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.
Napa Pipe Project (developer’s site)
Napa Pipe Project (County of Napa site)
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 Pipe – Napa 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 Wages – Napa Valley Register (letter to the editor) – May 24, 2013
Union Pressure Leads to Labor Agreements – Napa 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.