The Planning Commission for the City of Petaluma, California (in Sonoma County) experienced the full brunt of union abuse of environmental laws (“greenmail”) at its meeting tonight (June 24, 2014) to consider approving a prominent proposed development project.
Calling themselves “Petaluma Residents for Responsible Development,” the Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake Counties Building and Construction Trades Council hired the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo to submit objections to the proposed Riverfront Mixed-Use Development Project. At stake are 1,952 construction jobs that unions want to control, apparently by getting the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement.
In June 2013, the unions’ law firm submitted a request to the City of Petaluma to extend the comment period for an Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (a common tactic to drag out the environmental review process). Then it submitted objections on behalf of the unions to the city’s Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration. After the city proceeded to develop a Draft Environmental Impact Report, the unions objected to that. (See links to these sets of comments, below.)
Finally, at 4:00 p.m. on the day of the Planning Commission meeting to approve the Final Environmental Impact Report, the unions submitted more objections. Last-minute “document dumps” objecting to environmental reviews are a tried-and-true tactic of California labor unions.
According to these comments, construction unions are very worried about how the development will be affected by sea level rise resulting from global warming. They also have concerns about compromised air quality and other threats to the environment.
At the June 24, 2014 meeting, the lawyer for the unions defended their environmental objections against “people in the audience” who attended the meeting to expose the ulterior motivations of the unions and called for reform of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Also defending their quest to save the planet from the impact of construction were representatives of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union No. 551 and the Sheet Metal Workers International Union Local No. 104.
As Planning Commissioners made their comments about the proposed project before their votes, one commissioner noted the claim from a representative of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction that unions submitted last-minute environmental objections to pressure the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement. A representative for the developer (Basin Street Properties) responded that union officials (including those who spoke during public comment) approached Basin Street Properties asking for a Project Labor Agreement, they had negotiations, but the unions rejected their offer. (View this exchange from 2:47:33 to 2:49:47 in the meeting video.)
Unless the developer of the Riverfront Mixed-Use Project surrenders to the union demands, it’s likely the Petaluma City Council will encounter the same environmental objections and abusive legal tactics when it considers approval of the project.
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.