CURRENT NEWS

The face of a little baseball player on the verge of tears juxtaposed with scary looking 50-gallon drums strewn about a field is a powerful image, one meant to raise safety concerns about a planned hotel and residential project in Petaluma.

But is it accurate? Or is it a union blackmail tactic to force the developer to agree to hire only union labor for its 39-acre plan?

On Monday night, the Petaluma City Council will be asked to approve the final environmental impact report and zoning maps for Riverfront, a plan for a 120-room hotel, commercial and office space, 4 acres of parks and trails, 273 housing units including townhouses, live-work units and apartments, and space for a community boathouse.

Friday, 18 July 2014 13:38

Judge project on its merits

On Monday, the Petaluma City Council will consider approving a well-designed mixed use project that would meet many of the city's long-term development goals, generate an estimated $600,000 annually in new tax revenues and 2,500 permanent and temporary jobs. The 39-acre Riverfront development, which includes 273 homes, a 120-room hotel, 60,000 square feet of office space, and 30,000 square feet of retail, has, remarkably, elicited exactly zero opposition locally.

For a project of this magnitude to generate no local opposition is extraordinary in Petaluma, a city where, historically, local city council elections have frequently been decided on public perceptions of overdevelopment.

But in the case of the Riverfront project, the city is getting what is wants: a mix of uses that appropriately achieves local goals for new housing, office and retail space, open space, recreational facilities and overnight lodging facilities.

Friday, 18 July 2014 13:33

Builders oppose building?

Unions raise environmental objections to Riverfront plan

On Monday, the Petaluma City Council will have to decide if environmental concerns raised by trade unions about the mixed-use project proposed on the Petaluma River are genuine, or a smokescreen used to delay the project following failed labor discussions.

Construction policy consultant Kevin Dayton of the Coalition of Fair Employment in Construction said all over the state, he has seen labor unions use this tactic as a punitive measure to stall projects. But union representatives say the issues they've raised are sincere.

"Almost always, they do this because they're pressuring the developer for some sort of economic concession — usually a project labor agreement," Dayton said while addressing the Petaluma Planning Commission during last month's public comment on the project. "It's too bad that the union representatives here aren't being open about that."

Wednesday, 16 July 2014 13:13

San Diego's frozen funding pipe

It's no secret that San Diego needs all the help it can get when it comes to repairing aging water pipes and sewer lines. With more than a billion dollars in unmet infrastructure needs, officials have been looking under every couch cushion to keep the disrepair to a minimum.

What might seem odd, however, is that the city has ostensibly given up access to tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure grants and loans provided routinely by the state. Despite warnings from Sacramento officials, in June 2012, San Diego voters passed a ballot measure, Proposition A, that's in direct conflict with state law.

Under Prop. A, the city is prohibited from requiring project labor agreements, or PLAs, on city-contracted construction jobs. The labor agreements are often used on long-term projects to set experience and wage requirements. The city has never required a PLA, but supporters of the ballot initiative argued that if one were ever used, it would be costly and unfairly favor unions. The campaign mirrored similar efforts by building-industry groups across the country.

The Fairfield City Council is poised Tuesday to hand big-labor special interests a huge victory. Specifically they are set to approve a project labor agreement on the new Fairfield train station.

A project labor agreement is a highly controversial agreement that city staff spent less than 90 days "negotiating" with local union bosses. The agreement will discriminate against the 85 percent of the area construction workforce that is union-free and cost taxpayers dearly, adding at least $10 million to the cost of the project due to fewer companies bidding.

The council at its April 12 meeting unanimously approved the concept of a project labor agreement despite a great deal of public opposition. They directed staff to "negotiate" the agreement with unions (no one else is allowed into these backroom negotiations) and less than three months later they have their "agreement."

The California Legislature is set to break new ground and taxpayers should be very concerned.

For the first time in state history, the Legislature is posed to require a local government entity to mandate a project labor agreement (PLA) on a local construction project.

If Assembly Bill 155, sponsored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D), is passed by the California Senate, the Monterey County Water Resources Agency would have to require contractors working on the proposed $25 million Interlake Tunnel project to enter into a wasteful and discriminatory PLA as a condition of performing work if the project is built using the design-build construction delivery method.

City Council members are poised Tuesday to approve a project labor agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, to cover virtually all work associated with Fairfield's train station project.

This is a massive undertaking that will help shape the city for the remainder of the 21st century, at an estimated cost of $81.5 million. Construction on a major piece of the project – to take Peabody Road over the existing railroad tracks near Vanden Road, is scheduled to begin next summer and will shut down the roadway for about a year.

Proponents of project labor agreements contend that they keep project costs in check and bring projects to conclusion on time. Opponents contend that they ultimately increase taxpayer costs and limit the pool of qualified people who can work on the projects – essentially shutting out shops that are not unionized.

Union lobbyists try to be discreet when they influence the California State Legislature to gain advantages in public contracting. That secrecy is now crumbling in the case of a new "urgency" bill that authorizes a Monterey County water agency to use an alternative bidding procedure to build a pipeline project.

Can unions whip this bill through the legislature before new revelations about backroom deals undermine local support for it? It depends on how many Republicans in the Assembly and Senate see construction union support as useful to their political futures.

A Mundane Objective: Awarding a Contract for a Water Storage Project

Today (July 8, 2014), the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement (disguised as a "Project Stabilization Agreement) with the Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council for Phase II of construction of the county's North Branch Jail and for the Sheriff's Transition and Reentry (S.T.A.R.) Complex. These would be the first government-mandated Project Labor Agreements in Santa Barbara County.

Union leaders have tried since 2010 to convince the county's elected board to require construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of contract work. To address unsubstantiated union claims why the county must mandate Project Labor Agreements, the board has passed various measures to encourage local hire and ensure contractor compliance with labor laws. These new policies have not satisfied the unions, nor have they satisfied Supervisor Salud Carbajal, the primary champion on the board for the union agenda. Also jumping onto the quest for a Project Labor Agreement is Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a leftist community activist organization.

On April 15, 2014, the board voted 5-0 to direct staff to develop a "framework" for negotiating a Project Labor Agreement on the jail project. In its report for the July 8 meeting, the staff warned the Board of Supervisors of potential negative impacts:

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Santa Barbara County has won a $38 million state grant to build an inmate rehabilitation, recovery and re-entry facility next to its planned new North County Jail west of Santa Maria along Betteravia and Black Roads.

The County Board of Supervisors were told they needed to act on accepting the grant for the so-called STAR Complex facility, and agree to commit millions more of county funds to complete and operate the 227-bed facility that will focus on helping non-violent, repeat offenders return to society as productive, law-abiding citizens.

"It will increase safety and improve working and housing conditions for both staff and inmates", Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told Supervisors during a project update Tuesday morning, "and ultimately it will increase public safety by helping turn lives around and delivering programs that improve inmate re-entry into the community and reduce recidivism and the revolving door of people going back into the criminal justice system."

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