Photos by Summy Lam, Club Director of Marketing;
Alive! editor John Burnes; and courtesy StreetsLA
Special thanks go to Ozzie Haro and Paul Gomez of StreetsLA, who helped organize our visit during extraordinary (pandemic) times.
ALIVE! FEATURE CONTENTS
Click title to continue reading this month’s feature:
The Club and RLACEI complete their historic Club ‘Care Calls’ to every single Retired member individually
When the going got tough, the essential workers shifted … and kept going.
Look outside – the City crew you see on the streets is keeping the City safe … accomplishing important repair work more efficiently … and proving that the City is moving ahead normally.
Staying active to complete jobs and give a sense that the City is in full operation during this pandemic, StreetsLA (Street Services) shifted to several projects to take advantage of the changes in traffic, and to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the citizens of LA and keep the City safe.
Notably, these are the major programs StreetsLA is accomplishing during the pandemic:
- Project ADAPT (Adjusted Deployment to Accelerate Paving in High Traffic Corridors) takes advantage of lighter traffic on main arterials to make resurfacing and sweeping more efficient.
- StreetsLA crews are sanitizing transit shelters to help stop the spread of the virus.
- Streets LA crews are also inspecting farmer’s markets to make sure they are in compliance with the mayor’s directives on social distancing.
Read more about these projects in the feature that follows, with more online on the Alive! Website.
For more information about StreetsLA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit streetsla.lacity.org/covid
There are three main projects being performed by StreetsLA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
StreetsLA is executing the ADAPT (Adjusted Deployment to Accelerate Paving in High Traffic Corridors) program, an initiative announced by Mayor Garcetti on April 10 to take advantage of the reduced traffic resulting from the Safer at Home order. Lighter traffic allows StreetsLA to repair and sweep high-priority, high-traffic and commercial corridors more quickly and cost-effectively. It will also reduce impact on residents staying at home.
The Safer at Home emergency order brought about a significant decrease in vehicle traffic throughout the City. Meanwhile, maintenance, paving and sweeping of local residential streets has been complicated by relaxed parking enforcement and was sometimes disruptive to residents who are staying safer at home and/or working at home. By maximizing resources in this way, StreetsLA is accomplishing more with the same resources and help prepare the City for a post-coronavirus recovery.
StreetsLA also expanded street sweeping from local residential streets to major commercial corridors. During the safer at home order, relaxed parking enforcement has diminished the ability of street sweeping to reach some curb areas but increased the department’s ability to clean areas that would otherwise be blocked by commercial parking.
StreetsLA is also deferring pavement of local streets to later in the year, thereby minimizing conflicts with residents staying safer at home and maximizing resources to repair high-traffic corridors.
Sanitizing Transit Stations
As a part of StreetsLA’s contribution to “flattening the curve,” the department has added hand hygiene for transit riders. To help transit riders stay safe and working with the contract partners for the Coordinated Street Furniture Program, StreetsLA doubled the frequency of cleaning at bus stops and has installed 300 automatic touch-free hand sanitizing dispensers at the highest used bus stops all across Los Angeles.
All Farmers Markets in the City were required to have an approved COVID-19 operational plan approved by StreetsLA, under public health orders and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s direction. And the Streets LA Farmers Markets team stepped up to work with the markets and reopen to provide fresh food and keep the public safe at the same time.
On May 7, Alive! editor John Burnes interviewed Keith Mozee [pronounced Mo-ZAY], Assistant Director of StreetsLA (Street Services) and the Chief Operations Officer in charge of the pandemic response. Keith has worked for the City for more than 30 years, all with Street Services. The interview took place by phone, to maintain safe distancing.
‘We Are Essential Workers’
Alive!: Thanks for talking to me today. What path did you take to your current position?
Keith Mozee: Sure. After serving in the Army, I went to a job fair headed by Mayor Tom Bradley at Audubon Middle School and started as a light Truck Operator for then Street Maintenance – a guy working on a Small Asphalt Repair truck filling potholes. In the 1990s, I went back to school to continue my education. And after I received a Bachelor of arts degree in urban study and planning, I was promoted from Truck Operator to Motor Sweeper Operator, Street Services Supervisor running field crews, then Street Services Superintendent I and II running concrete crews, both of the City’s asphalt plants. Then I became Chief Coordinator coordinating all Citywide paving operations; then to Division Manager leading the Resurfacing and Reconstruction Division; then to General Superintendent working on special assignments; and then to Assistant Director. And now as Assistant Director I’m the Chief Operations Officer in charge of the pandemic response, overseeing our emergency operations and procurement of PPE (personal protection equipment). One of my main duties is overseeing the paving preservation program for the entire City, and a host of other duties.
That’s a lot. You must have been really busy over the last eight to ten weeks. This must have been a very busy time for you.
It’s always busy, and this is no different. Managing operations always has its challenges, but my most paramount responsibility is keeping our employees safe during this pandemic.
Pandemic: Streets and More
Give us an overview of StreetsLA’s responsibilities during COVID-19. What do you do as essential workers?
Well, first, we’re still continuing our essential services maintaining City streets, sidewalks and street trees. We also provide investigation and enforcement activity on street uses. We design and build projects to make City streets safe, mobile and sustainable. We are essential workers. We’ve worked to adjust our regular duties during these changing conditions. We’re responsible for the safety of our essential workers through education, communication and providing the proper equipment to keep them safe.
What percentage of your workers are doing things that they didn’t expect to do during this time? Did everyone shift over or just some people?
We have, 1,260 positions at StreetsLA that include approximately 1,000 people working in the field maintaining Continuity of Operations or performing essential services. That’s the majority of our workforce – close to 80 percent. And, so, the other 20 percent is working in the office, providing administrative support, telecommuting or working as Disaster Service Workers. Our engineering folks are providing support to our essential services projects, continuing to design projects for construction. A small percent of our essential workers are volunteering as DSW [disaster service] workers, delivering food to seniors, for example. But the vast bulk of our workforce is still in the field, maintaining the City’s infrastructure, providing services to maintain that sense of normalcy. It’s vital that people see our yellow trucks paving streets, trimming trees and fixing sidewalks, monitoring food vendors, and installing hand sanitizer at bus transit shelters. The public continues to see that the City and its Public Works are still functioning.
If there were an earthquake we would be more at a forefront removing debris from roadways. During the recent firestorms, we worked with Emergency Operations and the Fire Department to clear roads so fire trucks could get through. In this crisis, we’re acting in a more support-type role supplying k-rail, cones, barricades for testing centers and promoting safe activities at local businesses.
There are a few operations you’re doing that are different than normal. I want to ask you, first, about the ADAPT program.
Sure. ADAPT stands for “Adjusted Deployment to Accelerate Paving,” that includes sweeping high-traffic corridors. Crews are able to take advantage of the reduced traffic on busier commercial streets, allowing us to complete large-scale projects much faster, reducing the impact on residents staying at home. This has allowed StreetsLA to complete a significant amount of work that would normally take longer to accomplish.
Sure. It’s been very different driving in LA over the last few months.
Yes. With the safer at home emergency order and relaxed parking enforcement, we found it hard to pave and sweep local residential neighborhoods. Meanwhile, on the major arterial streets, which are usually heavily traveled, traffic conditions were significantly lighter. We saw an opportunity to capitalize on the situation, so we re-deployed our resources, shifting them from the residential streets to commercial corridors. This reduced the impact on the residents who are staying at home and complying with the order, and it made work on our commercial areas and major arterial streets quicker and more cost effective. We can work longer with fewer disruptions to public transit and parking. We’re able to accomplish more with the same resources.
Can you tell me about the sanitization and hydration station program?
Yes, We’re working with our contractors who manage our street furniture program to double the frequency of cleaning at all transit shelters and bus benches. We’ve installed more than 300 hand-sanitizing stations at transit shelters City-wide. Our engineers are installing permanent, fully plumbed hand-washing and hydration stations at public toilets to help protect the public health, including on Skid Row, where conditions are severe.
Is that for Transportation’s DASH bus program, and for the County’s Metro system?
Yes, both, starting with the most frequently used bus stops.
And you were working on the compliance for the reopening of farmer’s markets.
Yes. I’m proud to say that we quickly responded to ensure that farmers markets remain safe and available options for the public. Immediately after the mayor announced concern about safety at farmers markets, we began reviewing plans to ensure safe distancing and adequate hygiene at the markets. Today, there are 33 farmers markets with COVID safety plans approved by StreetsLA
Has there been any time in your City career that compares to this? Is this unprecedented in the kind of work that you’re doing for the City?
I was around during the ‘92 riots; several earthquakes, including the Northridge earthquake; rainstorms that caused mudslides; windstorms that toppled trees; and major fires all generating debris that required debris removal in some cases and significant support from StreetsLA. These are traumatic events that we experience as a part of living in Southern California. When we respond to these types of emergencies, we’re out opening roads for the public. COVID-19 is a sustained event that is longer lasting, not typically what we are used to dealing with. Now we are adjusting to this new type of situation, managing essential PPE supplies, using face coverings, ensuring staff wash their hands and monitoring social distancing. This is unprecedented.
It has to have taken a period of adjustment to deal with the distancing.
We have a risk manager who oversees and assesses our normal work environment that now includes COVID-19 safety protocols. We have dedicated staff checking field crews every day for social distancing and PPEs. We are out there every day, being vigilant and making sure that our crews are complying. At the same time, we’re communicating with them daily to take measures to suppress the spread of this virus.
Right. How quickly did your units adapt? What was it like on the ground when emergency work orders came down?
It’s within our structure as part of emergency operations along with the Illness Injury Prevention Program to work safely during normal work activities or emergencies. When we realized the severity of this pandemic, the directors immediately began communicating with our staff, following the mayor’s leadership, and county health and safety guidelines. We immediately started incorporating increased hand washing, then face coverings, and practicing social distancing.
Who figured out the projects and came up with the list, and what you’re going to do during the coronavirus crisis?
In my discussions with Division Managers, superintendent staff and our General Manager, Adel Hagekhalil, regarding the challenges with working in residential neighborhoods, the question was asked, “Can we pivot from paving and sweeping residential neighborhoods to major corridors to accomplish our goals?” This was no easy task as everything in the Annual Street Renewal Program had to be adjusted, and sweeping routes changed. StreetsLA executive staff and managers are always forward thinking and often react nimbly to change. We knew that the major corridors rarely get swept. We thought, “This is an opportunity.” So, we “ADAPTED” quickly, shifting projects and resources to work on major corridors and easing the impact on residential neighborhoods.
Right. Any idea when the operations might begin shifting back to normal?
We will continue to follow the mayor’s leadership, and we expect a gradual shifting of restrictions. We’ll adjust to that, accordingly, but as of right now work on major corridors will continue through the end of September.
What are some of your most memorable moments about getting things done or shifting to be able to adapt?
I’ve always enjoyed providing essential services as a public servant improving communities and neighborhoods. Paving major streets with less traffic makes sense, and the positive feedback from City residents has been tremendous.
Going into the field, talking one-on-one with staff I have worked alongside my entire career is always enjoyable. These are essential workers who are in the field every day. My number-one priority is the StreetsLA workforce – to make sure they have everything they need, to work safely.
I’m also an adjunct professor through LA Trade Tech, teaching classes about StreetsLA construction and City Standards to help them get promoted. This semester I am teaching a class on issues and practices and we are looking at the role of local government during this current pandemic. It’s interesting talking to the students – many of them brand new to Public Works – about these unprecedented times and the role of StreetsLA. Teaching the next generation about what I’ve learned over my career and what’s going on right now – those are my most enjoyable moments.
Talk about your staff.
Sure. One of my students from a recent class was recently reassigned to our Emergency Operations Center at the beginning of this pandemic. It was due to seeing her capabilities and potential in class that I knew she would be a great fit. I’m delighted to say that she has exceeded my expectations and will only progress in her career for years to come.
We have staff working hard every day to secure PPE supplies, staff monitoring work environments, staff providing essential services trimming trees, fixing sidewalks, building access ramps and bus pads, sweeping streets, paving streets, providing engineering designs, working on advanced planning, providing administrative support, keeping our IT running, and working as Disaster Service Workers. Their morale and spirits remains high as our primary goal and mission has been to keep everyone safe, and I’m proud of what we have accomplished so far.
What do you wish people knew about what the unit does? Sometimes people think they know what you do, but not always.
Our work is fundamental to the City’s eventual recovery and contributes to a sense of normalcy during the crisis. We are first responders who have historically responded to every emergency. And just by people seeing us still out there, they know that the City is still functioning. Our role is just different now. We are out there every day, maintaining the infrastructure to keep it safe, mobile and sustainable to improve the quality of life for all.
What do you love about what you do?
I have over 30 years with the City. I enjoy teaching and giving back to the younger generation of workers, trying to teach them the fundamentals about what it means to work at StreetsLA. I want to pass on my institutional knowledge to a younger generation that is eager to learn, and want to be promoted. They’re going to be here for the long haul, in some cases 30 and 40 years before they retire. I want to pass on as much knowledge as I possibly can. Sometimes I hear back from students and others that something I taught them helped them in their careers. That’s rewarding.
Sure. Are you coming in contact with the public more than before?
Our Street Use Enforcement division inspectors shifted to promote compliance with safer-at-home orders with the farmers markets, the sidewalk vendors, businesses and restaurants. Our investigators made more than 23,000 contacts with the public in April to promote safer-at-home compliance. Staff members are being deployed as Disaster Service Workers, They are delivering food to the elderly population or helping take our homeless neighbors to shelter to protect them from the virus.
Well, Keith, thank you very much. And thanks for all that StreetsLA is doing.
BEHIND THE SCENES
StreetsLA Crew 169 resurfacing Sunset Boulevard is photographed by Summy Lam, Club Director of Marketing.