Tag Archive for Assemblyman Bill Monning

Fresno Bee Calls for CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) Reform That Includes Stopping Union “Greenmail” for the Purpose of Coercing Developers to Sign Project Labor Agreements

The Fresno Bee published an editorial on Sunday, August 5, 2012 calling for Governor Jerry Brown to take a leadership role in reforming the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq.) so that unions can’t exploit it to block proposed projects until the owner signs a Project Labor Agreement giving unions monopoly control of the construction work.

See “EDITORIAL: Governor Again Moves Toward Needed CEQA Reform Steps – Changes to the State Law Should Be Vetted and Discussed by All Parties” – Fresno Bee – August 5, 2012.

Like other counties in the San Joaquin Valley (such as Kings, Tulare, and Kern counties), Fresno County has received numerous environmental comments on behalf of construction trade unions from the law firm of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo concerning proposed solar energy power plants. The ultimate objective is not saving the planet, but coercing the developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement.

The editorial states the following:

Brown recently has been dropping hints he is open to a significant reform of the law. It’s clearly needed, and we hope this isn’t another instance of him shooting off his mouth. California needs significant CEQA reform.

CEQA is being abused, and defenders of the law get defensive whenever anyone suggests it. The most pernicious abuse is known as “greenmail,” with groups threatening CEQA lawsuits to get labor concessions or other side deals.

See a Sacramento Bee article about Governor Brown’s comments: “California Gov. Jerry Brown Upsets Environmentalist Friends with His CEQA Critique” – Sacramento Bee – July 31, 2012.

Also, read the opinion piece from former California governors George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, and Gray Davis calling for “modernization” of CEQA: “Keep California Green and Golden with CEQA Reforms” – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 12, 2012.

Real Reform of CEQA Will Be an Uphill Battle

The California State Legislature has considered one bill this year to significantly reform CEQA. On January 9, 2012, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee considered Assemblywoman Shannon Grove’s Assembly Bill 598, which would have given the California Attorney General the exclusive authority to file or maintain a lawsuit alleging that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), negative declaration, or mitigated negative declaration does not comply with CEQA.

The committee rejected the bill on a 6-3 party-line vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. The hearing was an opportunity for the committee to discuss how certain parties, particularly labor unions, exploit public participation in the CEQA process to achieve objectives unrelated to environmental protection.

Assemblywoman Grove cited four specific examples of different unions (the Teamsters, the California Nurses Association, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Service Employees International Union) filing CEQA lawsuits to delay projects as leverage to extract labor concessions from businesses. She also noted that some businesses use CEQA to try to block potential competition.

Testifying on behalf of my former employer (Associated Builders and Contractors of California), I discussed how certain construction trade unions abuse CEQA as a weapon to delay projects until the owner agrees to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions. The Western Electrical Contractors Association (WECA) and the Chambers of Commerce Alliance of Ventura & Santa Barbara were the other public supporters of the bill.

Assemblywoman Linda Halderman (R-Fresno) cited a specific example of a union using CEQA to try to force a contractor to sign a Project Labor Agreement to install solar panels at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport. Assemblyman Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) adeptly exposed the Attorney General’s double standard of opposing the additional responsibilities assigned in AB 598 while remaining silent about adopting additional responsibilities through other legislation.

Legitimate environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League opposed the bill. The Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union opposed the bill in writing but did not speak at the hearing. Democrats on the committee opposed the bill, but some of them (along with the Attorney General’s office) acknowledged that some parties abuse CEQA. Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz) said nothing about how the Carpenters union used CEQA in a recent high-profile campaign to delay and ultimately derail the proposed La Bahia Hotel in Santa Cruz.

Which California Cities Will Be the First Wave to Ban Soda Sales? Predictions from the Dayton Public Policy Institute.

Regarding taxes, I agree with the five “Principles of Sound Tax Policy” advanced by the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation. One of its five principles is Neutrality, which includes these statements: “The primary purpose of taxes is to raise needed revenue, not to micromanage the economy,” and “The tax system should not favor certain industries, activities, or products.”

Perhaps the Tax Foundation should add “favor or disfavor certain industries,” as politicians and special interest groups turn to SIN TAXES as an increasingly popular way to raise revenue. In California, Proposition 29 – a new tax on cigarettes, allegedly to raise money for cancer research – was on the June 5, 2012 ballot. According to the numbers posted as of today on the Secretary of State’s web site, Prop 29 is losing by only 17,534 votes out of 4,902,114 counted.

Taxe increases on alcohol and cigarettes have a long history, but a recent development is soda taxes. And in the crusade against sugary drinks, California is falling behind New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts in the progressive vanguard.

While liberals in California are still fumbling with the strategy to use the government to change people’s soda-drinking habits, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Board of Health and Mental Hygiene have proposed to the city’s Board of Health that it institute a new code section setting maximum beverage sizes (with a $200 fine per violation) for “food service establishments.” This evening, the Cambridge City Council (in Massachusetts) approved a resolution to study a ban on sodas and sugary beverages from being served in city restaurants.

Not that California has been immune from this New Prohibition movement. In 2003, Governor Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 677 banning soda sales in elementary and middle schools, and in 2005 Governor Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 965 banning soda sales in high schools. Democrats voted YES on these bills and Republicans voted NO.

In 2011, Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz) introduced Assembly Bill 669, which would have imposed a one-cent tax per fluid ounce on every distributor for “the privilege” of distributing in California bottled sweetened beverages, concentrate, or drinks derived from that concentrate. According to the legislative analysis for AB 669, “this act is intended to discourage excessive consumption of sweetened beverages by increasing the price of these products…” The taxes and penalties (estimated at $1.66 billion for fiscal year 2012-13 and $1.72 billion for fiscal year 2013-14) would have gone to a newly-created Children’s Health Promotion Fund, meant to fund programs targeted at reducing childhood obesity.

The bill died without being voted on in committee, and it would have required a 2/3 vote in the Assembly and Senate to be approved. (Democrats hope to get 2/3 control of both houses of the legislature in the November 2012 election.) According to the legislative analysis for AB 669, three other bills have been introduced in the California legislature to tax soda – one back in the 2001-02 session and two recently in the 2009-10 session.

At California local governments, the Richmond City Council (in the San Francisco Bay Area) voted 5-2 at its May 15, 2012 meeting for a resolution to place two measures on the November 6, 2012 ballot, the first to impose a business license fee of one cent per ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage served, provided, or traded by businesses within the City of Richmond, and the second to provide advice to the city council on whether or not the taxes and penalties should be used to fund programs to prevent child obesity.

The San Francisco Chronicle claimed in an article on May 18 that Richmond would become the first municipality in the country to tax soda, if voters approve the ballot measure. It reported that soda taxes have been proposed in San Francisco and San Pablo.

MY PREDICTIONS!!!! Which California cities may soon consider adopting a soda tax or even banning food service establishments from selling sodas?

Off the top of my head, I picked a few larger causes and movements for which some cities in California have recently taken a stand.

First, any cities on the list of cities that have living wage policies, as compiled by the UC Berkeley Labor Center (affiliated with the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program):

  1. Albany
  2. Berkeley
  3. Davis
  4. Emeryville
  5. Hayward
  6. Fairfax
  7. Irvine (I don’t believe a soda ban would pass here.)
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Oakland
  10.   Pasadena
  11.   Petaluma
  12.   Port Hueneme
  13.   Richmond
  14.   Sacramento
  15.   Santa Barbara
  16.   Santa Cruz
  17.   Santa Monica
  18.   San Diego
  19.   San Fernando
  20.   San Francisco
  21.   San Jose
  22.   San Leandro
  23.   Sebastopol
  24.   Sonoma
  25.   Ventura
  26.   Watsonville
  27.   West Hollywood

(Speaking of labor issues, I wanted to identify the cities that passed resolutions in the late 2000s in support of the federal Employee Free Choice Act [card check unionization], but it looks like that campaign fizzled out before it gained a lot of momentum, and the records appear to have disappeared from the web. I did identify Los Angeles, Pacifica, Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Ana, Santa Rosa, and South San Francisco as some of the California cities that passed resolutions in support of card check.)

Second, cities that officially signed onto the “Cities for Peace” movement sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies:

  1. Arcata
  2. Berkeley
  3. Coachella
  4. Davis
  5. Los Angeles
  6. Oakland
  7. Richmond
  8. Sacramento
  9. San Francisco
  10.   Santa Barbara
  11.   Santa Cruz
  12.   Sebastopol

(I was not able to find a complete formal list on the web of California cities that opposed the war in Iraq, although I found this list that includes the usual suspects.)

Third, cities that were party to the lawsuit or filed an amicus brief to support the lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8 (ban on same sex marriage):

  1. Berkeley
  2. Cloverdale (I don’t believe a soda ban would pass here.)
  3. Fairfax
  4. Long Beach
  5. Los Angeles
  6. Oakland
  7. Palm Springs
  8. San Diego
  9. San Francisco
  10.   San Jose
  11.   Santa Cruz
  12.   Santa Monica
  13.   Santa Rosa
  14.   Sebastopol
  15.   Signal Hill

Notice that some cities appear twice or even three times on these lists. Surely these cities will not pass on the crusade against soda.