Back in February, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger created a new program to foster private investment in public infrastructure projects in the hopes of stimulating a notoriously underfunded sector. The program is to be overseen by a panel of experts, known as the Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission, which was announced on July 24. But it turns out none of the commission’s 23 members are licensed architects, a fact that has drawn protest from the LA chapter of the AIA.
Two weeks ago, John Kaliski, president of AIA/Los Angeles, wrote a letter to Dale Bonner, chair of the commission and head of the state’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, which oversees the commission. “We are greatly concerned that the omission of an architect on the PIAC Board will deter from your mandate ‘to help state and regional transportation agencies develop performance-based partnerships that deliver real value to the public,’" Kaliski wrote.
While the letter commended the state for taking steps to “resolve the current fiscal crisis” through public-private partnerships, Kaliski urged Bonner to “reconsider the present embodiment” of the commission.
The commission was created by Senate Bill 4, which opens the door for public-private partnerships to invest in infrastructure projects or to bid on design, construction, maintenance and operation of transportation facilities and work related to them. The agency hopes it will help close a projected $50.3 billion gap for the state’s infrastructure needs over the next decade
The commission will identify opportunities for such projects, research and analyze similar projects around the world, generate best practices, and provide advice and procurement-related services.
The commissioners in charge of this program include a number of transportation and infrastructure experts from government, labor, academia, and business, but there are also representatives from such unrelated groups as the Reason Foundation, Disney, and investment banking. There are only two engineers on the commission, and no designers.
Responding to why an architect was not included in the commission’s composition, agency spokesman Michael Bowman said that the commission is “not tasked with designing plans [but with] providing best practices for financing agreements.”
But AIA/LA remains steadfast. Will Wright, Director of Government & Public Affairs, said that an architect could still provide valuable perspective on financial matters. “Having an architect on a commission that reviews project delivery arrangements can provide invaluable insight regarding how to maximize best value for the investment and how to best integrate that investment with the community,” Wright wrote in an email.
And Kaliski reiterated that architects’ vast experience could not be ignored. “The most important aspect of architect participation is that architects and landscape architects are called upon increasingly to integrate the relationship between development, building, infrastructure, and the environment,” Kaliski told AN. “Infrastructure, particularly as it involves the co-location of resources, is most definitely an engineering and design problem.”
According to Bowman, the agency has been in contact with the AIA but there are no plans to include architects, nor representatives of any other group concerned about the commission’s work. Bowman instead stressed that the commission will be transparent and that the AIA’s input was welcome.