Feature Story

More feature stories by year:


Return to: 2003 Feature Stories


October 2003: American City & County


The Emeryville, Calif., Public Works Department has begun using a software program to plan and track the activities of its Maintenance Division. The software helps the department automatically prepare schedules of tasks, track the costs of those tasks and respond to residents' maintenance requests.

Emeryville, located across the Bay from San Francisco, is a growing 1.5-square-mile city with a nighttime population of 7,300 and a daytime population of more than 25,000. Historically, the city has been home to heavy industries like steel mills, but, in the last decade, it has incorporated high-tech and biotech industries, and mixed-use commercial buildings. The elimination of several industrial sites opened land for public parks and new street configurations. "These changes brought new challenges to public works," says Councilwoman Nora Davis. "The addition of new parks, new streets [and] hundreds of new trees all placed higher and more visible demands on our public works street crews."

Emeryville's Public Works Department faced mounting pressure from the city council and mayor to report its maintenance plans and progress in a meaningful and consistent way each month. Searching for a solution, the department contracted with a consulting firm to review the Maintenance Division's operations. Following the review, the consultant helped the division create an annual project plan, work program and budget, and it helped select management software. Once that was complete, the division broke its projects and budget into monthly segments. Then, it added deadlines for routine maintenance activities and backlogged work requests to generate a schedule for completing maintenance tasks.

The division purchased software from Aurora, Colo.-based Burke and Associates to automate the maintenance schedule. Supervisors enter each activity into a database, identifying the step-by-step process for completing each activity and the resources required for each task. Supervisors also estimate the time and effort required to complete each task.

Supervisors schedule work weekly using the software, assigning daily tasks to employees. Employees track their work each day and record the activities they performed, the resources they used and the amount of work they completed. Crew chiefs can generate reports that compare the planned tasks to those that have been completed.

Since it began using the software earlier this year, Emeryville has been able to manage its resources more effectively. Specifically, the city has been able to reduce the cost of its "Clean City Program," which includes litter collection and trash removal, by assigning the work primarily to county offenders on work-release programs. The Clean City Program now accounts for 40 percent of the division's total labor days but only 15 percent of the division's total operating budget.

The division's productivity has improved 34 percent in completing legend-painting tasks and 24 percent in completing walk-behind-mowing projects. Additionally, the division has kept its costs at $26 per hour, which is $10 to $20 less than other city agencies.

Prior to using the software, the Public Works Department did not have an effective way to track how much it was spending to complete maintenance tasks. Also, department managers had few resources for discussing levels of service and manpower distribution with city officials. "There has been a dramatic change [in] city council and citizen reactions to public works maintenance," says Public Works Director Hank Van Dyke. "There are no longer complaints at the city council meetings."

Return to: 2003 Feature Stories