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Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight

The following article was posted on February 6th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 48 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 13, Issue 48

Spotlight on: Penfield and Smith Engineers, Inc.



Employee-owners of the Santa Barbara County firm Penfield and Smith Engineers, Inc. overcame snakes, poison oak, undependable government documents, and more to complete a four-year survey of 900 acres in the Tepusquet Canyon area.

A Penfield and Smith Engineers, Inc. crewmember surveyed an old car axle with a Global Navigation Satellite System on 900 acres in the Tepusquet Canyon area. The crew hiked about three miles uphill from the nearest dirt road, carrying GNSS gear and tools for vegetation clearing. The firm recently won a statewide award for completing the complicated, four-year survey.

In recognition of its efforts, Penfield and Smith recently received an honor award from the California Chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies, beating 20 other competitors.

“It’s by far and away the most interesting and difficult project I’ve done,” said surveyor principal Justin Height, who works out of the firm’s Santa Maria office.

Representatives for the landowner, JET Family Trust, approached Penfield and Smith back in 2008 to determine the property’s boundaries. For four years, Height and several other employees scoured the rugged canyon for man-made monuments and markings.

“That can be done by dead reckoning or using handheld GPS,” Height said. “Then you start digging and looking for clues.”

These clues can include iron pipes marked with the surveyor’s tag, fence posts, and rocks with chisel marks on them or trees with symbols carved into them. About 150 years ago, Height said, surveyors dug holes and filled them with burned charcoal and broken bottles to mark boundaries.

The project proved particularly difficult because of the land’s controversial past: Over the years, squatters lived in the most remote areas and the sheriff was called in from time to time to investigate illegal drug activity. Additionally, an insufficient survey by the Bureau of Land Management caused confusion and tension among local residents.

In a statement to the media, the California Chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies said it chose Penfield and Smith for the honor award because “unlike many other local surveyors, P&S accepted the request to perform this difficult survey in [an] area known for uncertain boundaries.”

Height said the project adhered to the firm’s motto of “quality and service.”

“It really is what’s at the core of what we do, and we take it very seriously,” he said.

Penfield and Smith started as a surveying company in 1924. In 1946, it was purchased by the titular Penfield and Smith, who added civil engineering to its list of services. When the owners retired in the early 1970s, the company transitioned into employee stock-share ownership. Seven employee-elected board members now oversee day-to-day management of the company’s 85 employees and four offices in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, Camarillo, and Lancaster.

“[The company has] a real family sense,” Height said. “We like to hire the best people and keep them by giving them a good, long career, doing what we do best.”


The Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau recently reported the results of a yearlong visitor profile and economic impacts of Solvang tourism study, which found approximately 1.5 million people visited Solvang from September 2011 to August 2012 with an average length of stay of 1.7 days. More than 80 percent were day visitors; the rest stayed in hotels or private homes.

Tourists spent a total of $98 million in the city, including $2.6 million worth of hotel occupancy tax and $579,790 in sales tax. According to officials, without this revenue, Solvang households would need to pay an additional $1,450 annually to maintain the level of city services currently provided. The top five visitor activities in Solvang were general sightseeing, strolling/browsing, shopping, dining, and visiting tasting rooms. Tourism supported nearly 950 jobs in the city (30 percent of the workforce).

Managing Editor Amy Asman wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight and compiled this week’s Highlights. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, e-mail, or mail.

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