CUPA Profiles

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San Mateo County 2019 CUPA

2000 Alameda de las Pulgas, Suite 100 San Mateo, CA 94403
(650) 372-6200

Like snowflakes, no two CUPA programs are identical. In previous profiles we have looked at Calaveras, Sacramento, San Francisco and Orange Counties, each unique in their own way. Nestled between the bustling urban hub of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, home of Silicon Valley and all that goes with it, San Mateo is the quiet neighbor in the middle. Founded in 1856 and one of the original 18 counties in California, San Mateo County has always been a pioneer. The third smallest county in the state geographically, it lays claim to some of the most spectacular natural beauty anywhere. The contrast between the urban 101 industrial corridor and the serene coast side is stunning. San Mateo is home to San Francisco International airport and just a few miles away lies Crystal Springs reservoir, a large protected open space that serves as the water supply for most of the Peninsula and the city of San Francisco. A short drive over the hill takes you to some of the most pristine and breathtaking coastline that California has to offer, check it out at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, then drive down the coast through vast farmlands with artichokes, flowers, berries and more, truly the rural side of the hill.

Since the inception of the Unified Program every county in California has seen changes in the makeup of their regulated community but none more dramatic than San Mateo County. In the 50s and 60s the County was heavily industrialized, home to Bethlehem Steel, Fuller Paints, dozens of plating shops, numerous defense contractors and research facilities like Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC). The reminders of their industrial past remain prominent, San Bruno Mountain still sports the message South San Francisco the Industrial City even though it is now the Biotech Capital of California and home to several Biotech giants and dozens of smaller biotech startups. Instead of manufacturing facilities there are now small pop up labs that come and go requiring the CUPA to inspect, educate and provide closure to this dynamic industry. In the other parts of the County, heavy manufacturing has been replaced by social media, internet and gaming mainstays like Facebook, Google, YouTube and Electronic Arts, requiring changes to the CUPAs approach and staff training as these facilities dont generate the volume or types of wastes associated with previous regulated businesses. This ability to adapt to changes is one key to this CUPAs success.

To get some insight, we caught up with Marjorie Terrell, the CUPA Manager for San Mateo County. Marjorie has been with San Mateo County for 13 years. A Stanford graduate, Marjorie spent four years with the city of Minneapolis Environmental Services Division, so she has seen how it is done elsewhere. Like California, Minnesota is a very environmentally conscientious state, allowing Marjorie to apply the knowledge gained early in her career to the San Mateo County CUPA program. Her education and experience have given her a unique perspective and prepared her for the challenges the CUPA program presents. Marjorie is currently a member of the California CUPA Forum Board and serves as the Boards Treasurer and CUPA Conference Co-Chair.

The San Mateo CUPA program is administered by the countys Environmental Health Division, a division of San Mateo County Health. The Divisions CUPA program has 13 inspectors, one technician plus 2 administrative staff and is the CUPA for the entire county, implementing all of the CUPA programs across the 20 incorporated cities and unincorporated areas, as there are no participating agencies. In addition, the Countys CUPA inspectors perform storm water and waste tire inspections.

The County has a long history in the Unified Program. San Mateo County was the first CUPA certified in California in 1997, developed the model application used by many current CUPAs, has hosted the annual training conference more than any other county and was a founding member of the California CUPA Forum.

The evolution of the CUPA program and the change from hardcopy inspections to a paperless world has been a challenge for every CUPA. Marjorie looks on the bright side of this transition and the ability to get timely and accurate data in the electronic world. The data has shown that all of the outreach, education, inspections and enforcement have significantly improved compliance, reducing the number of illegal disposal incidents and emergency response calls. The method used to measure improved compliance tracks specific violations and the time it takes for the violation to be corrected. The data has shown steady improvement and validates the CUPAs efforts, after all compliance is the goal and education is the most effective tool.

Speaking of emergency response, way back in 1985 when the Business Program was just getting started, it was promoted as an effective way to provide information to first responders on the inherent hazards a facility may pose. In reality, that information was hard to get to responders in a timely manner and more often than not that information sat in a file cabinet or a box in someones office. San Mateo has rolled out a program that works in concert with their local portal that provides responders on scene access to vital contact information, inventory and site maps for facilities. This is accomplished using the HazTracker application and provides access via smartphones and computers. The next phase is to integrate this with the new Computer Aided Dispatch system the county is launching which will flag facilities regulated by the CUPA program. This truly is an improvement that may be lifesaving and has been a long time coming and another benefit of the new paperless world.

Always a topic of debate, the local portal has been a valuable tool for San Mateo County. The portal has improved customer service because it allows the inspector to assist operators with submissions, sends reminder e-mails to facilities with overdue business plan submissions, and provides information to first responders. In the second half of 2019, the portal will be launching a compliance module which will enable facilities to see their compliance status, view their inspections, and submit compliance verification documents. Like everything new, it has taken time and effort to develop; but in the end, the local portal is helping San Mateo facilities comply with the ever-increasing requirements.

San Mateo has demonstrated that the ability to adapt to changes in industry types, staff, data handling, outreach and enforcement are central to the Unified Program's success. The Unified Program needs leaders like Marjorie to take the program to the next level and into the ever changing future. Marjorie leads a team that she calls the best in the state because every member has unique strengths that complement the others creating a regulatory program that works with industry to make San Mateo County a great place to live, work, and play. While some of the neighboring jurisdictions may pay a little more or have shorter commutes, the positive attitude, job dedication and drive for innovation exhibited by this CUPA team keeps them together. They are able to work together cohesively and seamlessly just like the Unified Program was designed - consolidated, coordinated and consistent and with leaders that continue to demonstrate the pioneer spirit, blazing new trails and leading the way.