Back in 1947, APWA was relatively unknown when a delegation from the Northern California Chapter met in Los Angeles to stir up interest. At that time, the various public works agencies were not in touch with one another, and there was little community of interest or interchange of plans and projects between the several agencies providing public facilities. Even more important, it was evident that public utilities were avoiding contact with public works engineers in general, which made coordination of plans and operations impossible.
It was the California Freeway Act that heightened the need for joint planning between various public works agencies. Local freeways were cutting wide paths through built-up sections of cities and dislocating the existing street grids, sewers, and utilities. Freeways were even impacting the spread of population. Freeway construction soon brought together members of our chapter to practice inter-agency coordination and set the pattern for all the public works planning and construction that followed, including projects such as the multi-million dollar Los Angeles Flood Control Program.
So much public works construction was taking place during the 1950s that intense planning between all agencies was needed to fit projects together. Proven and specific money values soon resulted from coordination. Mutual understanding starts at the drafting table in joint planningâ€”a practice not at all widespread in days past. Coordination enabled all agencies to save time and money.
It was not unusual in those days to cut into a newly paved street to install another underground utility. Public Works Magazine published a photo of a newly widened and paved street with utility poles still standing in the roadway. "This is nonsense," said a utility engineer. "There's got to be a better way to do it."
Calling together about ten representatives for cities, counties, utilities, and consulting engineers, Milton Offner and Harry Swearingen, both from the City of Los Angeles, broached the idea of forming an APWA chapter. The idea took hold immediately, and in 1951, the Southern California Chapter was formally started. William M. Henderson, an executive of the Southern California Gas Company, a man of broad experience and distinguished professional ability, was the first president. Henderson was energetic, sincere, and dedicated, inaugurating many new ideas including the first known out-door working equipment show, demonstrating machines in operation. He was reelected president each year until 1956.
Harry Swearingen was the first vice president, Milton H. Irvine, city engineer of Riverside, was second vice president, and Frank E. Randall, Pacific Telephone Co., was the secretary-treasurer. Members of the executive committee were Verne A. Parker, assistant director of public ports, San Diego; Stanley M. Lanham, director of planning, Los Angeles Transit Lines; and J.R. Lester Boyle, consulting engineer, Santa Ana. An interested and capable group of experienced men this turned out to be. Southern California Gas Company and Pacific Telephone provided personnel and covered the cost of notices until the chapter got on its feet. Everyone pitched in to make our chapter the best in the association.
Without doubt, Milton Offner was the driving force behind the movement until his death in 1978. In 1953, Offner was elected president of the national APWA. Offner's concept of bringing together diverse and sometimes opposing interests succeeded admirably.
Within a few years of its inception, the Southern California chapter of the American Public Works Association became the second largest chapter in APWA, second only to the combined New York-New Jersey chapter. Subsequently, it became, for a number of years, the nation's largest chapter. The San Diego-Imperial and Central California chapters that spun off later were imbued with the same spirit and activity, as evidenced by the many annual awards for excellence they received from the national APWA.