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.