Profiling Sacramento EMD: A Study in Change and Consistency
By Bill Lent
A Changing Landscape
Rocket engines, now gone silent, used to reverberate across Sacramento's cityscape and dominate the local economy. The Tower Theater and state fair were marquee attractions to this self-described "cow town". We caught up with Marie Woodin, The Interim Director of Sacramento's Environmental Management Department, who cannot afford the time to wax nostalgic for industries departed, or air bases long since closed. That was the Sacramento of yesteryear. The agency has 124 staff to support 32 regulatory programs. A large component is their CUPA program which has 30 staff members and 4,000 inspections to oversee with new college recruits to hire and a regulatory playing field to keep level.
Today, Sacramento is the thriving capitol of the most populous state in the U.S.A., a techie's and hipster's destination, an ever changing landscape with a healthy and growing downtown that features the Golden One Center for NBA action and concerts, plus a sizzling nightlife. Sacramento has been deemed the Farm-To-Fork capital and the surrounding 1.5 million acres of farm land makes that a reality. In order to keep people and the environment safe in such a dynamic setting, the Sacramento Environmental Management Division (EMD) must challenge every assumption of business-as-usual. EMD is constantly working to stay ahead of changes in the law, industry, work force and society. Whether Marie's team is inventing new fee systems to reward good players, or training staff how to inspect cannabis growing operations, Sacramento EMD is creating solutions to problems others don't even know exist.
Attracting New Talent and Keeping a Vital Workforce
A healthy economy of emerging industries, including technology, biotech and manufacturing, make attracting new CUPA employees especially challenging. True to their innovative nature, Sacramento County tables the usual job fairs and workshops to attract students, but also uses a variety of social media platforms to more effectively reach out to the new workforce. This effort helps to spread the word that a career in the public sector is personally rewarding and pays well. The Agency has a robust intern program that helps ensure the job is a good fit for both the agency and the individual. In the city of Farm-To-Fork, EMD benefits from Intern-To-Employee strategies, resulting in many excellent CUPA staffers.
The CUPA universe has become so complex and technically challenging that it could give you a stabbing headache, like too much Leatherby's ice cream, a local favorite, too quickly. The CUPA program started in 1993 as a simple way to consolidate, coordinate and improve consistency of the existing regulatory program. Today, that simple concept has grown exponentially in size and complexity. In response to this increased demand for technical expertise, the EMD has assigned specialized teams for UST inspections, installations, removals and for Cal ARP oversight. While specialization is needed, the well-rounded generalist is also a valuable commodity and EMD incorporates a holistic approach to training their specialists. When needed locally or deployed via mutual aid, Sacramento EMD staff members will be a very valuable asset, able to assist in all core programs seamlessly.
Not unlike the Gold Rush of 1849, the legalization of cannabis has the potential of dramatic impacts on California. The products will vary from choice "buds" to extracts, oils, creams and edibles. Along with the associated manufacturing processes, the cultivation and retail industry is projected to generate billions of dollars into the state economy. The City of Sacramento passed an ordinance, which allows indoor cannabis cultivators and manufacturers, they are issuing 200 licensed permits to these business groups. The Agency is ready for the challenge and is training their staff on the unique hazards that they may encounter during inspections, from explosive gases to poison oak. They will have a team of inspectors that will work to educate the stakeholders and to ensure compliance while this industry continues to develop, stay tuned.
Enforcement: Leverage, Not Punishment
True to their pioneering nature, Sacramento EMD incorporates unique enforcement tools in their compliance program. To improve operator education/awareness, EMD created short compliance videos and have linked them to the inspection reports so owners and operators can easily view them using their smart phones. For businesses requiring additional oversight, the MFI, or More Frequent Inspection program, focuses resources on facilities that have critical violations and increases the frequency of inspections on these facilities until their level of compliance improves. Finally, EMD provides a portion of their enforcement money to compliant businesses as an Enforcement Revenue Credit, this is based on an algorithm addressing agency costs, etc., then reduces compliant facilities' bills as an incentive for continued compliance. Ensuring a level playing field is never easy, but the EMD strives to do just that, enacting enforcement actions businesses, and local, state and federal agencies, when necessary and rewarding compliance with innovation.
Sacramento County Environmental Management Department has always been a leader with great vision. They were a founding member of the California CUPA Forum and are active in the annual training conference and statewide training of efforts while also participating in many work groups and committees that help improve CUPA program delivery statewide. Their success is the result of never being afraid of innovation or changes that improve program implementation. The Agency's long history of success and leadership are one of the many examples of CUPA agencies through California working and looking forward to make our great state healthier and safer.