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California Unions Masquerade as Community-Based Environmental Groups

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a labor issue. That’s why unions are prominent opponents of any amendments to CEQA that would restrict or prohibit using the law to achieve objectives not related to environmental protection.

Phony Union Tree HuggerUnions routinely use CEQA as a tool to pressure public agencies and private developers (or their agents) to sign collective bargaining agreements, project labor agreements, maintenance labor agreements, labor neutrality agreements, and other union contracts. Some of these agreements even include lump-sum payments to union-affiliated organizations.

Massive objections under CEQA to Initial Studies/Mitigated Negative Declarations and Draft and Final Environmental Impact Reports can delay a construction project and increase costs of environmental review and project development. If a public agency or private developer is still resisting the union demands after the governing board for the lead agency approves the Final Environmental Impact Report, unions may challenge the agency’s environmental review in court. This litigation can delay the project for years and increase costs.

There is a way to avoid the delays and cost increases. As soon as the public agency or private developer agrees to the union demands, the objections to the environmental review disappear, get withdrawn, or are “mitigated” with a mild settlement agreement. Some developers are experienced victims and agree at the very beginning of the CEQA process to sign a labor agreement in order to avoid costly, time-consuming hassles.

This practice is called environmental permit extortion, although colloquially it’s called “greenmail” because it’s exploiting environmental laws to “blackmail” the owner of a proposed project into giving up something of economic value and/or its negotiating position with employees and contract employees. Of course, defenders of the practice regard it as “social justice.” Under their perspective, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a more effective law than the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to “level the playing field” against corporate control of capital.

Which Unions Are Active in Objecting to Projects Under CEQA?

Some unions such as the Carpenters, the Laborers, UNITE-HERE, the SEIU United Service Workers West, the California Nurses Association, and the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) tend to identify themselves as the party making the CEQA objections. Others such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the Sheet Metal Workers, and the Plumbers and Pipefitters prefer to hide their public identity behind the names of unincorporated front groups that sound like local neighborhood grassroots opposition.

There are several groups in the state that hire lawyers to object to projects under CEQA with absolutely no identity whatsoever beyond a phony generic name and a simple web site. Some or all of these groups may be union front groups. In particular, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) tends to be very stealthy when it engages in CEQA actions to stop Walmart stores.

When to Become Suspicious of an Alleged Environmental Group Objecting to a Construction Project Under CEQA

How do you know if CEQA objections are probably coming from a union organization?

  1. The organization objecting to the project is not involved in development or implementation of environmental policy or activity on a state or local level.
  2. A web search of the organization finds nothing.
  3. The organization is unincorporated and has no legal identity.
  4. The individuals affiliated with the organization have no history of public involvement with environmental issues; for example, there is no record of the individuals speaking at meetings of public agencies or writing letters to the editor of the local newspapers.
  5. A web search of the individuals affiliated with the organization finds the names in on-line union newsletters.
  6. The organization submits objections at the very last minute, demands extensions to submit comments, and demonstrates no interest in reaching a compromise with the public agency or developer.
  7. Union officials and lobbyists are attending public meetings as part of the environmental review process but not making any statements.
  8. The developer admits that union representatives have contacted its executives to discuss negotiations for labor agreements.
  9. The first written communication to the agency about the environmental review (for example, a request for public records after the first public notice under CEQA) includes the names of unions involved with the organization.
  10. Objections come from law firms with a history of representing unions on environmental concerns.

Flush ‘Em Out: The Real Union Identities of 25 Environmental Front Groups

Here’s a chart of some environmental organizations that are actually union front groups.

Group Name and Link to Document Real Identity
Antelope Valley Residents for Responsible Development Palmdale residents Kathy MacLaren, Ira Lockshin, Fidel Granillo, David Sazegar, Maurice Washington, Walter Andrew, Cari Bailey, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 and their members and families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Palmdale, Antelope Valley and Los Angeles County.
Brentwood Residents for Responsible Development Brentwood residents Jaime Gonzalez, Chad Andrews, Dustin Cabihi and Charles Knox, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 159, Sheet Metal Workers Local 204, and their members and families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Brentwood and Contra Costa County.
Coalition for Responsible Development Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, Local 447, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, Local 340 and Sheet Metal Workers Union, Local 162 and their members and their families and other individuals who live and work in the City and County of Sacramento. Petitioner Brian Lujan is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Development who lives in the City of Sacramento approximately 2 miles east of the Project site. Petitioner Gary Krula is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Development who lives in the City of Sacramento approximately one mile east of the Project site. Petitioner Frank Albert is a member of the Coalition for Responsible Development who lives in the City of Sacramento approximately one mile north of the Project site.
The Coalition for Responsible Equitable Economic Development (CREED LA) Sheet Metal Workers Local 105, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11, Southern California Pipe Trades District Council 16, and their members and their families who live and work in the City of Los Angeles. Individual members of CREED LA and its member organizations include Thomas Brown, Shomari Davis, Luther Medina, and John Ferruccio, who live, work, recreate and raise their families in Los Angeles.
Coalition for Responsible Mammoth Development James Bailey and Perry Brown, and California Unions for Reliable Energy and its members and their families.
Concerned Dublin Citizens An unincorporated group of concerned citizens, Robert Klein (a member of the group), and Carpenters Local Union No. 713.
Emeryville Residents for Responsible Development International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families who live and/or work in the City of Emeryville and Alameda County.
Fresno County Citizens for Responsible Solar Fresno County residents Jeff Taylor, Carrie Taylor, and Vaughn Laymon, and California Unions for Reliable Energy (“CURE”) and its local union affiliates and the local union members and their families that live and/or work in Fresno County.
Gilroy Citizens for Responsible Development Craig Simmons, Mike Conti, Eric Colemen, William Bradley, William Culbertson, and John Sandoval, and groups including Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, and Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, and their members and their families who live and work in the City of Gilroy and surrounding areas.
Hanford Residents and Workers for Responsible Development Clint Champlin, Antony David, Bryan Wilson, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 100, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 246 and Sheetmetal Workers, Local 162.
Milpitas Coalition for Responsible Development Residents Ricardo Bauzon, Tot V. Tran and Albert Thompson of the City of Milpitas, Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local 393, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 332, Sheetmetal Workers, Local 104 and their members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Milpitas.
Monterey County Residents for Responsible Development Monterey County residents, such as Manuel Ramos, Robert Greene, and California Unions for Reliable Energy (“CURE”) and its members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in Monterey County.
Napa Coalition for Responsible Development Napa County residents including Brett Risley, David Dias, and Daniel Huss, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 343, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180, and their members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in Napa County.
Oakley Coalition for Responsible Development Residents of the City of Oakley, including James Fessenden, Patrick Jensen, Hershel Barton, George Seligman, Daniel Gutierrez, Robert Howard and Virgil De La Grange, UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 302, Sheet Metal Workers, Local 104 and their members and their families and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Oakley and Contra Costa County.
Placer Citizens Against Gridlock Robert Bell, Ricky Williams, and Steven Bonner.
Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development  Mitch Clarey, Frank Cuneo, Richard Kenney, Roger Burk, the Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, its affiliated local unions, and their members and their families who live and/or work in the City of Petaluma and Sonoma County.
Redwood Citizens for Responsible Development Vic Torreano, a resident of Redwood City, the Building and Construction Trades Council of San Mateo, and the Council’s members and families who reside, work, and/or recreate in Redwood City.
Richmond Residents for Responsible Development Timothy Doyle, Donald Drown, Fynrare Fletcher, Andrew Harris, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families who live and/or work in the City of Richmond and Contra Costa County.
Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California (“SAFER California”) “Participating unions,” Ian Ostrov, who lives and works in the vicinity of the Project, Gene Sewell who lives and works in Arroyo Grande, California.
Safe Fuel and Energy Resources California (“SAFER California”) “Participating unions”…the members represented by the participants in SAFER California live, work, recreate and raise their families in Solano County, including the City of Benicia.
San Benito Residents for Responsible Development San Benito County residents, such as John Barber, Wallace Barnes, James Brown, Miguel Bustos, Bryan Daniel, L. Earl Davis, Randall Dike, Heath Guaracha, Richard Hodges, Valentin Ivanov, Andres Laureano, Steven Luiz, Jose Martinez, Robert Rovella, Gilbert Sanchez, Charles Schlesinger, Jaime Urzua, and California Unions for Reliable Energy (“CURE”) and its members and their families and other individuals that live, recreate and/or work in San Benito County (collectively, “San Benito Residents”).
San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center San Diego County resident Billie Johnson, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, and UNITE HERE Local 30, and their local union affiliates and union members and their families who live, recreate and/or work in the City of San Diego and San Diego County.
San Jose Residents for Responsible Development City of San Jose residents Mark Ross, Daniel Kiefer, Eddie Maxie, Conrad Pierce, Jeffrey Funston, Michael Smith and William Serpa; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families; and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County.
Santa Clara Residents for Responsible Development David Clark, R.C. Crawford, Phillip Francisco, Victor Galvez, Matt Hancoc, Ricci Herro, Gregory Small, Robert Stuhr, Corey Quevedo, Scott Thomas, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families and other individuals who live and work in the City of Santa Clara and Santa Clara County.
Sunnyvale Residents for Responsible Development An unincorporated association of individuals and labor unions; City of Sunnyvale residents Jack X. Jones, Cheryl Pollock and Bob Rule; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 332, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 393, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, and their members and their families; and other individuals that live and/or work in the City of Sunnyvale and Santa Clara County.
Sutter Coalition for Responsible Development Sutter County residents including John Coots, Danny Fennel, Ian Trotti, Jerrick Upton, Derek West, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (“UA”) Local 228, UA Local 447, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340, Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 162 and their members and their families, and other individuals that live and/or work in Sutter County.

 


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.

Revised List of Union Actions in 2013 Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

California State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is still talking about changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as the legislature works through its last two weeks in session in 2013.

His vehicle for CEQA amendments – Senate Bill 731 – is still alive. It contains language that would supposedly help developers of urban infill projects to circumvent petty environmental objections of small neighborhood groups. Unions have publicly refrained from taking a position, but reportedly their lobbyists have objected behind the scenes to any provisions that would weaken the ability of unions to use CEQA as a tool to pressure developers to sign union agreements.

Steinberg also plans to “gut and amend” a bill and transform it into a bill that gives special breaks from CEQA to Sacramento Basketball Holdings LLC, the developer of the planned new arena for the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team. It’s expected that all construction companies will have to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions in order to build this “entertainment and sports center.”

In the meantime, examples continue to emerge of union involvement in the permitting process for public and private projects in California. A June 25, 2013 article in www.UnionWatch.org (Collect Them All: Environmental Objections of California Unions in 2013) listed nine identified projects. That list is now up to 23 projects, and surely there are some projects targeted by unions that are still missing from the list. Plus there are four more months in 2013 for additional union “greenmail.”

Here’s the revised list of union CEQA actions in 2013:

1. Glenarm Power Plant Repowering Project, City of Pasadena

March 13, 2013 – Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE)

Here’s a chronology of how the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, representing California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), objected on environmental grounds to a municipal power plant project on one hand while negotiating a Project Labor Agreement for the same project on the other hand:

2012-2013 – Interaction Between California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and City of Pasadena – Glenarm Power Plant Repowering Project

2. Napa Pipe Project, County of Napa

May 20, 2013 – Request for a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report – Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 104, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union No. 343, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 180, pretending to be the “Napa Coalition for Responsible Development.”

I wrote about the union environmental objections to this project in my May 28, 2013 www.UnionWatch.org article Spread the Word: Brazen Union CEQA Abuse in Napa Valley.

3. Agincourt Solar Project and Marathon Solar Project, County of San Bernardino

February 1, 2013 – Comments on the Initial Studies/Mitigated Negative Declarations – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “San Bernardino County Citizens for Responsible Solar.”

This one had a happy ending!

April 23, 2013 – Announcement from California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “San Bernardino County Citizens for Responsible Solar” – the Western Burrowing Owl, the Desert Tortoise, the LeConte Thrasher, and the Joshua Tree are saved – let’s build!

4. VWR International Supply and Distribution Facility, City of Visalia

February 14, 2013 – Visalia VWR Employees Vote to Join Teamsters Union

After the Teamsters Joint Council 7 and fellow plaintiffs flipped a lower court decision by winning CEQA arguments (among other arguments) on appeal in Coalition For Clean Air v. City of Visalia, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 948 won an NLRB-supervised representation election for employees of the new VWR International facility in Visalia.

Footnote 4 in the September 14, 2012 appeals court decision states that “Respondent VWR International’s brief alleges that the CEQA action was originally commenced by the Teamsters union and one of its local officers, in an effort to halt construction of the Visalia facility, fearing that its completion as a non-union facility would lead to the closure of a unionized facility in Brisbane.”

5. Pioneer Green Energy Solar Project, County of Kern

January 7, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “Kern County Citizens for Responsible Solar.”

Unions don’t seem to regard this project as particularly “green,” but maybe the green of money from a Project Labor Agreement will change their minds.

6. Imperial Valley Solar Company 2, County of Imperial

February 15, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “Imperial Citizens for Responsible Industry” and also February 18, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184.

Two union groups going after this one. Do you ever wonder if the Sonoran desert toads know they’re being abandoned to be squashed by heavy equipment when unions get their Project Labor Agreements?

7. Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Plant, County of Mono

January 29, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and also January 30, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report – Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local Union No. 783.

This project is getting a double whammy, including from a union whose members travel to Mono County to “enjoy its peaceful repose and diversity and rarity of species of plants and animals.”

8. Three Rocks Solar, County of Fresno

May 31, 2013 – Request to Fresno County Board of Supervisors to deny appeal of Planning Commission’s decision to deny Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration and conditional use permit – California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), pretending to be “Fresno County Citizens for Responsible Solar.”

As if the Fresno County Planning Department didn’t already have enough paper from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. Imagine the trees unions are cutting down to protect the environment.

9. Dignity Health Elk Grove Medical Campus Project, City of Elk Grove

January 18, 2013 – Request for all documents referenced in the Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report – Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union No. 447, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 340, Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 162.

Even if the developer pays for it, is there any dignity for city employees when law firms force them to spend a huge amount of time collecting a huge pile of paper? Is this how government employees should be serving the people?

10.  World Logistics Center Project – City of Moreno Valley

April 5, 2013 – Comments on Draft Environmental Impact Report – Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local Union No. 1184

This would be the largest master-planned warehouse complex in the United States, and unions want their share of the estimated $3.5 billion in construction and 20,000 permanent jobs.

11. Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility Project, Imperial County

February 27, 2013 – U.S. District Court rejects lawsuit filed by plaintiffs that include Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local Union No. 1184

Unions decided to file a lawsuit (Desert Protective Council et al v. United States Department of the Interior et al) challenging the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Final Environmental Impact Report to overturn a May 2012 decision made by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, California Desert District, El Centro Field Office to allow 112 wind turbine generators.

12. Acheson Commons (2133 University Avenue), City of Berkeley

May 8, 2013 and June 13, 2013 – Requests for Zoning Adjustments Board not to approve Use Permits for the project – Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, pretending to be “Berkeley Residents for Sustainable Development.”

Allegedly the “largest apartment complex ever planned for Berkeley’s downtown,” this project moved forward after some sort of deal with the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, as reported in this July 11, 2013 article City’s Largest Apartment Building Ever Gets Go-Ahead.

13. Campo Verde Solar Project, Imperial County

Laborers’ International Union of North America Local Union No. 1184, et al. vs. County of Imperial, ECU7294

Laborers Local Union No. 1184 filed a lawsuit against Imperial County to stop First Solar, Inc. from building the 139-megawatt Campo Verde photovoltaic solar project. 

14. Citation Residential Project, City of Milpitas

A California appellate court rejected an appeal from the Carpenters Local Union No. 405 related to the union’s efforts to challenge approval of a 732-unit condominium project. See the July 16, 2013 decision in May v. City of Milpitas.

15. Cordes Ranch Specific Plan, City of Tracy

July 24, 2013 – Objections to Final Environmental Impact Report for Cordes Ranch Specific Plan – Carpenters Union Local No. 152.

A construction union has CEQA objections to a commercial and industrial development proposed in Tracy.

16. Palen Solar Electric Generating System in Riverside County, at California Energy Commission

March 26, 2013 order granting petition to intervene from Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184May 8, 2013 status report.

While California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) reached an agreement to end its interference with permitting for this solar thermal power plant, the Laborers union in Riverside County is just getting started.

17. Desert Harvest Solar Project, Riverside County

March 11, 2013 – U.S. Bureau of Land Management denies protest of Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184 against Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Another solar project under assault. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) has not objected to the project, perhaps because the IBEW Union Local No. 440 has the electrical work.

18. Los Angeles International Airport (“LAX”) Specific Plan Amendment Study, City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports

April 29, 2013 – Objections to the Final Environmental Impact Report – SEIU United Service Workers West; May 29, 2013 – Lawsuit Against City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports – SEIU United Service Workers West.

Another one of the those CEQA lawsuits that allegedly rarely happen. This one comes courtesy of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West, which claims to represent 2,000 Los Angeles International Airport workers, including passenger service workers, security officers, sky caps, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors, and cargo handlers.

19. Sun Valley Energy Project in Riverside County, at California Energy Commission

August 5, 2013 – Request to California Energy Commission for Notices – Laborers (LIUNA) Local Union No. 1184.

Better late than never. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) submitted a petition on February 8, 2006 to the California Energy Commission to intervene on this project.

20. One South Market, City of San Jose

Staff Report on Appeal of Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council to One South Market Street Project (includes June 25, July 9, and July 12 letters from law firm ofAdams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo)

I wrote about this union CEQA appeal in the August 13, 2013 www.UnionWatch.org article Union Environmental Appeal of San Jose Infill High-Rise Fools No One.

21. Avalon Bay Communities – Dublin Station – Transit Center, City of Dublin

Carpenters Local Union No. 713 objected to this project in order to control the work. The union filed a lawsuit after the Dublin City Council rejected their appeal. On March 7, 2013, a California Appeals Court sided with the City of Dublin in Concerned Dublin Citizens v. City of Dublin.

22. Basin Street Properties – Riverfront Mixed Use Project, City of Petaluma

Pretending to be “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development,” the Sonoma, Mendocino, and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council managed to delay an August 13, 2013 Petaluma Planning Commission meeting with its CEQA objections to the Riverfront Mixed Use Project.

23.  Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Water Project in Riverside County, State Water Resources Control Board

April 10, 2013 – Comments on Final Environmental Impact Report – Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local Union No. 1184

Water would move back and forth between two old mining pits at different elevations to generate electricity during peak hours of usage. The Laborers Union is concerned.

24. Apple Campus 2, City of Cupertino (added October 22, 2013)

The Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West is trying to organize employees of companies that provide security under contract to the major companies in Silicon Valley, including Apple. It submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report and comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the massive proposed Apple 2 Campus.

I wrote about the union environmental objections to this project in my October 19, 2013 www.UnionWatch.org article Union Threatens to Block Apple, Inc. “Spaceship” with Environmental Lawsuit.

25. Regional Seawater Desalination Project, City of Santa Cruz and Soquel Creek Water District (scwd2) (added October 25, 2013)

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) submitted comments and 224 pages of exhibits objecting to the Draft Environmental Impact Report for this project.

26. CleanPowerSF/Shell Community Choice Aggregation Program, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission  (added October 25, 2013)

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local No. 1245, represented by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, informed the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that it would need to prepare an Environmental Impact Report under CEQA for the program. IBEW Local No. 1245 represents workers for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). It wanted Shell to sign a Project Labor Agreement. See the union’s web site Stop the Shell Shock.


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.

 

Union Environmental Appeal of San Jose Infill High-Rise Fools No One

Today (Tuesday, August 13, 2013) construction trade unions either showed exceptional arrogance or exceptional foolishness when they chose to exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) against a high-profile “infill” project in downtown San Jose.

For the past few years, some California state legislators have wanted to discourage CEQA actions meant to advance objectives unrelated to environmental protection. Even Democratic legislative leaders such as California State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) are seeking minor CEQA amendments to reduce obstacles to infill development, which is regarded by some as a wise planning strategy for the environment.

Under these circumstances, it was astonishing to see the Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council appeal the San Jose Planning Director’s approval of a downtown 23-story residential “infill” project called One South Market Street. The appeal was filed by the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo and based on alleged CEQA violations and planning and zoning code violations.

No one was fooled. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed declared “It’s not really about the environment … it’s abuse of the environmental process.” And Councilman Johnny Khamis complained that the city council had two abusive back-to-back CEQA objections on its agenda, one with an anti-competitive motive and one with a union motive.

In the end, the city council rejected the union appeal, although two council members voted to support the unions. One of them was San Jose City Councilman Xavier Campos, who is the brother of Assemblywoman Nora Campos, who is married to Neil Struthers, who spoke at the meeting in support of the CEQA appeal as the head of the Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

Groundbreaking for the project had already occurred in a ceremony on June 25, 2013. No one up to that point had indicated any concerns about permitting or environmental review. But on that same day, the law firm for construction unions submitted an objection letter. The unions formally appealed various aspects of the project on July 9 and July 12.

In an August 13, 2013 article about the appeal (Union Challenging Downtown San Jose High-Rise), the Silicon Valley Business Journal indicated that the union objections to the project were not necessarily related to environmental concerns.

So what’s going on? Sources told me the union appears to be trying to send a message after several key subcontracts on the job were delivered to non-union contractors out of Sacramento.

“The Building Trades are not opposed to more high-rises downtown. What we are opposed to is this developer generating more profits at the expense of local workers and the environment,” Neil Struthers, CEO of the Santa Clara & San Benito Counties Building & Construction Trades Council, told me in an email.

He added: “No project should be given the ability to avoid the requirements every other developer must meet as it relates to water quality, affordable housing and traffic mitigation. Someone needs to stand up to those that have the power to gain preferential treatment from local government.”

Reportedly the contractor most objectionable to the unions is a large electrical company that works on major commercial projects throughout Northern California. Its headquarters is in Sacramento, but it has a Bay Area office in Hayward, 25 miles away from downtown San Jose via Interstate 880. Construction companies in Northern California capable of working on a 23-story high rise building tend to have a regional market – these are not hometown plumbers.

Because the City of San Jose has provided tax and fee waivers with financial value to the developer, One South Market Street is regarded under California law as a public works project. All construction companies – both union and non-union – must pay state-mandated construction wage rates (“prevailing wages”) to their trade workers on this project. In California, state prevailing wage rates always duplicate the wage rates in the applicable union collective bargaining agreements for that trade in that geographical region.

In other words, local hiring or wage rates are not legitimate issues. Control of the workforce is the issue.

Presumably, the Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council will continue to interfere with the project (perhaps with a lawsuit) until the developer (Market Street Tower Venture, LLC, on behalf of Essex OSM REIT, LLC) agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement or some other contract giving unions a monopoly on construction of the building.

The One South Market Street CEQA appeal shows that unions have a strong economic interest in stopping any proposals that compromise the obstructive power of CEQA. It should not be a surprise that construction trade unions are reportedly the primary obstacle to Senator Steinberg’s very modest CEQA reform bill, Senate Bill 731, but apparently Senator Steinberg was surprised, according to the August 5, 2013 article from California Forward: CEQA Roundup: Have Negotiations Really Stalled?

Steinberg himself seems to have been surprised by the opposition on the part of some labor leaders, in particular, who have pushed back against his most basic goal: Updating the CEQA process for infill projects. While the Senate leader has tried from the start to write a bill that would drive more of this type of development across the state, sources say some labor leaders view the coming infill wave as the source of a steady stream of jobs – and they are wary of losing CEQA as a tool they can use to reach project labor agreements with developers.

Reform of the California Environmental Quality Act is not an environmental issue. It’s a labor issue.

News Media Coverage

San Jose Denies ‘Greenmail’ Environmental Appeals on High-Rise ProjectSan Jose Mercury-News – August 13, 2013

San Jose Council Says ‘No’ to Union’s CEQA Challenge of One South MarketSilicon Valley Business Journal – August 13, 2013

Sources

Staff Report on Appeal of Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council to One South Market Street Project (includes June 25, July 9, and July 12 letters from law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo)

Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration for One South Market Street and Mitigation Monitoring or Reporting Program for One South Market Street

Union Challenging Downtown San Jose High-RiseSilicon Valley Business Journal – August 13, 2013

California Senate Bill 731 – CEQA reform for infill development projects

CEQA Roundup: Have Negotiations Really Stalled? – California Forward – August 5, 2013

KT Properties One South Market Street

Background on One South Market Street from Silicon Valley Business Journal

CEQA Works – the coalition of environmental groups and labor unions opposed to CEQA reform

www.PhonyUnionTreeHuggers.com


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.

Unions Extensively Interfere with California Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant Permitting

Earlier this week, www.UnionWatch.org posted the article Did Unions Hasten Demise of California’s Solar Thermal Power Plants? For the first time, the public can examine a comprehensive compilation of specific evidence showing how construction trade unions have exploited the state’s environmental protection laws to impede licensing of proposed solar thermal power plants at the California Energy Commission.

But what about proposed solar photovoltaic power plants, which are much more common but do not have a centralized process for environmental review and approval?

Now the public can go to this article here on www.UnionWatch.org (see list below) to examine the first-ever compilation of specific evidence showing how construction trade unions have exploited the state’s environmental protection laws (such as the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA) to impede permitting of solar photovoltaic power projects.

It’s difficult to track the development of solar photovoltaic power plants in California. Energy companies propose ambitious projects and then delay them or outright abandon them. Projects change ownership. Funding and government loans come and go. Names, locations, and sizes of proposed projects change. In addition, some local governments do not provide easy access to documents related to environmental review and permits.

Nevertheless, the list below is sufficient to prove that union “greenmail” or environmental permit extortion in California is as rampant against the solar photovoltaic power plant industry as it as against the solar thermal power plant industry.

The list includes recent proposed solar photovoltaic power plants that are classified under two conditions:

  1. Projects for which unions did the following: (1) filed lawsuits, (2) appealed the issuance of permits to a higher local authority, (3) objected to draft and final environmental impact reports and environmental impact statements, (4) objected to initial studies/mitigated negative declarations allowing the government to issue a permit, or (5) simply requested public documents – an action that sends a nasty warning to the applicant.
  2. Projects that unions openly supported or projects for which unions refrained from commenting, with reasonable evidence to show that the solar energy company committed to a Project Labor Agreement or some other deal that gave a union or unions exclusive control of some or all of the construction trade work. Only one actual Project Labor Agreement is linked below: companies and unions tend to regard their Project Labor Agreements as a trade secret (see an example of this confidentiality with the California Valley Solar Ranch project).

There are a handful of solar photovoltaic projects seriously under consideration or already approved by California local governments for which unions did not get involved in the permitting process and for which evidence is unavailable to confirm a union agreement or a unionized workforce. Projects under these conditions will be omitted from the list until union control is confirmed; nevertheless, it’s unlikely the unions are allowing their non-union competition to get any scraps. In fact, it’s reasonable to guess that right now the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union has a near-monopoly or complete monopoly on the electrical portion of solar photovoltaic power plant construction in California. Other unions such as the Operating Engineers and the Sheet Metal Workers may have guarantees for work on some projects. Meanwhile, the Laborers union (LIUNA) is also seeking control of lower-skill manual labor.

What does this mean for the solar power industry and for ratepayers? Several large non-union electrical contractors are highly competitive on price and quality and have a strong presence in the industrial and commercial construction market in many regions of California, especially outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Without question, aggressive interference in the permitting process for solar photovoltaic power plants has allowed certain unions to obtain almost complete control of solar power plant work that they never would have obtained under open competition.

Will the solar energy industry struggle to make money on California projects when forced to use exclusively union labor for some or all construction trades? Will some of these companies have trouble paying back government loans? Will the union interference in solar power plant permitting hinder the State of California in reaching its ambitious goals under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32 or AB 32)? And will this translate into higher electricity rates for Californians?

The answer to all four questions is probably yes. And the California State Legislature and Governor Jerry Brown will do nothing to stop it.

Involvement of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) or the Laborers Union (LIUNA) in the Local Government Permitting Process for Solar Photovoltaic Power Plants

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY

Richmond Solar PV Project (Marin Clean Energy)

2015-09-29 Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – DEIR Comments – Richmond Solar PV Project – Marin Clean Energy CCA

FRESNO COUNTY

See Protests Over Valley Solar Projects Called a Ploy – Fresno Bee – April 29, 2012

Adame 1 – Gestamp Asetym Solar

Giffen 1 – Gestamp Asetym Solar

Inspiration Solar Generation Farm

Placer Solar

Three Rocks Solar

IMPERIAL COUNTY

Solar Gen 2 Solar Array: Alhambra, Arkansas, and Sonora

Calexico Solar Farm 1, Calexico Solar Farm 2, Mt. Signal

Calipatria Solar Farm 1 and 2, Midway Solar Farm 1 and 2

Campo Verde

Imperial Valley Solar Company 2

KERN COUNTY

Beacon Photovoltaic Project

Catalina Renewable Energy Project

Kingbird Solar

Pioneer Green Solar Project

Recurrent Energy 10 Solar Projects: RE Rosamond One, RE Rosamond Two, RE Tehachapi Solar, RE Tehachapi Solar 2, RE Columbia, Columbia Two, RE Columbia 3, RE Rio Grande, RE Great Lakes, RE Barren Ridge

Recurrent Energy Old River One

Valley Solar Project: Smyrna, Goose Lake. Elk Hills, San Bernard

Willow Springs Solar Array

KINGS COUNTY

Aurora

Corcoran West

GWF Henrietta

Recurrent Energy Solar Projects

Finally, ordinary citizens in the San Joaquin Valley learn how construction trade unions block solar power plant projects by exploiting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

According to union front groups such as California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), the construction and operation of a solar-powered electrical generating facility has the potential to devastate the environment; that is, until the developer agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.

Stratford Photovoltaic Solar Facility

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Alpine Solar

Antelope Valley Solar

Antelope Valley Solar Ranch One (AVSR1)

Silverado Power 20 MW and 40 MW – City of Lancaster
Soccer Center Solar Facility – City of Lancaster
MONTEREY COUNTY

California Flats

RIVERSIDE COUNTY

Desert Harvest Solar Farm

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm

McCoy Solar Energy Project

SAN BENITO COUNTY

Panoche Valley Solar Farm

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY

Agincourt and Marathon

Alamo Oro Grade Solar Project

Aries Solar

Kramer Junction – Boulevard Associates

Kramer Junction – Lightsource Renewables

Lucerne Valley

Sunray Energy – Daggett

Stateline Solar Farm Project

SAN DIEGO COUNTY

Sol Orchard Ramona

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY

California Valley Solar Ranch

Topaz

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY

Cuyama Solar Facility

STANISLAUS COUNTY

Fink Road Solar Farm

McHenry Solar Farm

TULARE COUNTY

Great Valley Solar


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.

 

CEQA Debate Rule No. 1: Do NOT Mention Union “Greenmail”

“Here’s the plan: pretend that unions aren’t exploiting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a tool to obtain labor agreements. Maybe no one will notice.”

Supporters and opponents of CEQA reform are straining to avoid this uncomfortable subject as influential Democrats in the California State Senate prepare to introduce an alleged reform of CEQA that would discourage abuses of the law.


Note: the second half of this article includes excerpts from my February 18, 2013 article on www.FlashReport.org entitled Highlighting the Top Union Abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Thank you to www.FlashReport.org and www.UnionWatch.org for exposing generally unreported labor public policy issues to a wider audience in California and the United States.


This moratorium on referring to union “greenmail” reached absurd levels this week, as a noted journalist in San Diego who is left-leaning but generally recognized as honestly blunt neglected to report the obvious about union CEQA abuse.

An article entitled San Diego Hotels: Labor in Revolt was posted on February 20, 2013 in the “alternative” weekly newspaper San Diego Reader. It sympathetically portrayed the quest of organizers in the San Diego-based UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 to unionize the city’s hotel workforce.

Readers learn about various adversarial tactics used by UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 to pressure hotel operators to sign union agreements. The article mentions picket lines, boycotts, telling the hotel’s customers not to return, convincing elite universities to stop investing their endowment funds in hotel corporations, using labor laws offensively against employers, and encouraging workers to express themselves in public with chants, drum-beating, and labor songs.

All of these tactics reflect a typical union “corporate campaign.” But after reading the article, I went back and read it again. I couldn’t believe what I was – NOT – reading.

It mentions nothing about the high-profile CEQA actions filed by UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 against four proposed hotel projects! Here they are, as reported in www.PhonyUnionTreeHuggers.com:

1. Lane Field in San Diego: UNITE-HERE Local 30 Doesn’t Like a Proposed Hotel

2. San Diego Hotel Union (UNITE-HERE Local 30) Finds Environmental Calamity with San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina Ballroom Expansion

3. San Diego Convention Center Expansion: Construction Unions and Hotel Unions File 63 Pages Worth of CEQA Complaints

4. Hotel Union Uses CEQA Objections to Try to Block Proposed Fat City Hotel in San Diego

Four cases of CEQA abuse in the context of organizing campaigns! Overlooked and unreported…

An article exposing this practice could attract web readers, sell newspapers, and enhance the professional reputation of the journalist who wrote it. A news vacuum is waiting to be filled.

Soon an enterprising California reporter (or national reporter) will draw attention to labor union CEQA exploitation with an investigative article. In recent years, the New York Times did this with a June 18, 2009 article A Move to Put the Union Label on Solar Power Plants; also, the Los Angeles Times did this with a February 5, 2011 article Labor Coalition’s Tactics on Renewable Energy Projects Are Criticized.

I anticipate this future investigative article will flush out the union greenmail by either providing a broad survey of 20 years of union CEQA abuse or by focusing in-depth on one of the dozens of recent union CEQA document dumps and lawsuits against proposed projects.

Here are the top examples of union “greenmail” in 2012 and in 2013 that are ripe for investigation and exposure.

The #1 Union “Greenmail” CEQA Exploitation Case of 2012: San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Phase 3

The most high-profile union-instigated CEQA action in California in 2012 was targeted at the proposed San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Phase 3, estimated to cost $520 million, or more than $1 billion total if interest on borrowed money through bond sales is included. Unions hired the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo to advance the union objections. The saga is summarized on the web site www.SanDiegoConventionCenterScam.com:

It was known for years that the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council planned to use CEQA to delay construction of the convention center expansion until it obtained a union monopoly on construction with a Project Labor Agreement. The plans were documented in a March 2011 article It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion.

Sure enough, it happened. In several hundred pages of submitted letters and exhibits, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30 in San Diego identified numerous problems…See the May 2012 union comments for the draft Environmental Impact report on the San Diego convention center expansion and the September 2012 union comments for the final Environmental Impact Report on the San Diego convention center expansion.

Read an account of the outrageous incidents that occurred at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the United Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners, where union leaders and their law firms brazenly pulled a “document dump” in front of the city’s civic leadership: Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center.

Press conference announcing unions dropping CEQA complaints against San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3.

Press conference announcing unions dropping CEQA complaints against San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3.

Yet all these environmental problems disappeared (except for some minor environmental mitigation in three settlement agreements between these unions and the City of San Diego) once contractors were required to sign a project labor agreement with unions as a condition of working on the project and unions won a memorandum of understanding expanding the unionization of the convention center workforce.

Mayor Jerry Sanders (who was about to leave office) held a press conference on November 8, 2012 with the county’s top union official Lorena Gonzalez (who is planning a campaign for a California State Assembly seat) essentially to announce that the union environmental extortion “greenmail” was effective. The unions made “deals” with the City of San Diego and the prime contractor (a joint venture of Clark Construction Group and Hunt Construction Group) for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Phase 3.

San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council Project Labor Agreement for San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3

CEQA Works! Unions get a Project Labor Agreement for the San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3 and environmental concerns are resolved.

The California Coastal Commission may soon consider approval of this project, now unimpeded by earlier concerns cited by unions about how the sea-level rise caused by global warming might submerge the convention center expansion.

The #1 Union “Greenmail” CEQA Exploitation Case of 2013 (So Far): Mono County Geothermal Plants

People in Mono County are incredulous about the tremendous opposition of construction trade unions (specifically, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and Laborers Union Local No. 783) to the Ormat Technologies proposed upgrade of its long-existing Mammoth Pacific I geothermal power plant and its proposed Casa Diablo IV geothermal power plant. Actually, every Californian should be outraged about this new round of union “greenmail.”

The web site www.PhonyUnionTreeHuggers.com explains what has happened so far with the proposed Mammoth Pacific I plant upgrade:

At the October 11, 2012 meeting of the Mono County Planning Commission, a staff member informed the commission about “documents received just today” from the law firms of Lozeau Drury and Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. In response, one commissioner stated that “last-minute documents can’t be read in two minutes without any background.” The commission approved the project on a 4-0 vote.

On October 19, 2012, California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) appealed the Mono County Planning Commission’s decision to approve the Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project at its October 11, 2012 meeting. CURE was represented by the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo.

Also on October 19, 2012, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local No. 783 (LIUNA) appealed the Mono County Planning Commission’s decision to approve the Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project at its October 11, 2012 meeting. The union was represented by the Oakland law firm of Lozeau Drury.

On November 13, 2012, the Mono County Board of Supervisors rejected the two union appeals of project approval. Here is the staff report to the Mono County Board of Supervisors on CURE’s appeal.

Local officials knew that Ormat Technologies has been pressured to sign Project Labor Agreements giving unions a monopoly on construction and maintenance. Unions have also harassed the company at the Imperial County Planning Commission, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, and the California Energy Commission as it seeks approval for geothermal power plants in Imperial County such as Hudson Ranch II.

In fact, the February 28, 2013 meeting agenda of the California Energy Commission includes this item:

California Unions for Reliable Energy v. Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission [that is, the California Energy Commission], Real Parties in Interest Ormat Nevada, Inc., ORNI 18 LLC, and ORNI 19 LLC (Alameda County Superior Court, RG 12610669)

On December 14, 2012, Laborers Union (LIUNA) Local No. 783 filed a lawsuit (Concerned Bishop Residents v. County of Mono) in Mono County Superior Court claiming that the Mono County Board of Supervisors violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved Ormat Technologies‘ replacement project for the Mammoth Pacific Unit 1 geothermal power plant. The lawsuit explains that Laborers Union members “regularly travel to the Mammoth Lakes area of Mono County to enjoy its peaceful repose.”

Enjoying its peaceful repose and diversity and rarity of species of plants and animals.

Enjoying its peaceful repose and diversity and rarity of species of plants and animals.

But the ultimate CEQA strike by unions against geothermal power occurred on January 30, 2013, when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management office in Bishop was crushed by an incredible pile of comments from California Unions for Reliable Energy and Laborers Union Local No. 783 objecting to the draft Environmental Impact Report / Environmental Impact Statement for the Casa Diablo IV project. The amount of paper used for these objections probably required an Environmental Impact Report under CEQA.

The comments and associated exhibits are linked at Unions’ January 30, 2013 Comments Against Geothermal Power Plant Must Have Overheated the Printers!

Kevin Dayton is the President and 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.

Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center

Whatever your views concerning the wisdom of the proposed $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and the related expansion of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, you should be outraged at the shameless stunt of top San Diego labor union officials and their lawyers at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners for the United Port of San Diego.

The spectacle at the Port of San Diego was a powerful illustration of how labor unions abuse the California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq.), to delay projects while demanding labor agreements and other economic or labor concessions from public and private developers. It also showed how community leaders and developers are too helpless or intimidated to try to stop or evade this practice, known as “greenmail.”


A Summary of the Spectacle at the Port Commissioners’ Meeting: You Won’t Read This Story in the Mainstream News Media!

Before a crowded meeting room packed with the San Diego region’s top civic leaders – including the Mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders – union officials declared to the Port Commissioners that the 1400-page final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that the Port Commissioners were about to approve for the proposed project was inadequate and incomplete under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). They made this claim despite the Port’s efforts to address the original 62-page CEQA objection letter submitted by those same unions on June 29, 2012 to the Port concerning the proposed San Diego Convention Center expansion. To see the union letter AND the 374 pages of exhibits, go to the full set of Convention Center CEQA comments here. (The union submission starts at page 101 of the PDF document and ends at page 536.)

At the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Port Commissioners, top union officials made sure that all the important community leaders in the room recognized who had the power and the commitment to derail the project. An official of the UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 led off the attack by declaring that the Port’s plan to comply with CEQA was deficient and needed to be withdrawn for revisions. Then a lawyer from the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo explained more specifically all of the newly discovered alleged problems with the Environmental Impact Report. She was given extra time to speak because Tom Lemmon – head of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council – submitted a speaker card and then transferred his speaking time to her.

Along with her comments, the lawyer for the unions brought to the podium a NEW 42 page letter (with 197 footnotes) and 250 pages of referenced exhibits on behalf of “The San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center.” This phony, unincorporated group is actually a front for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30. Such last-minute CEQA “document dumps” at government meetings are routinely used by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo on behalf of unions.

Union CEQA Documents Submitted to Port of San Diego - San Diego Convention Center Expansion

On behalf of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted a huge last-minute objection under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. The San Diego Port Commissioners approved the Environmental Impact Report anyway at its September 19, 2012 meeting.

Finally, Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego County Central Labor Council, rushed into the meeting late to announce there were problems with the Environmental Impact Report for the convention center. Perhaps voters rejected her when she ran for San Diego City Council in 2005-06, but at this meeting she exercised the aggressive and coercive power of unionism as she spoke in front of the civic leaders seeking to help Mayor Jerry Sanders achieve this final economic development goal before he leaves office. Gonzalez proposed that the Port Commissioners approve a “tolling agreement” that would extend the statute of limitations for the unions to file a lawsuit. This would give unions more time to squeeze their demands out of the developers and the convention center’s public and private partners.

After these antics, the Port Commissioners recessed the meeting for about 20 minutes so Port staff could scan the document dump by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo and make a preliminary determination of whether or not the unions introduced new and valid CEQA objections to the proposed convention center and hotel expansion. If the comments were serious threats, the Port Commissioners would need to table the item to approve the Environmental Impact Report.

Staff ultimately identified four potential areas vulnerable to lawsuits or appeals, but also indicated how the issues would be addressed. In the end, the Port Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Environmental Impact Report, while noting that they expected litigation and appeals unless relevant parties were able to make a deal with the unions.


Using CEQA to Attain Objectives Unrelated to Environmental Protection

What is the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council seeking with its CEQA objections? As I documented in my March 11, 2011 www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com article entitled It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, union officials want a requirement for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions as a condition of working on the projects.

Since the mid-1990s, Project Labor Agreements have become the primary political scheme that California construction trade unions use to gain monopoly control over public and private construction projects. While politicians are often lured by potential union campaign support into supporting government-mandated Project Labor Agreements, ordinary citizens don’t want their local government officials forcing contractors to sign costly union agreements to work on construction projects funded by tax dollars. Most people seem to understand instinctively what has been shown through a comprehensive study of California school construction released in 2011 by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego: Project Labor Agreements increase the cost of construction 13% to 15%. See the institute’s study at www.thecostofPLAs.com.

Since June 2010, voters in San Diego County, the City of San Diego, the City of Chula Vista, the City of Oceanside, and the City of El Cajon have all approved “Fair and Open Competition” charter provisions or ordinances that prohibit these local government entities from requiring their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of winning a contract. Voters in the City of Escondido will consider a charter provision in the November 6, 2012 election that achieves the same purpose of fair and open bid competition. People in the San Diego region clearly REJECT government-mandated Project Labor Agreements.


Unions Routinely Block Private Projects in the San Diego Region with Environmental Objections Until Developers Surrender and Agree to Sign Project Labor Agreements with Unions and Require Their Contractors to Do the Same

It’s hard to track and document the numerous threats and legal actions in the San Diego area by construction unions and other unions such as UNITE-HERE to exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws to block and delay approval of development projects until a labor agreement is signed. The negotiations and applied pressure goes on behind closed doors, and often the victimized developer is compelled to succumb in secret. To add insult to injury, the developer is often dragged to a humiliating press conference to claim publicly that signing a Project Labor Agreement with unions is a wonderful business practice.

Two companies that exposed the union greenmail to the public were SeaWorld and Gaylord Entertainment.

1. SeaWorld San Diego Theme Park expansion – threatened in 2002, but resisted, and a Project Labor Agreement was not implemented. See background information here: Unions Fail to Force SeaWorld to Sign Project Labor Agreement.

2. Gaylord Entertainment hotel and convention center at the Chula Vista Bayfront – threatened in 2007 and 2008, but resisted. Gaylord ultimately abandoned the project and commenced construction instead of a resort complex in Arizona. See Gaylord Entertainment’s 2007 withdrawal letter: Out of Chula Vista; Unions Threaten CEQA Abuse.

Other companies have dealt with CEQA greenmail against proposed San Diego projects in various ways:

1. San Diego Padres Petco Park – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 1999. The developer agreed to a Project Labor Agreement in 2000. The project magically became environmentally sound.

2. Ballpark Village – there was a Ballpark Village draft Project Labor Agreement circulating in 2005, after Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 – identified environmental problems with the project. Four years later, the same law firm identified environmental problems with the project on behalf of UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30.

3. Poseidon Desalination Plant in Carlsbad – developer avoided union interference by agreeing to a Project Labor Agreement in 2005.

4. Downtown San Diego hotel projects, including Lane Field (Intercontinental Hotel and Aviana Suites), Sunroad Harbor Island Hotel, and San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina facilities expansion projects – the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo has identified alleged environmental problems with these proposed projects on behalf of UNITE-HERE Local No. 30.

5. Palomar Power Plant in Escondido – Sempra Energy signed a Project Labor Agreement and avoided licensing delays at the California Energy Commission instigated by intervenor California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). There is also a 30-year Maintenance Labor Agreement for this power plant.

6. Otay Mesa Generating Station – see here how CURE extracted this Project Labor Agreement from Calpine.

7. Sunrise Powerlink transmission line – Project Labor Agreement implemented in 2010.

8. Pio Pico Energy Center in East Otay Mesa – The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California proudly announced on November 3, 2011 that it had extracted a Project Labor Agreement for the construction of this power plant. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) did NOT intervene in the licensing process at the California Energy Commission on this 300 MW project. It’s odd how unions see devastating environmental problems with projects related to solar energy generation, but didn’t see the need to comment on this one…

Other projects of uncertain status:

1. 655 Broadway – no Project Labor Agreement; union-only though.

2. Sapphire Tower at 1262 Kettner Boulevard (Santa Fe Parcel 6) – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 2004. (I spoke at the August 12, 2004 meeting of the Centre City Development Corporation about the union’s CEQA objections to this project.)

3. Chula Vista Bayfront project – Pacifica Companies – news media indicated that a Project Labor Agreement seemed likely.

4. Carlsbad Energy Center – threat or already agreed to Project Labor Agreement.


How Can San Diego Civic Leaders Derail the Union CEQA Attack on the San Diego Convention Center Expansion? Specific Recommendations to Four Parties.

1. San Diego’s News Media: The local news media needs to stop dancing around this issue so ordinary citizens can learn what’s happening and respond to it.  Most people think this racket is outrageous, and they will lash out against it. Even some dedicated union members are uncomfortable with the decision of their leaders to hold up projects using the California Environmental Quality Act. It just sort of feels wrong.

The union CEQA threats against Gaylord Entertainment’s proposed Chula Vista Bayfront hotel and convention center were widely reported in 2007 and 2008, and ordinary citizens were aghast. But in the case of the convention center expansion, local news media is being very cautious in their reporting, perhaps because they sense that negative publicity might jeopardize an ambitious project wanted badly by the region’s civic leaders. (For the latest examples of news media downplaying the union maneuvers, see Convention Center Project Takes a Major Step Forward – San Diego Union-Tribune – September 20, 2012 and Port Approves Environmental Report For Convention Center Expansion – KPBS – September 19, 2012.)

After the Port’s deadline on June 29, 2012 for interested parties to submit comments concerning the draft Environmental Impact Report, local news media reported on the various submissions, but neglected to mention the comments submitted by the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 through Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. This was a bizarre oversight, considering that the unions submitted 436 of the 536 total pages of comments! (See Convention Center EIR Cites Numerous Impacts – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 3, 2012, Concerns Expressed on Center Expansion: Report Brings Up Aesthetics, Noise, Air Quality, Traffic – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 6, 2012, and Port Preparing Final Convention Center Environmental Impact Report – San Diego Daily Transcript – July 3, 2012.) Those comments were the true story.

2. San Diego’s Business and Political Leaders: Someone in town has to be a courageous leader and organize a broad coalition to fight back publicly against this relentless exploitation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by local labor union officials and their lawyers. Few people were willing to even mention the subject at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Port Commissioners – there were no heroes in a room full of congratulatory adulation. Civic leaders need to collectively speak out against this racket. In addition, they need to stop recognizing as “community leaders” those union officials who threaten to abuse CEQA to hold up projects in order to extract labor agreements. People who pull such antics don’t belong on boards of directors and executive committees of reputable community organizations.

3. California’s Leading Environmentalists: Legitimate environmental groups such as the Sierra Club of California and the Natural Resources Defense Council don’t like how state legislators and Governor Jerry Brown are pushing for changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But if this sort of behavior keeps up, one day they’ll see the state legislature amending CEQA in a way much more radical than the relatively mild “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” that they were shrieking about in August 2012. Perhaps it’s time for environmental leaders to ask their union ideological allies to stop using CEQA to extract labor agreements from developers and governments.

4. Reasonable State Legislators and Governor Jerry Brown: California elected officials – especially those representing San Diego County – have a great anecdote here as a basis for arguing the need for CEQA reform. Imagine all the pharmaceutical conventions that will go to Orlando and Phoenix when this proposed San Diego convention center expansion is blocked by the unions’ CEQA objections. I bet comic book enthusiasts will have a blast getting together in Las Vegas! By the way, the proposed CEQA reform known as the “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” probably won’t make a difference in stopping the practice of union greenmail. More vigorous measures similar to Senate Bill 1631 (2008), Senate Bill 628 (2005), or Assembly Bill 598 (2012) will be needed to stop this racket.

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.