After eight hours of discussion and public comment, the California Coastal Commission decided Wednesday to  put off a vote on an application to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

The commissioners voted unanimously to hold off a final decision on the controversial proposal. Shortly after, the company seeking to build the plant, Poseidon Water, withdrew its application.

The commission staff wants Poseidon to do a study of the ocean floor off Huntington Beach to determine the feasibility of using subsurface intakes to bring water into the proposed plant.

After eight hours of discussion and public comment, the California Coastal Commission decided Wednesday to  put off a vote on an application to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, according to KPCC.

The commissioners voted unanimously to hold off a final decision on the controversial proposal. Shortly after, the company seeking to build the plant, Poseidon Water, withdrew its application.

The unintended consequence of this action, which we support, is that the unions got the shaft too!  This project had a PLA on it – a Project Labor Agreement.  Had the construction gone forward non-union contractors would have been shut out of bidding on this project.

If you're jaded about politics and question whether elected officials listen to their constituents, consider the story of how a group of concerned taxpayers and small business owners stopped the Coast Community College District in Orange County from adopting a controversial project labor agreement. The PLA would have allowed only unionized firms to bid on millions of dollars in construction projects sponsored by Measure M, a $698 million bond approved by voters last November. The action will give heart to PLA opponents across California.

As I reported on, during last year's campaign for the bond measure, the district promised OC Tax, Orange County's preeminent taxpayer group, that it had no intention of adopting a PLA for the project. Although the group does not formally endorse or oppose school bonds, it provides a 13-point checklist to assess the fiscal responsibility of the borrowing. The disclosure of any labor agreements is part of the evaluation process.

In January, according to the Daily Pilot, Trustee Jerry Patterson added the PLA issue to the district's agenda, a move that immediately drew the ire of residents opposed to the district's double-cross. The board was inundated with opposition until May, when it voted to include union and non-union firms in the bidding process.

What caused the district to do a triple flip on a project labor agreement?

In an attempt to shed light on the district's confused decision-making process, reviewed more than 1,100 pages of documents obtained by a public records request. The internal documents, primarily emails to and from trustees, show a relentless wave of public opposition. And while many of the trustees were caught off guard by the issue, Patterson, the trustee that added the issue to the agenda, fully expected an intense battle.

"The onslaught begins," Patterson wrote in an email on February 26. When asked Patterson about the email, he explained, "The onslaught which I referred to only described the anti-union builder organizations who had proven themselves to be opinionated and untruthful."

The clarification was unnecessary. It's obvious from the documents that the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, two organizations that view PLAs as costly interferences in free market competition, controlled the debate about the controversial issue. In March and April, the two groups barraged the trustees with dozens of emails.

"We are proud to have not only uncovered this scheme but to have helped lead to its ultimate defeat," said Eric Christen, executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction. "Fortunately, the board majority put the rights of all workers and taxpayers ahead of big labor special interests."

Christen and his ABC counterpart, Dave Everett, accounted for hundreds of pages of the public documents reviewed by When the pair wasn't firing off fact sheets or policy papers to trustees, they were encouraging local contractors and concerned taxpayers to send personalized emails explaining their opposition.

Alfred Dennison, an Orange County electrical contractor with 33 years in the business, was one of the numerous contractors that emailed the trustees in opposition to the PLA.

"The unions want a PLA in place so they don't have to compete," Dennison wrote in a March 6 email. His company, Dennison Electric Inc., has completed several projects for the college district and would have been shut out of the process with a PLA. "The reason we have won so many projects is that we are more competitive than union contractors and have been able to save OC Districts thousands of dollars."

Kevin Dayton, president and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, another member of the public to contact the district in opposition to the PLA, said he was pleased that so many people joined the effort. "It was encouraging to see Orange County activists for fiscal responsibility pay attention to policy decisions at their local community college district," he said.

One trustee says the public comments helped educate trustees about the issue because some of them had little prior knowledge about PLAs.

"My vote was based on reading all sorts of materials, meetings with people from all sides and listening to all points of view–and then determining what I thought was best for the Coast District," said Coast Board President Lorraine Prinsky, also a professor at Cal State Fullerton for 35 years. "It was quite a difficult few meetings but I believe we did what was in the best interest of Coast District."

The three-month labor controversy was exacerbated by perceptions that the trustees were trying to sneak an agreement past voters. Everett said that the secretive approach to the issue only made it easier to motivate constituents to contact the board.

"It is no surprise that Big Labor bosses wanted to keep this from becoming a public issue," Everett said. "They work so hard to keep these out of the public debate because they know that on the merits, these special interest deals are indefensible."

Union leaders also contacted the district to drum up support for the PLA. But the internal documents show that labor was completely outmatched by the two free-market groups.

By: John Hrabe

Cal Watchdog

Public ‘onslaught’ stopped union PLA bid
John Hrabe

The Coast Community College District on Wedensday shot down a request to draft an agreement that would pre-negotiate hiring terms with local unions for almost $700 million in construction projects.

The idea has split the Board of Trustees and drawn sometimes-heated debate for months.

And that acrimony could continue, according to one trustee.

Wednesday, 03 April 2013 15:04

Union-only O.C. hiring pacts raise alarms

For 33 years, electrical contractor Alfred Dennison's bread and butter have been public-works projects, mostly at public schools and community colleges.

But Dennison's company isn't unionized, and the 20 electricians and apprentices who work for Dennison Electric in Los Alamitos aren't interested in joining a labor union, Dennison said.

At least three project labor agreements have been used by county governments in recent years.

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 15:19

Editorial: Playing fair means no PLA

The Coast Community College District Board of Trustees was scheduled today to discuss a Project Labor Agreement for construction projects funded by Measure M – a $698 million bond measure passed in November for capital projects in the district's Coastline Community, Golden West and Orange Coast colleges.

A PLA is a collective-bargaining agreement that ensures projects are awarded to unionized firms. While unionized work isn't innately bad, Measure M was promoted as a taxpayer-friendly bond measure that would fund projects without such a requirement.
Article Tab: Screen shot of Coast Community College District website.
Screen shot of Coast Community College District website.

The district sought the approval of the Orange County Taxpayers Association for Measure M. OCTax does not make endorsements on school bond ballot initiatives, but does tell voters whether a proposed bond meets its 13-point criteria.

When Orange County voters approved $698 million in new borrowing for the Coast Community College District last fall, they received reassurances from the county's preeminent taxpayer organization that the measure took a responsible approach to long-term indebtedness. That helped the district garner 57 percent of the vote on Measure M on Nov. 6, just above the 55 percent threshold for passing such bonds. The bond money will be repaid with tax increases on property owners.

OC Tax doesn't endorse or oppose school bond measures, but it does offer an exhaustive 13-point list of criteria for the public to judge bond measures. The last item of OC Tax's list is: disclosure of whether the agency intends to use any project labor agreements during construction. A PLA is defined as, "when the government awards contracts for public construction projects exclusively to unionized firms."

Back in September, when the district was desperately seeking OCTax's coveted seal of approval, Reed Royalty, then-president of the organization, directly asked the district to address the PLA issue.

The Port strike is finally over. So what did we learn?

Well one lesson we learned is that any union will shut down the ports at the drop of a hat and all the other unions will support their "brothers" in organized labor.

This port-wide shutdown seems odd because time after time, I attend meetings at the Port of Long Beach, where deals are proposed to give Big Labor control over construction projects and one of the main justifications is that the Port Commissioners are receiving jobsite certainty that the workers will not strike. These deals are called Project Labor Agreements, or PLAs, and they discriminate against non-union workers.

During a community input meeting hosted by the Port of Long Beach and the West Long Beach Neighborhood Association, a young woman confronted port officials, asking them what was being done to ensure that port jobs reach Long Beach residents. She had her resume in her purse she said, and she wasn't kidding.

While new construction projects would bring even more badly needed jobs to the communities surrounding the Port of Long Beach, only about 10 percent of the jobs actually go to Long Beach residents.

Currently, port contractors are mandated to allot 30 percent of their employment to locals, but "local" doesn't necessarily mean Long Beach. The port's contractors have surpassed their required number of Los Angeles and Orange County employee hours, but labor agreements do not require a mandatory number of Long Beach employee-hours.

Wednesday, 05 October 2011 10:00

Defy Unions More Often, Gov. Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown has been predictable and unpredictable in signing and vetoing legislation this session, but has a few more important decisions to make before Sunday's deadline to decide the fate of bills still on his desk.

We were pleased the governor vetoed Assembly Bill 101, which would have forced unionization of child-care workers without a vote by those affected. To his credit, Gov. Brown criticized this union-backed bill for its magnitude and potential cost. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation. Occasionally, common sense crosses party lines.

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