Stories in this reportMay 15 event: Contractor rules, regulations and today’s projectsReport: Homebuilding to rebound after prices hit bottom in 2013Marmot got RP building permits in eight daysFood bank expects to open new building in January

SANTA ROSA -- State regulators are cracking down on contractors trying to cut corners on employment and licensing law to win jobs amid the steep contraction in the building industry in the past six years, while local governments increasingly have been actively looking for ways to speed projects that will revive the economy and tax base, according to experts set to speak at the Business Journal's 2012 Construction Conference next week.

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The keynote speaker at the Tuesday morning conference on May 15 will be Steve Sands, executive officer and registrar for the Contractors State License Board for the past 11 years. He was executive officer of the California Architects Board from 1986-2000 and was in the executive and legislative affairs offices of the state Department of Consumer Affairs for eight years before that.

Among the topics he plans to address are pending legislation in Sacramento that could affect contractor licensing and the industry in general as well as efforts in the public and private sectors to combat the "underground economy" of unlicensed and licensed contractors that "cheat to compete."[poll id="17"]

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"Workers' compensation insurance payroll taxes are being under-reported, misreported and, in some instances, not reported at all, impacting honest workers across the state," Mr. Sands said.

In January, investigators from the licensing board, the state departments of Industrial Relations and Employment Development, Board of Equalization and the offices of the Attorney General and Insurance Commissioner formed the Labor Enforcement Task Force. The information-sharing effort is targeting insurance and tax fraud in construction, agriculture, automotive repair, clothing production, food service and warehousing.

Regulations affecting the industry on a local and regional level as well as public-private initiatives to spur business activity will be discussed by a conference panel of Doug Hilberman, president of AXIA Architects of Santa Rosa and on the steering committee for Sonoma County's Construction Coalition; Mary McEachron, chief administrative officer and general counsel of The Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato; Robert Cantu, president of Western Builders and part of the Santa Rosa Mayor's Task Force on Economic Competitiveness; and Chuck Regalia, director of the Community Development Department of the city of Santa Rosa.

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"There are still a number of regulations that I would say are directly affecting economic recovery in the construction and development industry," said Mr. Hilberman. That said, he and Mr. Cantu acknowledge that increasingly more local governments have been cutting red tape in their land-use and construction permitting processes to encourage more business activity and construction, which translates into badly needed tax revenue for budgets overall and for planning and building departments specifically.

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A key recent example is Santa Rosa's focused effort over the past three years to explore whether city processes were holding back economic activity. That resulted in nearly three dozen aggressive economic-development action items adopted and supported by existing and new City Council members. Another outcome was the formation of the Mayor's Economic Competitiveness Task Force to identify problem areas for the business community.

Key changes in city policy have shaved weeks to months of delays from the previous process.

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"I'm looking at the many things we're doing as trying to brand ourselves as interested in business and people's jobs and things that help," the city's Mr. Regalia said.

Those efforts have been allowing more business types by right rather than through conditional use permits, deferring housing-impact development fees until final inspection rather than permit issuance, rezoning industry zones such as Santa Rosa Business Park to allow new businesses to just seek building permits rather than use permits, rezoning of shopping centers such as Montecito to allow full buildout according to market needs, allow more grocery stores closer to neighborhoods that want them and offer same-day design approval and permitting under certain conditions. The city also is gearing up to preliminarily review certain vacant properties for suitable uses to save a developer time and money.

The six Santa Rosa vehicle dealership projects now under way for Kia and Hansel Auto Group are directly attributed to being able to have staff review building designs rather than the potentially lengthy Design Review Board process, according to Mr. Regalia.

These actions is helping to dispel long-held beliefs about the Santa Rosa land-use entitlement and permitting process, according to Mr. Cantu.

"The city is doing its part to unwind the idea that Santa Rosa is a tough place to do business," he said.

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Ms. McEachron intends to recount during the panel discussion how The Buck Institute navigated and interwoven web of regulatory agencies at all levels for the $41 million Regenerative Medicine Research Building, which opened at the campus last month.

The regulations panel also is planning to touch on any impacts of local government compliance with the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, better known as Senate Bill 375. The law calls for regional targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as called for under the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, or Assembly Bill 32. The Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission adopted reduction targets of 7 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 15 percent by 2035, and the One Bay Area land-use planning effort started this year is part of the region's requirement to develop an integrated land-use and transportation plan. Local-government climate action plans are also part of the goal of meeting the regional GHG-reduction targets.

Educating the next generation of the North Bay construction industry will be the focus of a conference panel with Stephen Jackson, director of the Regional Occupational Program administered by the Sonoma County Office of Education, and Tony Cinquini, principal and chief executive officer of Cinquini & Passarino, a land surveying firm based in Santa Rosa.

Among the building trades, construction and engineering Regional Occupational Program career pathway courses at the 17 high schools in Sonoma County is the 4-year-old Gespatial Technology Pathway at Santa Rosa's Piner High.

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That program teaches students how to use high-tech global positioning system and geographic information system tools to apply book knowledge in science and engineering. That includes internships in surveying and mapping tasks at local businesses and government agencies. For the past two years, Mr. Cinquini, a Piner alum, has taken on Piner geospatial program interns at the firm.

Rounding out the conference will be a panel talking about major North Bay projects under way or in the pipeline. Panelist George Furnanz, chief operating officer of Alameda-based general engineering contractor Stacy and Witback, will be providing an update on the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit project. His company and Ohio-based Herzog Contracting Corp. won the $108 million contract to oversee construction the commuter rail line's initial operating segment, running between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. Construction started early this year, and the first trains are expected to roll in 2015-2016.

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Also on the panel is Jason Martin, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer for Sacramento-based Unger Construction, general contractor on the $284 million Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa replacement hospital project north of the city. Hospital projects in the North Bay have been turning heads in the local construction industry for cutting-edge use of building information modeling, or BIM. Design software with that technology, together with management methods such as integrated project delivery and lean construction, help architects, engineers and contractors foresee potentially costly job-site problems and choose cost-efficient solutions.

The conference will run from 7:30-11:30 a.m. at Fountaingrove Inn in Santa Rosa. Registration costs $49 per person. Register by May 9 at www.NorthBayBusinessJournal.com/51886 or call 707-521-5270.