A coalition of Sonoma County construction unions has failed in its effort to exploit California environmental laws to discourage the Petaluma City Council from approving the proposed Riverfront Mixed-Use Project. At 1:00 am today (July 22, 2014), the Petaluma City Council voted 5-2 to approve a Final Environmental Impact Report for this project, as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Thirty people signed up to speak about the proposed environmental approval during public comment. Representatives of the Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino Counties Building and Construction Trades Council continued their opposition to the Final Environmental Impact Report, presumably as a threat to pressure the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. These unions are the true identity behind the unincorporated front group “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development” that has repeatedly submitted environmental objections to the project over the past year.
In addition, a new union emerged to question the project: UNITE-HERE Local 2850, representing hotel workers. The Petaluma Riverfront Mixed-Use Project includes a 120-room hotel, and it’s likely this union wants a labor neutrality agreement or some other deal to unionize hotel employees.
In a surprise development, three representatives of the Operating Engineers union broke from the Building Trades Council position and spoke in support of the project and the Final Environmental Impact Report. In addition, a representative of a local boating group complained that the “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development” inappropriately cited their concerns as a reason to reject the Final Environmental Impact Report. Local business groups and community organizations supported the project. A few construction company representatives and experts on construction labor law decried “greenmail,” the union abuse of the state’s environmental laws for purposes unrelated to environmental protection.
One member of the city council (Teresa Barrett) declared “I’m not someone who believes people use CEQA to stop projects.” (Councilwoman Barrett is backed by labor unions.) But another city council member agreed with the opinion of the city staff and its consultants and asserted the union objections were “allegations without substantiation.” In the end, the union threats seemed to have no impact on the final vote of the city council. One city council member claimed to vote NO as a statement about the city’s traffic problems. The other NO vote was supposedly based on a dispute over whether or not the playing fields should be natural or artificial turf.
See Petaluma City Council OKs Environmental Report for Riverfront Project – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – July 23, 2014
This was a high-profile fight highlighting abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The July 21, 2014 staff report for the Petaluma City Council on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Riverside Mixed-Use Project reported on the union antics at the June 24, 2014 Petaluma Planning Commission meeting. This meeting was reported in www.UnionWatch.org in the June 24, 2014 article Union Abuse of California Environmental Laws Goes On, Unabated.
Local news media also reported in advance of the meeting about the union environmental objections:
Unions Raise Environmental Objections to Riverfront Plan – Petaluma Argus-Courier – July 18, 2014
On Monday, the Petaluma City Council will have to decide if environmental concerns raised by trade unions about the mixed-use project proposed on the Petaluma River are genuine, or a smokescreen used to delay the project following failed labor discussions.
Petaluma OK Sought for Riverfront Project Amid Union Opposition – Santa Rosa Press-Democrat – July 21, 2014
But developer Basin Street Properties and others say the move is thinly veiled extortion to guarantee union jobs. Other than the unions, the project has received almost no public opposition – remarkable in a town where large-scale development nearly always draws resistance and often threats of lawsuits.
In advance of the meeting, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted yet another set of comments objecting to the Final Environmental Impact Report prepared by the city under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). See those comments here:
In addition, the union front group “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development” put this advertisement in local newspapers to scare the public:
The union-backed front group Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development will have 30 days to file a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging the city council’s approval of the Final Environmental Impact Report.
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.