The State Worker

This California agency has so many new employees that it's installing smaller cubicles

Watch Gov. Jerry Brown defend his revised budget for California

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses his plans for California's surging budget surplus for 2018-19 at a press conference on Friday, May 11.
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Gov. Jerry Brown discusses his plans for California's surging budget surplus for 2018-19 at a press conference on Friday, May 11.

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California can’t fit all of its environmental regulators in its 25-story Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, and it doesn't want to shell out tens of millions of dollars to find them new digs, either.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration found a solution that will sound familiar to any longtime traveler squeezing his knees into tight airplane seats: His agency wants to slash the size of standard cubicles in the EPA headquarters.

The administration is asking lawmakers to set aside $23 million in next year’s budget to gradually reconfigure the headquarters so it can fit another 1,100 workers in downtown Sacramento. The headquarters today has 2,800 cubicles.

If the plan is approved, rank-and-file workers will see their cubicles reduced from 80 square feet to 49 square feet. Supervisors will lose 10 square feet, giving them 70 square feet of space.

It’ll take eight years to finish the makeover, agency Assistant Secretary Eric Jarvis told an Assembly budget subcommittee on Tuesday.

“We will reconfigure all the floors, paint, carpet and reconfigure all the cubicles,” he said.

The administration contends the smaller cubicles are a better choice for taxpayers because the price of real estate is climbing in Sacramento. Renting space for the workers would cost more than $50 million over eight years.

Brown is making room for a growing headcount of employees regulating air pollution, water quality, recycling, pesticides and other toxic substances. They’ve been adding about 106 employees a year, according to his Finance Department.

“CalEPA anticipates that growth will continue,” the agency’s budget request says.

Highway workers making roadside rescues

Heavy rains created dangerous road conditions all over California in the winter of 2016-17. Five Caltrans workers last week received a huge thank-you for putting their own lives on the line to help stranded drivers that winter.

Jason Heinz, Matthew McCarter, Shawn Morgan and Steven Rhine received a silver medal of valor from the Brown administration for their efforts to free a family from a car that had flipped upside-down into the American River on Dec. 28, 2016, near Ice House Road in El Dorado County.

The Caltrans workers repeatedly trudged into the river on a snowy night when temperatures dropped into the 20s. They were able to turn over the car and help rescue two adults in the vehicle. An 11-year-old boy died in the accident. A 13-year-old girl was ejected from the car and survived.

Separately, Caltrans senior engineer Tad Sampson received a silver medal of valor for his work on Feb. 13, 2017, to rescue a contractor whose excavator became buried in debris on Interstate 80 near Baxter.

Sampson and three contractors waded into the debris to extract the driver, who was buried in mud and pressed between his machine and sliding logs. “There is no question without their immediate and heroic efforts, the victim would not have survived,” Sampson’s medal citation reads.

He called last week's valor ceremony "humbling" and "unbelievable." The debris slide was the most dangerous event he experienced in his 20-year Caltrans career.

"I was very happy to see (the buried worker) go home that night," Sampson said.

Halting a prison riot

Altogether, Brown’s Government Operations Agency recognized 27 state employees with medals of valor last week. Twelve of them were correctional officers who were attacked by a mob of inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison on May 24, 2017.

“Some of the officers were knocked to the ground and then kicked before other officers could rescue them. In one attack, the inmates wrenched an officer’s baton from him but another officer confronted the inmate and regained control of the baton. Still other officers attempted to fight their way to downed officers as attacking inmates swarmed them,” their citation reads.

Seven medals went to California Highway Patrol Officers, including Lt. Greg Klingenberg, who retrieved a wounded Fresno County sheriff’s deputy under fire in a 2001 shootout.

Off-duty heroics

Two state workers who normally have desk-bound day jobs received medals of valor for heroics after hours. State Department of Insurance Detective Aivaras Petraitis performed an ocean rescue off the Ventura Coast on Nov. 13, 2016, to save the lives of a mother and son who were caught in a nasty current.

And Covered California program technician Stephen Madrigal on Dec. 24, 2015, broke up a violent street fight in Fresno. One of the attackers stabbed Madrigal.

“With no regard for his own safety, Mr. Madrigal’s heroic service saved two men involved in a street fight,” his citation reads.