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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.