Conflict over union wages could have cost city many millions
January 8, 2014
DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO — State officials confirmed Thursday that San Diego averted a potential financial crisis last fall by declaring that the city can make special wage agreements with labor groups on certain construction projects.
City officials expressed confidence in October that the declaration, approved unanimously by the City Council, would preserve their eligibility for millions in state funding.
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.
Sure, lawsuits over California's main environmental quality law can force developers to put solar panels on their big-box stores or plant hundreds of trees to offset the greenhouse gasses their projects produce.
But that's not where the real outrage over the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, comes from. The real trigger: the use of the state's landmark environmental law as leverage on issues that seem to have nothing to do with the environment.
Here's what those cases look like: It's the CEQA lawsuit in San Jose filed by Andy's BP gas station to keep the Moe's Stop station across the street from adding three new pumps. It's the threat of a CEQA lawsuit against a proposed Convention Center expansion from San Diego's largest labor group, which is later dropped once the contractor agrees to a labor-friendly local hire deal. It's the CEQA lawsuits over developments in Kensington and Mission Bay spurred by arguments that the projects did lots of bad things, but direct harm to the environment wasn't one of them.
Developers looking for their next iconic project can focus their gaze on the South Bay, as the city of Chula Vista and Port of San Diego soon will release a request for qualifications for a convention center and resort hotel.
Starting June 23, those interested in designing and building the planned 415,000-square-foot convention center and 1,400- to 1,600-room hotel can submit their qualifications to the port.
"We are looking for developers that can demonstrate their skills and ability to finance, design and construct a large-scale, environmentally sustainable convention-oriented destination hotel and resort," said Tanya Castaneda, spokesperson with the Port of San Diego.
Development teams are asked to visit the port's bid solicitation website to register and download all documents and background information related to the solicitation and qualifications submittal process.
A federal judge on May 28 ruled in favor of a developer and the U.S. Navy, saying their plans to redevelop a 14.7-acre, four-block waterfront site in downtown San Diego can proceed without further environmental review.
The California Coastal Commission had sued the Navy and Manchester Pacific Gateway over the defendants' intent to the redevelop the Navy Broadway Complex, also known as Pacific Gateway, a 3 million-square-foot, $1.3 billion project.
The case involved a redevelopment plan that began in the late 1980s, for which the Navy conducted an environmental impact assessment in 1990 that preceded a development agreement in 1992. Since then, plans were put on hold and a round of military base closures prompted the Navy to modify its plans and move to implement them, including choosing Manchester in 2006 as its redevelopment partner. In late 2006, however, the Coastal Commission told the Navy that it considered the changes to the redevelopment plan significant enough to require another environmental assessment.