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Petaluma City Council Ignores Phony Union Environmental Objections

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 ProjectSanta 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:

Union Supplemental Objections to Final Environmental Impact Report – July 18, 2014

In addition, the union front group “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development” put this advertisement in local newspapers to scare the public:

Union Advertisement - Boy Crying about Petaluma Riverfront Project

A union newspaper advertisement featuring a boy crying about the Petaluma Riverfront Mixed-Use Project. Cheer him up with a Project Labor Agreement!

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.

Union Abuse of California Environmental Laws Goes On, Unabated

The Planning Commission for the City of Petaluma, California (in Sonoma County) experienced the full brunt of union abuse of environmental laws (“greenmail”) at its meeting tonight (June 24, 2014) to consider approving a prominent proposed development project.

Petaluma City HallCalling themselves “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development,” the Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council hired the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo to submit objections to the proposed Riverfront Mixed-Use Development Project. At stake are 1,952 construction jobs that unions want to control, apparently by getting the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement.

In June 2013, the unions’ law firm submitted a request to the City of Petaluma to extend the comment period for an Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (a common tactic to drag out the environmental review process). Then it submitted objections on behalf of the unions to the city’s Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration. After the city proceeded to develop a Draft Environmental Impact Report, the unions objected to that. (See links to these sets of comments, below.)

Finally, at 4:00 p.m. on the day of the Planning Commission meeting to approve the Final Environmental Impact Report, the unions submitted more objections. Last-minute “document dumps” objecting to environmental reviews are a tried-and-true tactic of California labor unions.

Comments submitted at 4:00 p.m. on day of Petaluma Planning Commission meeting.

Comments submitted at 4:00 p.m. on day of Petaluma Planning Commission meeting.

According to these comments, construction unions are very worried about how the development will be affected by sea level rise resulting from global warming. They also have concerns about compromised air quality and other threats to the environment.

At the June 24, 2014 meeting, the lawyer for the unions defended their environmental objections against “people in the audience” who attended the meeting to expose the ulterior motivations of the unions and called for reform of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Also defending their quest to save the planet from the impact of construction were representatives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 551 and the Sheet Metal Workers International Union Local No. 104.

As Planning Commissioners made their comments about the proposed project before their votes, one commissioner noted the claim from a representative of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction that unions submitted last-minute environmental objections to pressure the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement. A representative for the developer (Basin Street Properties) responded that union officials (including those who spoke during public comment) approached Basin Street Properties asking for a Project Labor Agreement, they had negotiations, but the unions rejected their offer. (View this exchange from 2:47:33 to 2:49:47 in the meeting video.)

Unless the developer of the Riverfront Mixed-Use Project surrenders to the union demands, it’s likely the Petaluma City Council will encounter the same environmental objections and abusive legal tactics when it considers approval of the project.

Union Request for Extension of Public Comment Period for Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration – June 26, 2013

Union Objections to Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration – July 25, 2013

Union Objections to Draft Environmental Impact Report – February 6, 2014

Union Objections to Final Environmental Impact Report – June 24, 2014


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.