An organization that can make a change: Julio Fuentes

Editor's Note: This month's Member Profile features Julio Fuentes, Senior Traffic Operations Engineer with the City of San Diego, member of APWA's International Affairs Committee, Chair of the APWA/AMMAC Task Force, and member of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter's 2003 Congress Host Committee.

Current Position: I'm the Senior Traffic Operations Engineer with the City of San Diego's Traffic Engineering Division, Engineering and Capital Projects Department. San Diego is divided into two districts. I am responsible for one of the districts which includes the downtown and international border areas as well as the inland I-15 corridor, a fairly large geographical area with a number of new communities in development.

Tell us about your background: I was born in El Salvador. After high school I moved to New Orleans and attended the University of New Orleans, where I received my Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. I worked in New Orleans for three years doing geotechnical work and construction inspection, and then I was offered a job in the Traffic Engineering Division with the City of San Diego. Considering the beautiful weather in San Diego, I decided to take the opportunity. I've been working as a Traffic Engineer for 15 years, progressively moving from the Assistant Engineer to the Associate Engineer to the Senior Engineer level.

Favorite Book: My favorite book is Love in the Time of Cholera, by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a 1982 Nobel Prize laureate. The book is about hope, passion, and persistence. It's about achieving one's dreams and goals in life, regardless of how long one waits. It's a very beautiful book and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Hobbies/Interests: I enjoy the arts very much. Abstract painting is one of the things I enjoy the most, along with opera and theatre. I go to the opera at least once a year and the theatre every chance I get. We're blessed with very accomplished theatre here in San Diego.

Role Model: My father has always been and will always be my role model. He is someone who has struggled his entire life. He is very committed to his family, has taken a lot of risks, and has made the best out of whatever opportunities life has offered to him. He's also very optimistic. He always sees the good in everything that happens—I don't recall my father ever being negative about anything.

All of those things make for quite a remarkable person. I think he and my mother as a couple are so remarkable. I can only hope to be like them, to one day be satisfied that I achieved what they achieved.

Tell us about the challenges of working in the Traffic Engineering Division: The City of San Diego is a very large territorial area. It starts at the international border with Mexico, and then goes north for approximately 60 miles. And as the city progresses north, you encounter other cities that are wedged inside it. The city is split up between the southern portion which is the San Ysidro border area, and the northern portion, and in between there are two other cities, Chula Vista and National City. The downtown is growing leaps and bounds, and there are large portions of the city to the north which are also developing. The City's northern boundary is the amazing Wild Animal Park. As a whole, San Diego takes up a large geographical area. The San Diego Bay is a huge body of water with commercial and military maritime traffic in each port. We have major tourist attractions like Sea World, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo. We are also home to regional attractions such as the San Diego International Airport, the downtown area, Qualcomm Stadium, the new ballpark that is under construction, and several major military facilities.

All of this provides the setting for a very complex city to manage, particularly in the areas of traffic and transportation. Every day we deal with new challenges such as special events, incidents, impacts from development, and issues from the international border—we interact a great deal with our partners in Mexico. We also work with the 18 cities that San Diego has boundaries with. All of these challenges bring about many innovative solutions. So, while it's very complex, it's also very rewarding to work in San Diego because we solve a lot of problems.

Career Accomplishments: I believe that we as a team—the Engineering and Capital Projects Department and other agencies in the region such as the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)&mdashhave achieved some important successes in the area of innovations and new technologies in transportation, such as Intelligent Transportation Systems and Traffic Management Centers. In the last 10 years we have built a Traffic Management Center which is coordinated with the Caltrans Traffic Management Center. There are more than 1,500 traffic signals in the city, and we coordinate the signals on a daily basis. We are able to do that thanks to the new technology and all the innovative ideas that have come about in the last 10 years. I'm very proud that I have been part of the team that has worked on all of these projects.

What has life been like as part of the Congress Host Committee this year? Well, it's been very busy. We are trying to make this the best Congress APWA has had to date. We're trying to break new ground by providing translation for our partners who are coming to visit from Mexico. We're expecting a substantial number of international visitors. From this standpoint, for our efforts in the international area, we are also trying to showcase San Diego as the progressive city that it is. So in every aspect of planning for Congress, we are working very hard.

Because the Kansas City Congress last year was such a success—partly because of the logistics of the national office being in Kansas City—that sets the bar very high for us. We want our members to remember San Diego for the beautiful city that it is, we want to showcase all of our public works accomplishments, and we are preparing for a larger number of international guests. What it means is that we are doing a great deal of coordination and outreach, because we are hoping to see more people from all over the world. We are making an effort to overcome any challenges that we encounter so that we can meet everyone's expectations and make Congress a success.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? I see APWA as a very open organization that is not only willing to change and transform itself, but is actually seeking to change and transform itself to serve the diverse and complex world of public works. It is an organization that I have seen change in the last three years, and has opened its doors to many other fields and areas. It has taken a leadership role also and has opened itself to partnerships with many other organizations such as ITE, ICMA, and various international organizations. APWA is clearly recognized as a national leader in public works by the federal, state and local governments. So it's an organization that is changing, that is making changes, and is helping shape the future of our nation. It's exciting to be part of an organization that can make a change.