CURRENT NEWS

The Sacramento Planning and Design Commission gave the proposed downtown arena a green light Thursday night. With a unanimous vote, the board recommended approval to the City Council both for the arena and entitlements for surrounding development.

Coming after more than four hours of presentations, public comments and debate, the commission didn't recommend separating the surrounding development from the arena itself, as some speakers representing union groups suggested.

Commissioners seemed inclined to support assertions by city of Sacramento staff and representatives from the Sacramento Kingsthat such development would still get a full public vetting.

Sometimes you can predict the future.

In the fall of 2013, business and taxpayer organizations warned the elected board of the Oxnard Union High School District in Ventura County (north of Los Angeles, on the coast) that it would endure reduced bid competition and higher construction costs if it required companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council as a condition of working on the Rancho Campana High School construction project.

The union-backed proposal abruptly emerged at the board's October 9 meeting and consumed the board and district administrators for more than two months.

The next point of contention over Sacramento's downtown redevelopment may not stem from the arena, but planned ancillary development.

Seeing the proposed commercial, residential and hotel projects neighboring the arena as moving too fast without enough details, the Sacramento Central Labor Council has requested the city planning commission and council  approve the arena, but to hold off on the entitlements for projects nearby.

In its resolution, approved in March, the labor council points out there's no project labor agreement stipulating union employment for the arena operations or the surrounding development, as there is for the arena construction project itself. There's also been relatively little detail about the mixed-use buildings that would house expected retail, office, housing and hotel rooms around the arena, the resolution states.

In November, the Oxnard Union High School District board of trustees, in a contentious 3-2 vote, approved a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for its $48 million Rancho Campana High School project. The packed board meeting was charged and divided all because three trustees (Wayne Edmonds, Socorro Lopez Hanson and Steve Hall) put big labor special interests ahead of taxpayers, reason and worker rights.

At that time, we warned the three that the PLA would raise costs substantially because it would all but guarantee the 85 percent of the local construction workforce that is union-free would not be able to work on a project paid for by their tax dollars. The results are now in.

The PLA has resulted in a 20 percent increase in the cost of the project, so instead of paying $48 million to build the new high school, taxpayers will now be paying $59 million.

Regularly scheduled service on California's bullet train system will not meet anticipated trip times of two hours and 40 minutes between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and are likely to take nearly a half-hour longer, a state Senate committee was told Thursday.

The faster trips were held out to voters in 2008 when they approved $9 billion in borrowing to help pay for the project. Since then, a series of political compromises and planning changes designed to keep the $68-billion line moving ahead have created slower track zones in urban areas.

But Louis Thompson, chairman of the High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, a state-sanctioned panel of outside experts, testified that "real world engineering issues" will cause schedules for regular service to exceed the target of two hours and 40 minutes. The state might be able to demonstrate a train that could make the trip that fast, but not on scheduled service, he told lawmakers. If public demand for the service supports additional investments, travel times could be improved after the currently planned system is built, he said.

Union activists in San Francisco recently filed suit to block Google's commuter buses from stopping at City bus stations– a privilege for which Google pays the City handsomely. Why might activists use an environmental regulation to block buses that eliminate at least 45 million vehicle miles and 761,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year and also includes a $6.8 million giftto support transit for low and moderate income youths? It's impossible to know about the Service Employees Union's real motives but its leadership suggests the suit is not about green— unless you mean greenbacks. SEIU is concerned that Google Bus could lead to less reliance on the publicly subsidized transportation system—in effect reducing the union's choke-hold on bay area transportation and perhaps threatening their high-paying jobs.

Unfortunately, using California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for non-environmental motives is a common problem. In large part because California is one of only three states that subject private projects to this scrutiny, competing groups use the threat of CEQA litigation to obtain special benefits that have nothing to do with the environment. In fact, CEQA abuse often harms the environment by delaying renewable-energy projects, infills, public transit, and other "green" projects.

Unions often use CEQA to delay projects until developers capitulate to project labor agreements that exclude non-union labor. In fact, large scale projects are rarely completed without a project labor agreement. In San Diego, for example, officials used private emails to secretly negotiate guaranteed project labor agreements in exchange for dropping a CEQA lawsuit.

This is Part Three, explaining how unions may attempt to win control of the construction and permanent jobs at the ancillary development around the arena. Part One explained the background of how construction trade unions have already obtained a monopoly on the construction workforce for the arena itself. Part Two explained the union plot to monopolize the service jobs at the arena.

Factions in the Construction Industry: Trusting Pragmatism Versus Principled Cynicism

Leaders of the Sacramento regional construction industry were on the sidelines as the new ownership of the Sacramento Kings basketball team privately negotiated a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions for construction of the new downtown arena. Yet construction business associations such as Associated General Contractors (AGC) and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) still supported the city's plan for the arena.

There's been standing room only for Kings' games, but Thursday was the first standing room only crowd for those who want to get in the same of building a new throne for Sacramento's NBA team.

They're contractors – passionate about what they do.

"We're currently doing all the furniture for Levi stadium for the San Francisco 49ers," said Dwight Jackson of the Metro Contract Group.

Today (March 6, 2014), the City of Sacramento, the Sacramento Kings ownership, and construction manager Turner held a contractor outreach meeting to "start a conversation" with companies interested in potential work opportunities in building the new $447 million Entertainment and Sports Center in downtown Sacramento. More than 250 people registered for the event, and many attendees had to stand in the back of the room.

A substantial number of these companies were construction-related firms. I overheard several conversations in which contractors were discussing the requirement to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work. People were unsure about what this union deal meant for their companies if they won a contract.

I suspected that the formal presentation at the contractor outreach meeting would evade references to the more reprehensible provisions of the Project Labor Agreement (aka "Community Workforce and Training Agreement"). I also expected that copies of the Project Labor Agreement would not be provided to attendees of the meeting. (Six months after the deal was announced by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson at a September 4, 2013 press conference, the public still does not have access to the union deal.) And in fact the outreach event did not provide copies of the Project Labor Agreement. During the question-and-answer period, I asked when the Project Labor Agreement would be available for the public to see. Attendees were told that it will be on a web site soon, perhaps in a few weeks.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to appeal a court ruling that would send the agency to trial on whether its planned bullet train can live up to performance requirements required under state law.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny this week denied the rail agency's motion to dismiss part of a lawsuit filed by Kings County and two of its residents, farmer John Tos and homeowner Aaron Fukuda. Kenny's ruling Tuesday set the stage for a potential trial later this spring.

On Thursday, the rail authority said it will ask the Third District Court of Appeal for a writ to overturn Kenny's ruling. "We disagree with the March 4 Sacramento Superior Court ruling and are preparing to seek a review by the Court of Appeal," said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the agency.

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