The California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) takes great pleasure in highlighting its members’ extraordinary accomplishments. The City of Monrovia is the recipient of two 2020 ICMA Local Government Excellence Awards, which recognize outstanding local government programs.
California JPIA: Could you give some background on Monrovia for members not familiar with the city?
Monrovia City Manager Dylan Feik: As the fourth oldest incorporated city in Los Angeles County, Monrovia is home to nearly 40,000 residents and nestled up against the San Gabriel Mountains. Monrovia maintains its small-town charm by supporting our historic Old Town with events and programs; serving over 150 local historic landmarks and two unique historical districts; and maintaining over 1,500 acres of the Monrovia Hillside Wilderness Preserve, a dedicated open space across the northern end of the city. Our calls for service frequently include mountain lions and bears! Monrovia is a full-service city and works closely with California JPIA members Alhambra, Azusa, Bradbury, Duarte, La Canada Flintridge, San Gabriel, San Marino, and Sierra Madre.
California JPIA: The city received a Program Excellence Award for Community Partnership for its GoMonrovia transportation program. What makes GoMonrovia a unique, affordable, and efficient way of providing transportation services to the community?
Feik: The city lacked a convenient, reliable method of transportation, so most often residents relied on their own private vehicles to meet their transit needs. Ridership levels on Monrovia Transit (the city’s historic bus service) were low, providing 39,000 rides per year, despite being an open system that allowed both residents and visitors to request rides within the city’s boundaries or to pre-approved medical centers within a three-mile radius. With an average ridership of 3,243 passengers per month and an average trip length of 1.19 miles, it was costing the city around $19.70 per ride to operate Monrovia Transit. Monrovia Transit vehicles were often providing trips for one or two passengers in shuttle vans that could hold up to 12 people.
GoMonrovia served as a new mobility model for suburban communities across the country. Monrovia successfully transformed our traditional dial-a-ride model found in most suburban settings into an innovative, cost-effective, and user-friendly form of public transit. Whereas Monrovia used to provide 38,000 rides per year with its dial-a-ride program, we have now provided over 1.2 million rides since March 2018. The city was able to leverage the strengths of Lyft, in combination with retooling our dial-a-ride program to focus solely on serving ADA passengers, to provide a new form of public transit that is beneficial to all who live, work in, and visit Monrovia.
In terms of cost savings and efficiencies gained, the dial-a-ride program cost an average of $19.70 per ride. The current average price on GoMonrovia is $4.13 per ride, a nearly 80% savings per trip.
California JPIA: The city also received a Program Excellence Award for Monrovia Renewal, the city’s innovative multi-year initiative to prioritize street, sidewalk, water, and sewer system repairs and restore infrastructure to a healthy baseline state. Can you explain the initiative and the city’s focus on an issue that many cities find challenging to address?
Feik: As I frequently like to say, “The answer is money…now, what’s the question?”
Similar to every other city, Monrovia’s aging infrastructure was plagued by a backlog of deferred maintenance with 65% of streets in less than satisfactory condition, an average Pavement Condition Index of 57.1%, and a significant backlog of cracked and undersized water and sewer lines increasingly prone to leaks and sewer overflows. At one point, the city averaged a water main break every other day. To assess the extent of needed repairs, the city commissioned four master plans to identify major deficiencies in the street, sidewalk, water, and sewer systems, respectively, and the estimated costs to restore these systems to healthy, reliable conditions the city can maintain going forward.
The end result is Monrovia Renewal, an innovative five-year initiative comprised of $55.7 million in priority repairs to the city’s water and sewer pipelines, water facilities, and street system including sidewalk, curb/gutter, and driveway approach improvements. This initiative allowed the city to strategically prioritize repairs where they will have the greatest impact in our community and restore our infrastructure to a healthy baseline state, which can then be proactively maintained moving forward at a reduced cost to improve fiscal stability. Throughout implementation, the city planned and executed the work, from coordinating all underground work prior to street repairs to reduce the number of pavement cuts, to performing sidewalk repairs using a cost-effective diamond-cutting technique as an alternative to removal and replacement. The project incorporated public input and participation throughout and included regular, weekly updates showing street closures, parking availability, and overall coordination of construction activities across 13 square miles.
Since the Monrovia Renewal began in the summer of 2015, the city has successfully completed infrastructure improvements to more than 90% of the project areas throughout the city, while keeping the community engaged along the way. Our recent PCI assessment rated our street condition at 87.3% and we still have one section left to complete!
To finance the project, the city utilized revenue bonds, utility fee revenues, and successfully committed funding to the project.
California JPIA: Are there additional programs or initiatives that the city will be exploring or implementing in the future?
Feik: We are always pushing ourselves to get better. “Pursuit of Excellence” is our vision and with that vision comes change, goal setting, and pursuing hard things. The city created an ad hoc Committee on Equity & Inclusion to look at our current and past practices that are barriers to equity and racial justice. Out of this plan is coming new reforms, hiring practices, ADA Transition Plan and implementation, and much more. Construction is beginning on our Station Square Transit Village, a visionary project that includes over 2,200 new residential housing units, +30,000 sq. ft. of office space, and if that’s not enough, we’re adding a 170-room hotel. We purchased our first cadre of electric vehicles and are preparing plans to install EV charging stations throughout the community. Finally, in November 2019, residents approved Measure K, a ¾ cent sales tax increase which will generate up to $4.5m in perpetuity. This general-purpose tax revenue will be annually allocated with an emphasis on addressing infrastructure, building reserves, and enhancing community partnership programs like our award-winning Monrovia Garden Pilot Program and Housing Displacement Response Plan. I could not be prouder of our City Council and the staff who lead in times of change. I look forward to big things in Monrovia.
California JPIA: A focus as a member of the California JPIA is on risk management and reducing the cost of risk for members. What is your overall risk management philosophy, and how do you promote it within your organization?
Feik: To me, risk management isn’t a “thing you do,” but rather a frame of mind. Much like finance or emergency management/mitigation, I believe managers should learn these important skillsets to assist with overall leadership and management of an organization. When ideas are presented, does a manager consider the risk involved, much like the way we consider costs of the effort? Do we review and ensure appropriate forms, waivers, and indemnification agreements are in place? During the first few months of my current position, we invited the California JPIA to do an onsite risk assessment with all of our departments participating. It sends a positive message to everyone when the manager shows care towards risk management. We also require certain California JPIA risk management trainings for all employees and attempt to build a culture that “risk management is everyone’s job.”
California JPIA: Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and budgetary constraints facing local governments, how do you keep risk management as a top goal for your organization?
Feik: At the onset of the pandemic, the city’s leadership team came together and discussed a shared approach as we lead through uncertain times. We developed key goals like “employee safety first,” and “set an example for other cities to follow.” We also knew the pandemic would pass so we would take care of our employees always, knowing decisions about furloughs and layoffs would never be considered until the most dire times. The approach was shared across the organization so we could give employees at least something concrete…the city leadership approach. We developed our own Workplace Safety Plans back in April to share with the staff exactly what we were doing to protect them.
During the pandemic, our organization shifted 26% of our workforce to remote work while the remaining staff continued their field services (police, fire, and public works). We did this to reduce face-to-face interactions with the public. We implemented online crime reporting so we could reduce law enforcement daily interactions down from approximately 60 to 20 per shift. We isolated employee workgroups from each other to prevent community spread while also creating a daily “Monrovia Strong” newsletter to enhance employee connectivity while we remained isolated. We transitioned most every other city service to virtual service delivery – planning & building, crime reporting, records requests, utility billing, and much more. We’ve been afforded time and opportunity to think critically about how we do things well, and where we can improve. Employee safety was always the #1 priority and I believe employees would agree.
California JPIA: Final thoughts?
Feik: One of the most profound messages I received as a youth was “Dylan, go thrive in awkwardness.” That message encourages me daily as we lead through uncertain times. There is an abundance of leadership and excellence occurring right now in Monrovia but also throughout the state and country. I hope to continue learning about how other managers are demonstrating excellence during these uncertain times.
About California JPIA
Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 40 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 120 member cities and other governmental agencies. Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property, and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive risk management training and loss control services.