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Collect Them All: Environmental Objections of California Unions in 2013

Attendees of the annual leftist “Netroots Nation” conference in San Jose, California on June 20-23, 2013 had ample opportunities to learn how to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to advance the labor union political agenda.

They could have attended a June 22 panel (CEQA: An Example of Linking Environmental and Labor Movements) on how union and environmental movements must work together using CEQA to keep “progressivism” relevant.

Or they could have been inspired by a June 21 panel (Building Renewables, Building Workers Lives – a Door to the Middle Class) to discuss how unions can better use CEQA to attain monopoly control of small solar power plant construction.

Obviously there was no shame or worry at this conference about exploiting environmental laws for ulterior purposes. Perhaps there were even some snickers about the irony of Ronald Reagan signing CEQA into law in 1970.

But monitor the public statements of the supporters of CEQA reform, or read the news media coverage about CEQA reform, and you would barely be aware such abuses are happening.

For anyone who doubts that unions are one of the primary wielders of environmental law to attain economic objectives unrelated to environmental protection, here’s a list of union CEQA activity so far 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

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

CEQA documents for proposed solar power plants in Fresno County as of August 7, 2012. A majority of these documents related to union CEQA objections.

CEQA documents for proposed solar power plants in Fresno County as of August 7, 2012. A majority of these documents related to union CEQA objections.

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 (added to this list on June 27, 2013)

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 (added to this list on June 27, 2013)

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 (added to this list on July 15, 2013)

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 (added to this list on July 17, 2013)

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 (added to this list on August 2, 2013)

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 (added to this list on August 2, 2013)

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 (added August 2, 2013)

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 (added August 2, 2013)

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 (added August 2, 2013)

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 (added August 7, 2013)

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 (added August 13, 2013)

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 (added August 13, 2013)

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 (added August 24, 2013)

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 (added August 27, 2013)

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.


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.

Spread the Word: Brazen Union CEQA Abuse in Napa Valley

Throughout California, unions routinely use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a tool to block and delay proposed projects until the public or private developer accepts some sort of labor agreement.

This is the big-time, highly-professional “greenmail.” At stake is the control of hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars. Such CEQA abuse is extensive but rarely reported by the state’s news media.

Interest groups calling for CEQA reform prefer to focus on the little outrages, such as the case in 2011 in which Andy’s BP gas station appealed to the San Jose City Council on environmental grounds after the San Jose Planning Commission approved the expansion of Moe’s gas station, located across the street.

This kind of CEQA abuse is silly, and everyone can band together and say this is ridiculous.

Union CEQA abuse is sinister. It’s a manifestation of the clash of economic ideologies. It involves implicit and sometimes explicit threats before and during negotiations leading to secret deals behind closed doors. It is the flexing of power between corporate and collectivist interests. And the unwitting and unaware individual citizen ultimately pays the price.

The latest example of union CEQA abuse about which you haven’t heard is the environmental objections of three construction trade unions to the conversion of the long-abandoned Napa Pipe manufacturing facility into a commercial and residential riverfront development. This proposed project is in the southern end of Napa Valley.

The May 21, 2013 Napa Valley Register local newspaper hinted that unions plan to use CEQA to interfere with this project if the Napa County Board of Supervisors approves it:

A coalition of union workers raised some environmental concerns with the project moving forward as planned, though.

Ellen Trescott, a lawyer with Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo in Sacramento, requested the county delay its approval so another environmental impact report could be prepared.

Trescott argued that’s warranted because Napa Pipe’s EIR analyzed a much larger version of the project, when it was proposed to be 2,500 homes. The developers shrunk it to up to 945 homes last June.

“You can only stretch an EIR so far,” Trescott said. “Don’t hastily approve this project without covering your legal bases under CEQA,” she said, referring to the state’s environmental law.

Trescott said she represents the Napa Coalition for Responsible Development, which is identified as consisting of Napa County residents Brett Risley, David Dias and Dan Huss, as well as the Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 343, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180, and other residents.

After the meeting, Trescott said the group has not yet considered the possibility of filing a legal challenge to Napa Pipe under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Gitelman dismissed the group’s contentions, citing a response letter written by Whit Manley, a lawyer working with the developers behind Napa Pipe. Manley argued that the project’s shrinkage after rounds of public input and comment in the EIR process is “an inevitable – indeed, desirable – aspect of the CEQA process.”

“CEQA is intended to inform public decisionmaking,” Manley wrote. “It is not designed to condemn projects to endless rounds of review.”

As it turns out, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo had submitted a massive set of CEQA objections to the proposed Napa Pipe development in May 2011, on behalf of “The Napa Coalition for Responsible Development,” which is “comprised of 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.”

One could still accept the claim of the unions that they simply have “a strong interest in enforcing environmental laws such as the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) to protect its members” and – as reported in the March 28, 2012 Napa Valley Register – “Union locals for electrical workers, plumbers and sheet-metal workers lament the prospective loss of a key site from the county’s industrial past, and advocate leaving it untouched in the hopes that industry will once again take root there.”

But a May 23, 2013 letter to the editor of the Napa Valley Register from a representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local No. 180 suggests an ulterior motive, and it’s not love for the environment or lamentation for the (union-instigated?) decline of California industry:

…Texas is not the only state with builders or developers who don’t intend to pay their workers a living wage. The developer of Napa Pipe built Carneros Inn and Boon Fly Café, prior to trying to develop the Napa Pipe project.

In the first phase of the Carneros Inn project, he used Napa Electric Co. and other local contractors. The business manager of Electrical Workers Local 180, Plumbers Local 343 and Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 asked the developer if he would sign a PLA (Project Labor Agreement). This means he agrees to pay the living wage for Napa County, and also agrees to use local contractors for the Carneros Inn project.

He immediately said he would not sign any such agreement. In phase two of the Carneros Inn project, he hired Rex Moore from Sacramento to do his electrical work and other out-of town contractors who will work for less than our living wage in Napa County.

I appeal to our county Board of Supervisors to not let this project go forward until this developer agrees to sign a PLA, and also agrees to only use local Napa contractors.

Regular readers of www.UnionWatch.org will laugh at the usual California union attack on Texas and recognize that the misnomer “living wage” in this letter is referring to the wages, benefits, and employer payments to other union-affiliated trust funds designated in the applicable collective bargaining agreements for each construction trade in Napa County, and not to any sort of independently determined “living wage” for the region.

Of course, the idea that a company that happens to be based in Napa Valley wine country (not a center of the construction industry) should have exclusive rights to building a major development because the project is located in Napa is absurd. The real purpose of the Project Labor Agreement is to eliminate competition and give unions a monopoly on construction.

The Napa Valley Register published a subsequent May 24, 2013 letter to the editor – “Union Pressure Leads to Labor Agreements” – submitted by me that exposed the truth to the public:

California union leaders regard the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as an essential tool to “greenmail” public and private project owners into signing union Project Labor Agreements (PLA). That’s why unions oppose any reasonable changes to CEQA at the state legislature.

The Napa Pipe mixed-use riverfront neighborhood is now a target of union CEQA actions. The law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo is representing construction trade unions as it submits environmental objections to the Napa Pipe project.

If unions suddenly stop objecting to the Napa Pipe neighborhood on environmental grounds, look for the Project Labor Agreement. A May 23 letter to the editor of the Napa Valley Register from a union official (“Napa Pipe project workers deserve Napa living wages”) asks the Napa County Board of Supervisors to “not let this project go forward until this developer agrees to sign a PLA.”

One day, unions and their allies will no longer control the state Legislature, and the Napa Pipe project will be another piece of evidence to prove CEQA has become a farce.

Sources:

The notorious Andy’s BP CEQA action against Moe’s Stop Gas and Service Station in San Jose

Napa Pipe Project (developer’s site)

Napa Pipe Project (County of Napa site)

Napa County Board of Supervisors

The law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo

May 2, 2011 Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo Comments on Supplemental Draft EIR for Napa Pipe Project – Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 104, Plumbers and Steamfitters Union Local 343, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 180

The Battle Over Napa PipeNapa Valley Register – March 18, 2012

County Delays Action on Napa Pipe, but a Deal is Close – Napa Valley Register – May 21, 2013

Napa Pipe Project Workers Deserve Napa Living WagesNapa Valley Register (letter to the editor) – May 24, 2013

Union Pressure Leads to Labor AgreementsNapa Valley Register (letter to the editor) – May 24, 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.