I’m still convinced that the business coalition supporting reform of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) made a strategic decision to join State Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) in never addressing – or even acknowledging – how unions have perfected the widespread and pernicious abuse of CEQA to win labor agreements and block non-union competition.
Look for CEQA reform to be like the so-called Pension Reform.#FIGLEAF
— FlashReport.Org (@FlashReport) February 16, 2013
However, signs are encouraging that unions may not succeed in deceiving the public as Phony Union Tree Huggers. Perhaps emboldened by the California Labor Federation’s aggressive stance against CEQA reform as a member of the anti-reform coalition called CEQA Works, some of California’s news media are pointing out that unions are unusually active in objecting to proposed projects (including many “green” projects) on environmental grounds:
- In his February 17, 2013 column, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain refers to a CEQA lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court (Concerned Dublin Citizens v. City of Dublin) by the law firm of Lozeau Drury on behalf of Carpenters Union Local No. 713, “which is concerned that Avalon [Bay Communities] isn’t using enough union workers.” (See Dan Morain: CEQA Overhaul Puts Lawmakers on Tightrope.)
- Columnist Thomas D. Elias wrote in a piece published on February 15, 2013 in the Appeal-Democrat (covering the mid-Sacramento Valley region) that “labor unions have been said to threaten developers with CEQA lawsuits (sometimes labeled extortion) and delays if they use non-union labor.” (See Thomas D. Elias: CEQA Battle Lines Drawn.)
- On his blog, San Francisco Chronicle political reporter Wyatt Buchannan reported on February 11, 2013 that “we’ve heard complaints as this debate has continued that labor sometimes uses CEQA lawsuits, or the threat of lawsuits, to force private developers to use union workers.” (See Labor Unions Oppose Overhaul of Environmental Law.)
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.
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.
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.”
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.