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College Board in Orange County Lets Unions Take Over Taxpayer Oversight

Unions continue to undermine the independence and effectiveness of citizens bond oversight committees at California school and community college districts.

In December 2015, the elected board of trustees for the Rancho Santiago Community College District voted 4-2 to reject an application from the President & CEO of the long-established Orange County Taxpayers Association to serve on the college district’s Measure Q bond oversight committee. For two years, the obviously-qualified applicant had sought an appointment from the board to a vacant position on the committee.

This vacant position was designated in state law (California Education Code Section 15282) for someone “active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization.” The board had never filled it.

Eventually the board found its champion for the taxpayers. On February 22, 2016 – exactly three years after the deadline for people to apply for the bond oversight committee – the board appointed a taxpayers’ association representative. The lucky appointee claimed to be active in the “Middle Class Taxpayers Association,” an organization founded in 2011 that is closely connected to labor unions. This board action is another example of the continual union-instigated chipping away of checks and balances at California local governments.

California Proposition 39 55 Percent Approval of School BondsIndependent citizens bond oversight committees for school and college bond measures were once portrayed as a taxpayer protection. They were established in state law in 2000, when Governor Gray Davis signed into law Assembly Bill 1908, the “Strict Accountability in Local School Construction Bonds Act of 2000.” This requirement for independent oversight was promoted during the successful fall 2000 campaign to convince voters to approve Proposition 39, which reduced the voter threshold for passing certain school and community college bond measures from two-thirds to 55 percent.

Sixteen years later, the appointed and elected leadership of school and community college districts in California has shifted to a new generation. Many of these leaders (and the special interests that support them) don’t appreciate legal restrictions meant to assuage the ancient concerns of a dwindling demographic of fiscal conservatives.

In some districts, bond oversight committees are regarded as time-wasting meddlers that interfere with how bond finance and construction has to be done nowadays in California (keeping the politically-powerful happy with favoritism and payoffs). And among all the activities of bond oversight committees, none is more irksome to these school and college districts than the demand to study and make a recommendation on the fiscal impact of a proposed Project Labor Agreement. It’s embarrassing and even politically threatening when independent citizens dare to evaluate the cost of a board mandate lobbied for by unions.

Rancho Santiago Community College District, based in Santa Ana (in Orange County) is an example of one such district. In November 2012, voters authorized the district to borrow $198 million by selling bonds. In April 2014, after a year of negotiations with unions, the board voted 4-2 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for most work funded by that borrowed money.

2015 Rancho Santiago Community College District Citizens Bond Oversight Committee - Taxpayers Association Representative - VacantIn February 2013, separate from this process, the President and CEO of the Orange County Taxpayers Association applied for the taxpayers’ association position on the college’s new Measure Q Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. The board appointed the other members but left the taxpayers’ association position vacant, in violation of state law.

Almost two years later, a couple of board members pushed for an agenda item for the board to finally fill the vacant taxpayers’ association position. The board responded on December 7, 2015 with a 4-2 vote to reject the Orange County Taxpayers Association applicant.

It was rumored that construction trade union officials had told their allies on the board to reject the Orange County Taxpayers Association applicant because of the group’s past criticism of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. A few months later, on February 22, 2016, the board finally complied with state law by appointing a former site representative and Political Action Coordinator for the California School Employees Association Chapter 41.

In her very brief application submitted to the district on February 16, 2016, the victorious appointee declared “I am a member of the Middle Class Taxpayers Association, and with so many middle class families in Santa Ana, I look forward to being considered for the Measure Q Oversight Committee.” The board appointed her to the position.

The Middle Class Taxpayers Association is a union front group. For more information on it, see the May 30, 2012 article posted on www.LaborIssuesSolutions.com entitled Don’t Be Fooled! Meet Some Sneaky Fake Taxpayer Groups In California and the April 5, 2015 article from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association entitled Look for the Union Label.

Sources

Minutes of December 7, 2015 Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees (Item 6.6 – rejection of Orange County Taxpayers Association applicant as taxpayer association representative on the Bond Oversight Committee)

Minutes of February 22, 2016 Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees (Item 6.9 – approval of Middle Class Taxpayers Association applicant as taxpayer association representative on the Bond Oversight Committee)

Orange County Taxpayers Association

Middle Class Taxpayers Association

Rancho Santiago Community College District Board of Trustees

Rancho Santiago Community College District Project Labor Agreement – Measure Q

California Education Code Sections 15278-15282 – Citizens’ Oversight Committee

Strict Accountability in Local School Construction Bonds Act of 2000 (Assembly Bill 1908)

Proposition 39 (2000)


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.

Orange County Project Labor Agreements: One Advances, One Gets Jammed

Within three days last week, elected boards of two of the four community college districts in Orange County, California voted on proposals to require their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with construction trade unions as a condition of work.

1. Rancho Santiago Community College District: Anaheim Hills, Garden Grove, Irvine, Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin and Villa Park

On April 1, 2013, the elected board of the Rancho Santiago Community College District voted 5-2 for the district to begin negotiations with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council for a Project Labor Agreement. Construction companies and their trade associations will not be invited to participate in the negotiations, but companies will be required to sign the final union agreement in order to perform contract work.

The Project Labor Agreement will apply to contracts funded by $198 million borrowed through bond sales authorized by Measure Q, approved by 72.6% of district voters in November 2012. This $198 million figure does not include state matching grants and interest paid to bond investors. Neither the official voter ballot information nor campaign material indicated any plans to require contractors to sign a union agreement as a condition of work.

Voting for the union negotiations was board member José Solorio, who reportedly plans to run in 2014 for an open seat in the 34th State Senate District, possibly against Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, who voted in 2009 to ban Project Labor Agreements as a condition of winning Orange County contracts.

Opposing the Project Labor Agreement were board members Phil Yarbrough, who is a Republican, and Arianna Barrios, who is not registered with a party. The five Democrats on the board (José Solorio, Larry Labrado, Claudia Alvarez, John Hanna, and Nelida Mendoza) voted for it.

2. Coast Community College District: Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Midway City, Newport Beach, Seal Beach, Stanton, Sunset Beach, and Westminster

On April 3, 2013, the elected board of the Coast Community College District voted 3-2 for a task force to continue evaluating positive and negative implications of requiring contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council. A directive to begin negotiations with the unions was made and seconded, but was then withdrawn when it was clear that a majority vote was lacking.

Union lobbyists want construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement in order to perform contract work funded by $698 million borrowed through bond sales authorized by Measure M, approved by 57.2% of voters in November 2012. Neither the official voter ballot information nor campaign material indicated any plans to require contractors to sign a union agreement as a condition of work. In fact, school district administrators informed the Orange County Taxpayers Association via an email during the campaign that the college district would not require its contractors to sign a union Project Labor Agreement.

The total construction program, including state matching grants and other funding sources, is $957 million. This figure does not include interest paid to bond investors.

Board members Jim Moreno and Jerry Patterson aggressively pushed for the Project Labor Agreement. They are both Democrats. Jim Moreno is considering a campaign in 2014 for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Board members Lorraine Prinsky and David Grant (Democrats) and Mary Hornbuckle (the one Republican on the board) rejected the motion for negotiations and voted for a task force to evaluate the proposal and return with a report.

A Bit of Hope for California’s Future: At both community college districts, the student trustees on the board voted AGAINST the faction pushing for a union Project Labor Agreement. Ryan Ahari was a NO vote at the Rancho Santiago Community College District and Kolby Keo was a YES vote at the Coast Community College District. Student trustees generally aren’t beholden to unions to advance their political careers, so they can make the correct decision to seek the best quality construction at the best price for the benefit of students.

News Coverage

Will the RSCCD Trustees vote for a union-only PLA on Measure Q projects?www.NewSantaAna.com – December 3, 2012

College district caught in labor agreement fightNewport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – March 7, 2013

Pugnacious Defense of Economic Freedom in Orange County Can Inspire California’s Free-Market Activistswww.FlashReport.org – March 11, 2012

College district changes its tuneOrange County Register (op-ed by Orange County Taxpayers Association President & CEO Carolyn Cavecche) – March 28, 2013  (note: paywall in effect)

Bond betrayal: Did college district dupe OC Tax on PLA?www.CalWatchdog.com – March 29, 2013

The RSCCD Trustees are for a Measure Q union-only PLA tonightwww.NewSantaAna.com – April 1, 2013

Jose Solorio gives Janet Nguyen an early Christmas present  – www.NewSantaAna.com – April 2, 2013

Union-only O.C. hiring pacts raise alarmsOrange County Register – April 3, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

Playing fair means no PLAOrange County Register (editorial) – April 3, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

PLAs bad for taxpayers, competitionOrange County Register (op-ed by Rancho Santiago Community College board member Phillip Yarbrough) – April 3, 2013  (note: paywall in effect)

Jim Moreno wants to give away $100 million to unions – example of recorded call to Coast Community College District voters – April 3, 2013

Coast district delays decision on union-only labor pactOrange County Register – April 4, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

No pro-union pact at CCCD: Bond measure floated on promise not to seek PLAOrange County Register (editorial) – April 4, 2013 (note: paywall in effect)

How union only project labor agreements rip off the taxpayerswww.NewSantaAna.com – April 3, 2013

Coast Community stymied on labor agreementNewport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – April 5, 2013

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.