With North Bay coronavirus restrictions relaxing on construction, some work resumes. Here's the outlook for future projects
Construction restrictions for nonessential projects during the coronavirus pandemic came off in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties May 4, giving the tri-county region a glimpse of modified business as usual, with enhanced social-distancing protocols and reconfigured work environments.
However, there are differences in the revised county orders, each with two pages of rules on how to operate safely as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and with varying procedures third-party inspection policies and other details. County stay-at-home orders issued in mid-March included categories of work that were “essential” and could continue - for construction, largely new construction of homes and jobs needed for health and safety - while “nonessential” work wasn't allowed.
The Business Journal spoke with 10 construction industry leaders on the future of their businesses as they conform to new realities and required practices.
Ghilotti Construction Company
“We try to maintain a 50-50 balance between public and private projects as we get back to working on non-essential construction,” said Dick Ghilotti, president and owner of Ghilotti Construction Company. “Educating our workforce is the first priority. We are still trying to analyze how to work within the new virus protection rules.”
The company designated three people to serve on a protocol team developing a plan to instruct its crews each morning during 30-minute tailgate sessions so everyone can learn how to comply with mandates that did not exist while just doing essential projects. This involves taking everyone's temperature, completing a daily survey, tracking their contacts and familiarization with many other new methods of operating safely.
“Some of our people are scared to come to work, even our most macho guys,” Ghilotti said. “But one thing is certain … there is strong demand for housing, condos and apartments and the site prep work that goes with them along with long-anticipated road repairs and related construction activities.”
He said having dedicated personnel doing safety check-ins each morning could increase costs. Meanwhile, subcontractors now want more money, and the price of materials is rising quickly.
That aside, the pipeline of projects for Ghilotti Construction is filling up - and still growing. New jobs include widening Highway 101 north and south from Lakeville Highway to the Penngrove interchange, paving the road and parking lot in Pt. Reyes National Seashore, road work in Ukiah and Lake County, a residential development for the Lytton Pomo Rancheria in Windsor, a subdivision in Rohnert Park and an apartment complex in Petaluma on North Novato Boulevard. The company recently completed paving on Highway 101 from Kastenia Road to the Petaluma River bridge.
“We adapted quickly,” Ghilotti said. “There were no office staff layoffs, and people are spaced 6 feet apart. For our projects in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, car-pooling workers is no longer allowed. Everyone has to be flexible these days. Sixty percent of our workers are in the field.”
Ghilotti also serves on a committee with Cynthia Murray, Sheba Whitney, Roger Nelson and others reviewing the new Sonoma County social-distancing protocols and will provide feedback to Sonoma County supervisors and other departments.
“I believe we will see a sling-shot of pent-up demand and a new resurgence in our economy so long as the SIP ordinances do not remain in full effect much longer,” said Michael Ghilotti, president of Ghilotti Bros. Inc. “For construction, opportunities will be substantial, as taxpayers see the value of investing in infrastructure and the positive, multiplier effect this has on our economy.”
He said that for the residential sector, stakes are higher, and the forecast is even brighter, as the lack of available housing is not only artificially driving up the cost of homes but also exasperating an already challenging homelessness issue.
Ghilotti Bros. was able to keep about 60% of its projects running before policies were relaxed to provide work for field crews so they could bring home a paycheck and support their families.
Mike Ghilotti noted that some essential projects enjoyed increased productivity because of the reduced highway traffic load with more people sheltering-in-place, including the repaving of 19th Avenue in San Francisco (involving 68 employees) and Shoreline Highway in Mill Valley (37 employees) and soon-to-be-made improvements on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from 101 in Greenbrae to College of Marin.