STATEWIDE NEWS

 

Although we’ve been pretty much as outspoken as one can be – given this supposedly is not our passion – we haven’t been outspoken enough. In spite of the fact we believe in the ideals of unions, and their courageous legacy, we have criticized the pernicious influence of public sector unions over and over again, most recently earlier today in a piece entitled “CEQA is Hijacked” where we reported on a recent Sacramento Bee editorial taking the unusual step of exposing how unions use environmental laws to stop development of environmentally beneficial projects.

There's a thriving perennial in the garden of last-minute legislation: the special CEQA exemption for sports venues.

Los Angeles twice secured special treatment for proposed NFL stadiums. The 49ers got an exemption for their new stadium in Santa Clara. This year's request comes from Sacramento, which is planning a new arena for its NBA team.

Those bills, and others like them, show that CEQA is ripe for reform. Rather than carving out special exemptions, lawmakers ought to craft a statewide solution.

CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, requires assessments of potential environmental impacts for public and private projects and, wherever possible, mitigation of those impacts. The law, enacted in 1970, serves a noble purpose. But it's routinely abused.

The California Supreme Court turned down the request to review the High-Speed Rail case. Is it the end of the world for the opponents of the project? Short answer, no.

Judge Quentin Kopp predicted last month that the State Supreme Court would deny review at this time. He thought it was premature since the Appellate court allowed the Authority to delay compliance of very specific stipulations of Prop 1A at the time of the second funding plan just before spending bond funds. After learning of the court’s decision, Kopp’s new prediction is the Supreme Court will take the case later if actions were challenged at the time of the second funding plan.

On June 3, 2014, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved a plan, which included $500,000 in local funding, to construct a $25 million pipeline between the Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio reservoirs that will allow more storage of water for the Salinas Valley. The board took the vote and made the decision locally. Sadly, state lawmakers are attempting to force bad policy on local leaders in an unprecedented move to pay off organized labor unions.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who represents the Salinas Valley, gutted the contents of an unrelated bill, AB 155, and replaced them with a mandate requiring a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the design-build pipeline project. Highly controversial PLAs raise project costs by reducing the bidding pool, giving union hiring halls control over all workers, banning non-union apprentices, and forcing non-union workers to send dues and all benefit payments to unions. As a result, the majority of contractors usually refuse to bid on the work which results in cost increases to taxpayers by as much as 13-15 percent.

Beyond the contracting issues, the story of AB 155 is much more troublesome for local elected officials who are accountable to constituents for leadership and prudent financial management. This is the first California bill to mandate a Project Labor Agreement on ANY project, state or local. If it passes, we can expect Sacramento politicians to intervene on one local issue after another at the behest of labor unions.

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.

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

Assembly Bill 155, a bill about payroll records quickly moving through the Legislature, was gutted and amended on June 9 to suddenly become a bill requiringa Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on all construction work done on the proposed $25 million Interlake Tunnel Project to connect Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio by an underground tunnel or pipeline.

This is the first time a PLA mandate has come from the state level. Historically, PLAs have always been debated in public at the local government level. Even Gov. Jerry Brown agrees that key, contested issues like this one need to be debated on all sides (and stated so in SB 922's signing message).So the question becomes, why hasn't there been a debate or mention of the PLA on Monterey County Water Resources Agency agendas? In addition, AB 155 has not gone through the proper channels of the Monterey County Legislative Committee, whose role is to review and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors positions on legislative issues impacting Monterey County.

PLAs end open, fair and competitive bidding on public work projects, discouraging the vast majority of contractors (over 80 percent) the opportunity to bid on work. Studies indicate that projects cost an additional 13-15 percent when built under a PLA. That could increase the Interlake Tunnel Project by an additional $3.75 million.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — A San Rafael-based group that opposes California's high-speed rail project filed a lawsuit Monday contesting the state's plan to fund it with money from a greenhouse gas emissions program, arguing that building the $68 billion bullet train would create more pollution than it would reduce for at least a decade.

The Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund filed the lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court against the California Air Resources Board, the state agency responsible for ensuring California meets the emissions reduction targets in its landmark global warming law, AB32.

The suit alleges the board downplayed the harmful effects on the environment and exaggerated the potential environmental benefits of high-speed rail in its scoping plan, allowing the state to claim the bullet train will help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

As our economy continues to struggle to maintain momentum and consistently create jobs, the construction industry remains a source of untapped potential.

For generations, the construction industry has provided excellent career opportunities for millions of American workers. Unlike other industries, construction cannot offshore or outsource its jobs, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the construction industry's need for workers will grow twice as fast as the average for all industries. This growth, combined with an aging workforce, is projected to create a shortage of 1.6 million workers by 2022. To put this into perspective, the 1.6 million jobs projected to be available in the construction industry alone is nearly double the number of jobs created across all industries so far in 2014.

Construction provides career opportunities for Americans from all walks of life, including high school graduates, those searching for a career change and veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce. However, to qualify for these jobs, workers need high-quality and flexible skills training. Effective, targeted and accessible workforce training programs are essential to preparing new workers while also providing career development opportunities for current craft professionals.

The ongoing tug-of-war between rail backers and opponents to the project has led to delays in California's plan to build a high speed rail. Since its voter-back initiative, Proposition 1A, was passed back in 2008, the California High Speed Rail project has encountered numerous bumps in the road. The latest was the appeal denied by the Third District Court of Appeals regarding pending lawsuits between CHSRA and Kings County farmers. Now, the courts continue to delay the project because CHSRA is implementing a plan much different than the one voters approved back in 2008. Issues have a risen regarding CHSRA's financial plan, lengthened travel times and higher operating subsidies. Courts have already held that the current financial plan is not in accordance with the terms of Prop 1A.

Senator Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, argues that a majority of California voters are now opposed to the high speed rail. Senator Vidak attempted to get 4 bills passed in hopes of derailing the project. This first bill, SB 901, was an attempt to get a referendum on the November 2014 ballot to prohibit sales of additional bonds to fund the project. SB 902 would have required CHSRA to disclose its funding sources before the use of eminent domain to acquire property and required a higher compensation for any properties taken through eminent domain. In Fresno, the CHSRA has already begun the eminent domain process for property needed for new train stations; however, it is unclear whether CHSRA has enough funds to complete its initial operating segment. SB 903 would have required CHSRA to reimburse counties for lost tax revenue because of the acquisition of private properties. Finally, SB 904 would have required officials and contractors of the project to identify themselves to property owners prior to pre-condemnation entry for eminent domain purposes.

All 4 bills were rejected by the Senate Transportation and Housing committee. Legislators have been reluctant to allow California voters to re-vote on the high speed rail project. The Senate committee stated "while voters today may not approve...Californians will be thankful the state continued to pursue it." Unfortunately, these Legislators seem to have forgotten that they are in office to represent the will of the people they serve- not to dictate to the people what their will should be.

Page 1 of 12