Morning View Studios in Dixon: A Union Project Labor Agreement on an Imaginary Project?

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Northern California was stunned last weekend when the Sacramento Bee published an extensive investigative report about the developer of Morning View Studios, a proposed $2.8 billion film studio planned for 300 acres, or maybe even 548 acres, in and near the City of Dixon, in Solano County, west of Sacramento. Reading the June 2, 2013 report (Hollywood Coming to Dixon? Executive’s Financial Troubles Raise Questions) is a painful experience if you empathize with the people who were apparently lured or duped into a scheme that was too good to be true.

The report and related news articles have inspired numerous reader comments referring to the plot of the musical The Music Man or to TV shows in which con artists routinely swoop into small towns to try to victimize the local citizenry. One June 2 armchair psychiatrist, going by the moniker WALLYSMOM, suggested the article evoked “a picture perfect example of someone with Histrionic Personality Disorder with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” (Refer to the DSM for more details.)

I’ve been watching this project because it has been aggressively promoted by officials with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local No. 180, which has jurisdiction in Solano and Napa Counties. Supposedly there was a Project Labor Agreement for the construction of Morning View Studios. (Who negotiated and signed it?)

This is not the first time the IBEW Local 180 has been caught in a large proposed project in Dixon that collapsed in the end. In November 2004, Mike Smith (Michael C. Smith), a business development official with the IBEW Local 180, was elected to the Dixon City Council. During his one term in office, a now-bankrupt Canadian company called Magna Entertainment Corporation proposed a horse racetrack with associated hotel and retail development in Dixon. Unions supported the development after the company committed to sign a Project Labor Agreement for the $250 million Dixon Downs development, and the city council approved the project 4-1. Dixon residents qualified a ballot referendum to stop the project, and in April 2007, 53% of the 5,340 voters overturned the city council votes and ended the dream.

See below for the two educational mailers sent from the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction and what is now the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) to the residents of Dixon informing them about the Project Labor Agreement for Dixon Downs and encouraging them to start asking questions about the behind-the-scenes deal. A press release explains the mailers.

In the early 2010s, a woman claiming to represent big-money entertainment interests proposed building a film studio in Dixon, without need of public subsidies. The economic opportunities for this project obviously got local people very excited, including IBEW Local 180 officials. A major unionized California general contractor, Rudolph & Sletten, became involved as the chosen construction company for the massive project. At the heart of this effort was the aspiration of the IBEW Local 180 leadership that the union would get guaranteed construction work with a Project Labor Agreement and studio work with a Master Labor Agreement.

Here’s the union angle as Morning View Studios moved forward, with key points highlighted in red:

1. IBEW Local 180 Newsletter September-October 2012

Dan Broadwater, Business Manager: I have been working with Morning View Studios for over two years now to bring a facility to our jurisdiction…One of the concerns is the additional cost of a City Planner to process the documentation and follow through the entitlement process. Through our Market Recovery program and the buy in from our Nor Cal NECA partnership, we will assist the City of Dixon in funding the cost of a Planner with a wage and benefit package to get this done. This along with contributions from our Building Trades affiliates to assist with this cost will pay dividends for years to come on not only the new construction but the set work that will be on going at the studios.

It appears a Labor-Management Cooperation Committee was going to reimburse the City of Dixon for the staff costs of preparing this project. These union-affiliated committees are obscure; go to www.LaborManagementCooperationAct.com for an explanation. “Nor Cal NECA” refers to the Northern California Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, a trade association for unionized electrical contractors.

I submitted a public records request about this to the City of Dixon in September 2012 and received a response in February 2013 stating there weren’t any records concerning such a transaction.

2. IBEW Local 180 Newsletter November-December 2012

Morning View Studios in Dixon

Things were moving along great before this Measure N hit Morning View. Deals were struck with the landowners that covered 800 acres of land. The City provided a letter to fast track and streamline the process. Financing is in place, the PLA is done and we are ready to move forward. We were helping Morning View through the approval process so things did not get “hung up”. Then bam, we hit the wall and need your help like never before. This project is currently at a stand still due to Measure N. Measure N kills business and thus jobs; that is an understatement….

Our role currently is to support the No on Measure N campaign and we desperately need members’ support. We were asked to help walk precincts in Dixon, only two brothers helped. Folks, Morning View has signed a PLA to build AND operate this studio with 100% UNION people. We are talking about 1000 construction jobs short-term (2 years) and 300 full-time long-term jobs. Can we get you to help a brother out?

If we do not step up and show human support and kill Measure N, we lose big. Not only the project, but the fact our word of “support” is worthless. It pains me to be that direct but the Local’s reputation is on the line…

January 24, 2013 Morning View Film Studio Update – Mike Smith’s Blog – Dixon California Patch

Comment posted by Mike Smith in response to a critical comment about his blog post:

Both people with and without union membership will have an opportunity to work on the construction of the project. Many private businesses will be supportive vendors to the studio. But to work for the studio – you have to be union – that is what Morning View requires. We have had nonmembers working on PLA’s in the past – membership is not a requirement to get a job through the IBEW and many other unions. Building green requires sourcing materials and labor as close to a project as possible. To assure this, you use specifications for materials and a PLA for labor. A new blog on who will use the studio is coming soon. Mike Smith

The June 2, 2013 Sacramento Bee article exposing the background of the studio developer noted the heavy involvement of the IBEW Local 180:

Among the project’s most ardent supporters in Solano County have been officials with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. On local websites, and at public meetings, union leaders have extolled the virtues of the project and urged public support.

Robert W. Naylor, Carpenter’s Morning View attorney and a former state legislator, recently told The Bee that the IBEW is “prepared to make a major investment of their pension fund” into the movie studio project.

Dan Broadwater, business manager of IBEW Local 180, referred calls to Naylor.

Did the IBEW or NECA-IBEW invest anything in the end? Was there really a Project Labor Agreement? Will everything end up OK, as it did in The Music Man?

Mailers Informing the Residents of the City of Dixon about the Project Labor Agreement on the Proposed Dixon Downs Development of Magna Entertainment Corporation

Read the press release explaining the 2007 Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement mailers.

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #1 2007 Front

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #1 2007 Back

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #2 2007 Front

Dixon Downs Project Labor Agreement Mailer #2 2007 Back

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