State law spells out the type of information that is to be in each element.

In practice, the Land Use Element is the most important and most often used portion of the General Plan, with the Circulation Element coming in second. The Housing Element is unique because it is required to be updated on a schedule set by the State, and must be certified by the State Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) after being adopted by a jurisdiction.

A city or county can choose to include other optional elements into its General Plan. The most common optional elements are Public Facilities, Economic Development, Community Design, Health, Environmental Justice, and Agriculture. Sometimes these topics are interspersed into a required element instead of being written as a standalone element.

What makes the General Plan so important is that all decisions made by a city or county that have a physical effect on the land must be consistent with its General Plan. It is the “constitution” for local land use decisions.

Community Plans and Area Plans

Community Plans and Area Plans are portions of a jurisdiction’s General Plan in a standalone document that are prepared for a specific geographical area that is smaller than the entire area of the jurisdiction. Community Plans or Area Plans are often used by large counties. An Area Plan might cover a large area with similar characteristics, such as a Foothill Plan, which provides General Plan policies for development that apply only to a foothill region. A Community Plan usually covers one unincorporated community. It is like a mini-General Plan just for that community. Very large cities might also use Community Plans to divide up their planning efforts by neighborhoods. The important thing to remember is that these Plans have the same force and authority as the General Plan because they actually are part of the General Plan.


Specific Plan

Specific Plans go into much more detail than General Plans or Community Plans. A Specific Plan can be used to do more precise planning for a smaller geographic area. According to State law, its required topics include land use distribution, transportation infrastructure, location of major wet and dry utility infrastructure, standards for development, implementation measures, and a program for financing.

A specific plan can be adopted by ordinance or by resolution by its city or county. This is an important distinction. If adopted by ordinance, a Specific Plan has the same power as (and can supersede) a zoning ordinance. In this case, all the standards and requirements spelled out are regulated as law. If the Specific Plan is adopted by resolution (which is more common), it is treated as a jurisdiction’s policy, but it is not regulated or enforced like a zoning ordinance. In either case, any proposed maps, public works projects, and development plans must be consistent with a Specific Plan if one exists.

Sometimes Specific Plans can get blamed for being obstructions to development if the site area is not developed soon after plan adoption. Since the Specific Plan is by nature more specific, if the developer’s project changes, the Specific Plan will likely need to be amended. A good practice when writing Specific Plans is to consider what would happen if the current development proposal changed before it’s constructed.

Master Plan

A Master Plan is a kind of catch-all phrase for a plan that can take many forms. It is not defined in State law, so there are no specific requirements for what can be in it. Sometimes a Master Plan looks like a specific plan, but it is called a master plan because the city or county doesn’t want it to be official policy, just more of a suggested roadmap. In other cases, fields outside of planning, like civil engineering or parks programs, often use the term ‘master plan’ to describe their planning efforts. Think Sewer Master Plan, Parks Master Plan, Storm Drain Master Plan, etc.

Site Plan

A Site Plan isn’t really a policy document. It is a scale drawing or map of a proposed development, usually on a single parcel. Notes describing the proposed use or operation are included, usually right on the face of the Site Plan. A Site Plan needs to be consistent with the General Plan, any other plans, and the Zoning Ordinance. Each jurisdiction has procedures for obtaining approval of Site Plans prior to issuance of building permits.

Regulating Plans and Precise Plans

These types of plans are often associated with New Urbanism and/or Form Based Zoning codes. They are usually a mix of a specific plan and zoning for the specified area. They tend for focus more on the shape and form of buildings and blocks, and may even delve into very specific architectural standards. They often use graphics and drawings to illustrate requirements, rather than text and tables.

Corridor Plan

A Corridor Plan is a master plan whose geographic location follows the land that is adjacent to a major transportation corridor. Its purpose is usually to coordinate land use and transportation issues, and to identify and program future upgrades inside the corridor right of way.

Whew!  The term “Plan” gets a lot of use.  There are also many other types of plans –  Habitat Conservation Plan, Regional Transportation Plan, Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan – that are outside the realm of land use policy planning.  The key point is that they each have slightly different purposes and that there is specific content required for each “plan”. They all can be used to make your communities grow the in way you want them to grow.

Happy Planning!

How A Park Can Transform A Neighborhood

How A Park Can Transform A Neighborhood


By Mike Ratajski



November 9th was a beautiful warm sunny Fall Saturday in Porterville.  I was invited to attend the dedication ceremony for the Fallen Heroes Park located on the city’s east side.  Today, in the neighborhood around Fallen Heroes Park, you can walk to the local “jerky” store, take your car for a fill-up at the gas station and do-it-yourself spray wash or stop in at the local café for a good “home cooked meal”, but there was no place for kids or families to play, picnic, and just hang out…until now.

Fallen Heroes Park is the latest destination on the Tule River Parkway Trail that will eventually connect this little neighborhood to the broader community of Porterville.  Fallen Heroes Park, originally called “Chase Park”, is dedicated to the fallen heroes of the community – soldiers, police officers, and fire personnel who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and lives of others.

The honorable Mayor, Milt Stowe, led a brief dedication ceremony and following him, the Director of Parks and Leisure Services, Donnie Moore said, “This is the community’s park.  It takes a whole community to keep something like this looking nice.”  After the ceremony, people stayed.  After all the coffee, iced tea, donuts, and cookies were gone, the neighbors didn’t want to leave.  They were hooked.   I took the opportunity to walk around and talk to as many as I could.  It’s interesting what I discovered just by listening.

When you create a beautiful park with many amenities, neighbors have a tendency to take “ownership” of their little green space.  This park already has the distinction of local ownership.  In fact, this opening day was quite the event that people were waiting for.  A little boy who lived nearby would walk up to the construction foreman before opening day and ask him, “When you gonna open my park?”


Already the residents were taking ownership – even the little ones.  That’s a very good sign.   This boy and most of the many happy kids that live nearby now have a place to play and socialize rather than in the street or a spot on the floor in front of the television.  No longer does Mom have to scream, “Get off your rear, stop playing video games, and go out and play!”   Well, that’s wishful thinking, but at least there is now another option.

Local business owners surrounding Fallen Heroes Park used to be concerned about having a park built next door to them because they feared that the park may attract the homeless, crime, and gangs.  They did a “total 180” and are now embracing the park.  The two property owners to the east actually paid for a pedestrian gate between their businesses and the park so their employees would have a place to relax and eat lunch.

I spoke with the owner of the booming tire business across the street.  He was anxious for the park to open because he knew that once it did, his customers, particularly those with young kids, would now have a place to take them while their cars are being worked on. 

The local residents next door were obviously pleased that the dilapidated fence that looked more like a giant toothless comb was replaced by a beautiful masonry wall.

Another factor that contributes to this concept of “ownership” is that the neighborhood had a role in determining what they wanted in their park.  Of course nearly everyone wants a splash playground nowadays.  The residents on Chase Avenue and the blocks around it now have a place to retreat during the brutal summer heat in Porterville…and get to know each other.

According to the American Planning Association (APA), for those concerned that parks may foster crime and illegal activity, evidence now exists that the opposite may be true.  When next to residential areas, parks have been shown to create neighborhoods with fewer violent crimes and damage to property, and neighbors tend to support and protect one another.  Parks support frequent, casual contact among neighbors.  This leads to the formation of neighborhood social ties, the building blocks of strong, secure neighborhoods where people tend to support, care, and protect one another.  In addition, time spent in nature such as the beautifully landscaped environment of Fallen Heroes Park and the future Tule River Parkway adjacent to residential neighborhoods helps relieve mental fatigue; thus, reducing aggression.

QK should be proud of the role we have had in creating these wonderful green, fun-filled places that help transform neighborhoods.  Though the park has been open for nearly two years, crime is non-existent, and judging by the changes that have already taken place as well as this “pride of ownership” that I saw in the local residents and businesses that day, it appears that the neighborhood around Fallen Heroes Park was off to a very good start.

Drought: Preparedness: Water Wise Strategies For The Central Valley

Drought Preparedness



Water-wise strategies for the central valley

California is in the middle of an extreme drought. With more than 38 million residents depending on water reserves for personal and commercial use, Gov. Jerry Brown issued an executive order to preserve the state’s remaining resources. This guide provides an overview of California’s existing water restrictions as well as practical strategies to pursue state funding for water conservation projects.

Government Response To Extreme Drought

 “Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be 5 feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action, therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state”

-Gov. Jerry Brown

Executive Order B-29-15 was issued on April 1, 2015 in response to California’s water crisis. The order called for a 25 percent statewide reduction in water use by Feb. 28, 2016 and enacted extensive restrictions to limit residential, commercial, and government water use. Critical restrictions include:

  • Residential

    • Urban water suppliers may develop pricing mechanisms including but not limited to surcharges, fees, and penalties to maximize water conservation. The Water Board would encourage and facilitate the adoption of rate structures and other pricing mechanisms that promote water conservation.
    • Energy-efficient appliance rebate program
    • Updated standards for toilets, faucets, and outdoor landscaping
  • Commercial & Government

    • Water efficiency measures for non-residential uses including campuses, golf courses, and cemeteries
    • City parks, golf courses, schools, business parks, and campuses must implement water reduction plans for outdoor irrigation
    • Mandatory reports on water use, conservation, and enforcement by local water agencies

B-29-15 also called for revisions to AB 1881, the Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. The updated ordinance now bans grass yards for new commercial and government buildings and limits the amount of grass and irrigation allowed in new home construction.

Voters Enact Statewide Funding For Water Conservation Programs

As part of a statewide response to historic water shortages, California voters approved Proposition 1 in 2014 to improve regional water security. Prop 1 authorizes $7.5 billion in bonds for water supply infrastructure projects throughout the state. Of the $432 million available for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, $100 million may be used for urban water conservation programs.

In response the needs of disadvantaged communities in the Tulare Lake Basin Region, funding was approved to provide water and wastewater security for residents of Fresno, Kern, Kings, and Tulare Counties. $520 million is available for drinking and wastewater infrastructure projects, as well as $81 million for regional water security, climate, and drought preparedness projects. The State of California has also committed $1.5 billion to watershed restoration.

Strategies To Reduce Water Usage In The Central Valley

With Governor Brown’s goal to remove 50 million square feet of lawn area throughout California and armed with the knowledge that the average residential customer spends 60 percent of their waster use on outdoor irrigation, by replacing traditional landscaping with drought-tolerant alternatives, homeowners, businesses, and local governments can pursue state funding for their projects. Replacing turf in nonessential areas with drought-tolerant plants will save at least half of the water required for turf. Xeriscaping involves the use of hydrozones for trees, ground covering, and plants. Each hydrozone has plant material that is in the same water use category and each hydrozone is on its own irrigation circuit. These hydrozones reduce the amount of water since different water use plant types are not being watered by the same irrigation circuit that requires more water for some plants but will overwater others on the same circuit. Like traditional landscaping, xeriscaping requires thought and deliberate planning to create beautiful outdoor environments that are functional and water-efficient. Update irrigation systems, especially the controllers that include ET monitoring or rain and soil moisture sensors. Projects eligible for Prop 1 water bond funding include:

  • Residential

    • Residential rebates are available for turf replacement with xeriscaping or artificial turf.
    • Laundry to landscape gray water systems.
    • Update irrigation systems to be more efficient (e.g. smart controllers, weather stations, rain sensors, etc.)
  • Commercial

    • Eliminate street-washing during construction. Contractors are required to sweep instead.
    • Remove turf areas and replace them with water-efficient landscaping.
  • Government

    • Replace medians with drought-tolerant landscaping and hardscape.
    • Change zoning to allow for smaller lots and smaller front yards.
    • Require further water restrictions on irrigation during peak times.

In addition, the 2015 California Turf Replacement Incentive Program provides rebates for homeowners, businesses, and local governments who switch to drought-resistant landscaping. $10 million in funding is available for residential and EGIA contractors in the San Joaquin Valley.

Establish A Plan For Water Conservation Projects

Successful regional water conservation projects require the cooperation of residents, businesses, and local governments. Start by establishing a water conservation policy for your city, a set of guidelines that community members can commit to and follow. Educate the community to what these guidelines are. Identify special or urgent needs for the area you plan to work in, and use those requirements to develop the scope and structure of your project. Work with city engineers and landscape architects as well as your waste water management group to find available funds. Follow Prop 1, Prop 84, and California State Water Board emergency fund guidelines to submit your proposal. Above all, recognize that your commitment to regional water security will positively impact California for years to come.

As a courtesy to our clients, QK prepared a highly informative and graphic presentation that was presented to various city councils throughout the Central Valley, the California Parks and Recreation Society (CPRS) of Kern County, and the Central Valley Business Industry Association (BIA).