CENTRAL CALIFORNIA NEWS

Wednesday, 01 October 2014 22:50

Interlake tunnel sparks labor controversy

A bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature is heralded as a way to streamline a major project to connect San Antonio and Nacimiento reservoirs via a pipeline, but at least two groups are crying foul because of inherent labor agreements written into the language of the bill.

Assembly Bill 155, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, would OK the Monterey County Water Resources Agency to use what's called a "design-build" contract to connect Lake San Antonio and Lake Nacimiento with a pipeline.

Design-build is a method to deliver a project in which the design and construction services are contracted by a single entity known as the design-builder or design-build contractor. Alejo argues that enacting a design-build contract will result in lowered costs and expedited construction.

But the Water Resources Agency Board of Directors in late July reversed course and recommended to the county Board of Supervisors that they request AB 155 be pulled and that they "make no designation regarding the method of procurement utilized for the Interlake Tunnel Project."

The interlake project would move winter water from Nacimiento roughly eight miles to San Antonio. The watershed around Nacimiento fills that reservoir three times faster than San Antonio, so the interlake pipeline would take advantage of unused capacity at San Antonio. The result would be better flood control, additional groundwater recharge and more water storage to help offset droughts.

Citing chronically overcrowded schools and the urgency to provide students with a "21st century education," the Salinas Union High School District Board of Trustees voted 7 to 0 Tuesday to place a $128 million bond on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Meeting in a special session, the board led the Pledge of Allegiance, heard from one speaker in support of the bond, asked one question, voted and adjourned — all in a manner of minutes.

Titled the "Local High Schools Improvement Measure," the bond measure aims to address numerous "urgent and critical" needs for upgrading and repairing existing schools while installing the technological hardware and infrastructure needed to meet the learning requirements in a new era of public education. The new Common Core State Standards greeting students in the 2014-15 school year operate predominantly by computer, on the Internet and via cyberspace.

Included in the $128 million bond plan will be construction money for a highly anticipated new high school, the land for which has already been purchased, off Rogge Road in the north sector of the city.

If approved by voters, the bond would chip away significantly at the district Master Facilities Plan. The plan was compiled in 2011 and contains a long list of prioritized improvement projects estimated at $232 million in needed repairs and upgrades across the entire district.

 

Last week, the Oxnard Union High School District board of trustees — in a 3-2 vote — tentatively approved a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA, for its $45 million Rancho Campana High School project in Camarillo.

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 before taxpayers, reason and workers’ rights.

This PLA will raise costs substantially while all but guaranteeing that the 85 percent of the local construction workforce who are union-free will be unable to work on a project paid for by their tax dollars.

Last night (November 20, 2013), the board of trustees for the Oxnard Union School District in Ventura County bickered with the school district administration and each other over the terms and conditions of a proposed Project Labor Agreement for a $40 million new school (Rancho Campana High School).

News Coverage: Tension Marks School Building Plans - Ventura County Star – November 22, 2013

Certain members of the school board have been pushing for a Project Labor Agreement at the behest of union lobbyists since their October 9, 2013 meeting. The school district awarded a lease-leaseback contract on October 23, 2013.

In an effort to declare outright victory, it appears that the targets and goals for a power plant in Lodi were altered, with at least one underperforming matrix being dropped from media advisories and announcements.

The project was unable to hire a single veteran, despite the state ranking second-to-worst for unemployed veterans of Post-9/11 wars.

The Lodi Energy Center is a 300-megawatt power plant that was designed to serve 13 municipalities in Northern California with energy. It was recently highlighted by POWER Magazine, the "definitive information source for the power generation market," as a top new plant in the country.

Changes to the state law should be vetted and discussed by all parties.

Gov. Jerry Brown has again raised the possibility of changing the California Environmental Quality Act. That's the sweeping 1970 state law that requires public and private developers to analyze the impacts of their projects, study alternatives and implement mitigation measures.

CEQA is a powerful legal tool, and nearly everyone has a love-hate relationship with it. Developers have used the law to derail projects of competing developers. Unions have sought exemptions from it for projects they liked and then filed CEQA lawsuits against developers who wouldn't commit to project-labor agreements.

Brown has been both a CEQA suitor and snubber. As attorney general, he used the law to pressure local governments into changing their development and transportation plans to reduce greenhouse gases. But before that, as Oakland mayor, he clashed with CEQA litigants who objected to his plans for accelerating the construction of infill housing in downtown Oakland.

During these tough budget times, you would think Sacramento would do everything possible to keep costs down and save taxpayers money. Sadly, the state is doing the opposite when it comes to public construction projects in order to benefit a privileged few.

In the fight for lucrative contracts, this privileged few have lobbied Sacramento hard to essentially require local governments to use "Project Labor Agreements." These agreements, known as PLAs, are sweetheart contracts awarded almost exclusively to unionized firms with the right political connections. PLAs are the opposite of the open and competitive bidding on construction projects that would ideally occur to drive down costs. Because PLAs are negotiated behind closed doors, projects tend to cost as much as 20 percent higher than they normally would be.

One example is the construction of Pasadena's Glenarm Power Plant in 2004. The same contractor bid at $14.9 million under open bidding, but raised the price to $17.2 million to accommodate the PLA requirements of hiring union labor. Taxpayers had to spend an extra $2.3 million.
That is $2.3 million that could have been better spent by the city of Pasadena on public safety and other priorities.

Some members of the non-union construction community have told me they are concerned about a Project Labor Agreement, which the Contra Costa Community College District will consider at its Wednesday meeting.

You can see a detailed staff report about the proposal in this agenda report, under Item 24D: http://www.4cd.edu/gb/agendas_minutes/agendas/2011-10-12.pdf.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the college district’s board room at 500 Court Street in Martinez. More information is available by calling 925-229-1000.

Monday, 03 October 2011 10:00

High Energy

LODI - Prefabricated pieces of the 280 megawatt Lodi Energy Center are so massive that the Northern California Power Agency has had to close down Interstate 5 two dozen times over the past year just to transport them from Stockton to the plant.

A two-year, $500 million project - $375 million for construction, plus bond debt service - the power plant is more than halfway to completion, and on track for a June 2012 opening, assistant general manager Ken Speer said.

When done, the 100-foot-tall plant will produce enough energy to serve 13 municipalities in Northern California, including Lodi.

Wednesday, 06 July 2011 00:00

Board should adopt project labor policy

When Stanislaus County invites bids on construction projects such as the new juvenile hall or a road widening  we always hope there will be multiple contractors wanting to do the work.

After all, healthy competition generally produces lower bids, which means that taxpayers get the best bang for their buck.

Under California law, all contractors on state or local government projects have to pay prevailing wages to plumbers, painters, electricians and other craftspeople. The compensation levels are determined by the state Department of Industrial Relations  and posted on its Web site, www.dir.ca.gov and include base salary, health and benefits, pensions, etc.

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