Skip Navigation LinksHome > About > DBIA Milestone: California begins using design-build
  • LinkedIn
  • Google
  • Delicious
  • Digg
  • Add to Favorites

DBIA Milestone: California begins using design-build

Since DBIA was first established, our members have been advocating for the expansion of design-build authority in the largest state in the U.S., California. Beginning in the 1990s, the California State Legislature passed several bills authorizing specified local agencies to enter into design-build contracts to construct public works. The Counties of Alameda, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Solano and Tulare and the Cities of West Sacramento and Davis were the first local governments permitted to experiment with the design-build method. For years, owners and practitioners lobbied for alternative project delivery choices, but the legislature continued to take a piecemeal approach by adding counties and cities one at a time to the list of those authorized to use the design-build method.

In 2000, DBIA, local officials, labor groups and contractors were able to strike a compromise to pass broad design-build authority for local governments (AB 2296, Dutra, 2000). Local officials wanted the flexibility and potential cost savings offered by design-build contracts. Labor unions wanted to ensure that contractors protected workers’ interests. Contractors wanted to be sure that they had fair access to contracts. Since 2000, legislators have used the counties’ design-build language as a template for new design-build authorizations, including cities, redevelopment agencies and individual special districts’ authorizations.

Even after this victory, DBIA continued to work to expand local design-build authority. In 2007, legislation was passed permitting all counties to use the design-build method to construct buildings, related improvements and wastewater treatment facilities that cost more than $2.5 million. The following year, California passed two bills expanding this authority. The first authorized all cities in the state to use design-build to construct buildings and related improvements worth more than $1 million. The second created a pilot program that permitted cities, counties and special districts to use the design-build method to construct 20 local wastewater treatment facilities, local solid waste facilities or local water recycling facilities.

Despite many institutionalized obstacles, California’s cities and counties used their design-build authority to construct a variety of successful projects and this success has laid the foundation for further expansion. Broad design-build authority gave local governments a valuable tool, but those legislative victories came with a price. Sunset dates in the statutes mean that local governments will be required to continuously go back and secure legislative approval for design-build when authority expires. In addition, lack of standardization in the law has led to the current call for a standardized, comprehensive design-build law. DBIA’s Director of State/Local Legislative Affairs, Richard Thomas, is currently leading this effort along with board members, coalition partners and other key DBIA allies. If you are interested in learning more or discussing these efforts further, Richard can be reached at


Previous Two Decades of DBIA . . . Next