Tag Archive for Bakersfield Californian

California Republicans Need to Ensure That Unions Don’t Evade California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Reform in 2013

As interest groups await State Senator Michael Rubio’s introduction of his bill to revise the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), it’s becoming clear that this reform, as introduced, will not hinder the CEQA exploitation strategies used by California Unions for Reliable Energy, regional building trades councils, and individual unions to block proposed projects until the project owners commit to labor agreements or other economic concessions.

Despite not quite having one-third control of the California State Assembly and State Senate, Republicans may be able to influence CEQA reform and add appropriate and meaningful provisions that end union abuse of CEQA for purposes other than environmental protection.

My commentary Republicans Have Opportunity to Broaden CEQA Reform was published on February 1, 2013 in www.FlashReport.org. Here is a summary of my recommendations:

An Ideal Republican Response: Analyze Before Praising and Demand Real Reform

Considering that Senator Rubio may be able to ride on his leadership in CEQA reform to future statewide office, and considering that environmental groups may convince some legislative Democrats to oppose any CEQA reform, how should Republicans use their potential political leverage in response to Senator Rubio’s specific proposal?

When he actually introduces the bill, Republicans should refrain from immediate praise and support. Instead, they should take the time to analyze it, line-by-line, to determine if such language would have been effective in discouraging notorious union CEQA threats against projects such as Gaylord Entertainment’s now-abandoned Bayfront Hotel and Conference Center in Chula Vista or the San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase 3, for which hotel and construction unions dropped CEQA objections after obtaining commitments for union monopolies in employment.

As a guide, Republicans may want to look at concepts proposed in past CEQA reform legislation such as Senate Bill 628 (2005), Senate Bill 1631 (2008), and Assembly Bill 598 (2012).

If Senator Rubio’s bill does nothing but suppress the simple CEQA complaints of elderly long-time California residents who are upset about an apartment complex proposed for their rural community, Republicans should resist the corporate pressure to vote for it anyway as pro-business “CEQA reform.”

Instead, Republicans need to ensure that Senator Rubio’s CEQA reform proposal discourages ALL parties that exploit CEQA for purposes unrelated to environmental protection, including unions that engage in “greenmail” to coerce labor agreements or other economic concessions from project applicants.

Without a coordinated caucus strategy, individual Republicans in the legislature will adopt their own strategies about planning and portraying their relevance in CEQA reform. If assessments are accurate such as the anonymous February 5, 2013 commentary in www.FlashReport.org entitled Sacramento Syndrome: Republicans Accept Their Status as the Political Hostages of Big Business, some Republicans may greet the Rubio proposal with instant enthusiasm, rather than appropriate skepticism and public attention to its shortcomings.

Opinion Pieces:

Phony Tree Huggers Are Abusing CEQA…CEQA Needs To Be Updated!!! – “Monday Morning Quarterback” bulletin of Associated General Contractors of San Diego – by Jim Ryan, Executive Vice President – February 4, 2013

Republicans Have Opportunity to Broaden CEQA Reformwww.FlashReport.org – op-ed by Kevin Dayton – February 1, 2013 (reprinted on the Families Protecting the Valley web site)

Senator Rubio’s CEQA Reform Gives Unions a Free PassSacramento Bee – letter to the editor by Kevin Dayton – January 30, 2013

Rubio’s Interest in CEQA Reform Turns Out to Be Highly SelectiveBakersfield Californian – op-ed by Kevin Korenthal of KOREN Communications – January 29, 2013 (Kevin Korenthal was a guest on the Ralph Bailey Show, KNZR 1560 AM in Bakersfield on February 7, 2013 to talk about Senator Rubio’s CEQA reform and union greenmail.)

Rubio Would Gut CEQA for Public, but Not Touch UnionsSacramento Bee – letter to the editor by Tim Bosley – January 20, 2013

Lead Democrat for “Reform” of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Never Mentions Unions as the Major Instigator of CEQA Abusewww.LaborIssuesSolutions.com – January 14, 2013

Bakersfield Becomes Latest of California’s 121 Charter Cities to Free Itself from Government-Mandated Construction Wage Rates (So-Called “Prevailing Wage”)

As I anticipated in my July 2, 2012 article Prediction: An Explosion of California Cities Freeing Themselves from Costly State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate Laws, the past three months have seen a flood of California cities seeking voter approval for charters, as well as existing charter cities establishing their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) for purely municipal construction (or private projects that receive government assistance only from the city).

These recent www.CalWatchdogs.com articles summarize what’s happening in California: Push for Charter Cities Enrages Unions and Cities Vying for Local Control on November Ballot.

Through its July 2012 decision in State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, ALF-CIO v. City of Vista, the California Supreme Court affirmed the right of California’s 121 charter cities to set their own prevailing wage policies for municipal construction and thereby free themselves from the costly, complicated, and nonsensical way that the State of California calculates state-mandated construction wage rates and defines public works.

For comprehensive information, see the 92-page guidebook Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

Bakersfield is the latest charter city to establish its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates. Hoping to sustain its economic boom and resist union-backed public policies dragging down economic growth and job creation in the state and other cities, the Bakersfield City Council voted 4-2 (with one city council member recusing himself) on October 17, 2012 to set its own policy. Here is the city’s agenda item description: Resolution exempting the City from prevailing wage requirements for locally funded public works contracts except where required by law.

Here’s a July 17, 2009 video report on KBAK Channel 29 (CBS) news featuring a comment from me about the need for the City of Bakersfield to free itself from state-mandated construction wage rates set based on collective bargaining agreements for urban areas: Prevailing Wage Wastes Tax Dollars in Bakersfield.

It was reported to me that unions brought busloads of people from Los Angeles to pack the council chamber, but the city council majority was not fooled and not intimidated. Here’s news coverage, with excerpts (bold highlights are mine):

Council Shakes Off Prevailing Wage Requirement – Bakersfield Californian – October 17, 2012

City staff also informally surveyed local contractors and were told that without the prevailing wage requirement, project costs could be cut by 3.5 percent to 30 percent

But just as many people spoke in favor of the resolution as against it, saying it would result in more efficient use of taxpayer money and wouldn’t lead to unfair construction wages or lower quality in projects.

“As a city council member, I have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and the community to utilize funds with care and strive to provide the best value possible,” Weir said in an email earlier Wednesday. “With the approval of tonight’s resolution, we will be able to build better parks with more amenities, increase the amount of street repaving, and provide other benefits without additional cost to the taxpayers. To not pursue this opportunity would be a breach of my responsibility.”

Councilmembers added a late amendment to the resolution as a step to better protect against unqualified contractors bidding for city work. Before the resolution passed, projects valued at $1 million or more required that contractors be “pre-qualified” for their suitability to do the type of project at hand before being allowed to submit a bid. With the resolution, that threshold was lowered to $250,000.

Contractors, Unions Object to City Prevailing Wage Proposal – Bakersfield Californian –  October 16, 2012

City Manager Alan Tandy said savings for the city means more work can be done. Taking an example of 20 percent savings, he said, “If we save 20 percent on resurfacing a street, we can resurface 20 percent more streets. We have more that need resurfacing than we have money to resurface.”

Council Members Tackle High Speed Rail, Prevailing Wages in Heated Debate – KGET Channel 17 (NBC) news – October 18, 2012

Congratulations to the Bakersfield City Council. Under pressure and threats, they refused to payoff the unionsCalifornia Political News and Views – October 19, 2012

Will This Charter City Movement Lead to Genuine (or Any?) Prevailing Wage Reform?

Perhaps union officials in Bakersfield are realizing that “prevailing wage” as calculated under state law and “public works” as defined under state law are so outrageous that cities are intent on escaping them. Bakersfield’s own Assemblywoman Shannon Grove introduced two thoughtful and reasonable prevailing wage reform bills (Assembly Bill 987 and Assembly Bill 988) to make state-mandated government wage rates only apply to legitimate government projects and be more reflective of actual local market rates, but union lobbyists opposed these bills and Democrats defeated them in committee in January 2012.

In fact, as I reported in my April 20, 2012 article State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate Requirements Remain on California Projects Worth $1001 to $2000, union lobbyists and Legislative Democrats wouldn’t even support Assemblywoman Grove’s Assembly Bill 1958, which made two very modest changes to the state’s prevailing wage laws. That bill increased the project cost threshold for coverage from $1000 to $2000 to match the $2000 threshold set by the federal prevailing wage law called the Davis-Bacon Act. It also indexed the threshold to the same measure of inflation that the Democrats want to use for indexing the state minimum wage.

There WILL be a day when unions no longer control the California State Legislature and the Governor’s office. In the meantime, charter cities are exercising their own right to determine their economic destiny, and many of them don’t want to follow the direction of the State of California to inevitable bankruptcy.

Sierra Club Seeks Accountability for Union Claims about Project Labor Agreement Imposed on Proposed Hydrogen Energy Power Plant in Kern County, California

Whether or not you agree with the vision and political agenda of the Sierra Club California, most people in politics would acknowledge that this group’s objections to proposed projects and activities under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq. are genuinely based on environmental concerns. In other words, they don’t seek some kind of unrelated economic payoff from the project developer under the guise of environmental activism: they ARE environmental activists.

Sometimes the Sierra Club and other legitimate environmental groups find themselves on the same side with California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) or other coalitions of unions in opposing proposed projects. Surely this is an awkward relationship, because those unions will fight viciously on environmental grounds until they get their Project Labor Agreement or other union agreement. Then they suddenly announce that their environmental issues have been adequately addressed, and they SUPPORT the project, thus turning on the real environmental groups.

The awkwardness in the relationship between labor unions and environmental groups (the so-called Blue-Green Alliance) was revealed as early as 2004, in a Sacramento Bee article (“Pressure by Labor Group Alleged” – Sacramento Bee – September 19, 2004)

Some environmentalists who once welcomed CURE’s involvement now question its motives.

Sierra Club lobbyist V. John White once told the Contra Costa Times that CURE raises “valid issues and (moves) those issues forward.”

Interviewed for this story, White said he still thinks CURE has “done some good things.” But he’s troubled that CURE attacked an Imperial County geothermal plant [the Salton Sea Unit 6 Geothermal Power Plant, later called the Black Rock 1, 2, and 3 Geothermal Power Project – ed.] for which he has lobbied, a project designed to produce renewable energy from underground reservoirs of steam.

“They added costs and significantly delayed it, and the reasons had little to do with the environment,” White said.

Sierra Club Questions Claims of Project Labor Agreement Imposed on Proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) Power Plant

The Sierra Club has long been concerned about the proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) Power Plant, what it calls a “complicated and controversial project” near Buttonwillow in rural Kern County. This project has received extra attention because of up to $408 million in funding authorized for the project through the U.S. Department of Energy – much of it from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), also known as the Obama stimulus package, or H.R. 1 from 2009. The www.Recovery.gov web site has more details about the $90 million in stimulus money already spent on Hydrogen Energy California (HECA), but as stated in this April 22, 2011 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order on Hydrogen Energy California (HECA):

Hydrogen argues that the United States Department of Energy (DOE) has recognized the project’s importance to the nation and California by providing substantial financial assistance. According to Hydrogen, its project was awarded $308 million in financial assistance on September 28, 2009, in connection with DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative and an additional $100 million in financial assistance was added by DOE in September 2010.

Originally the project was planned by a joint venture of British Petroleum (BP) and Rio Tinto, but in 2011 the project was transfered to SCS Energy, based in Concord, Massachusetts (a socio-economic world away from Buttonwillow). In 2012, the Sierra Club became active in exercising its status as an approved intervenor in the California Energy Commission’s licensing process for the proposed Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) power plant. It submitted a letter dated August 2, 2012 to the California Energy Commission questioning numerous aspects of the proposed project and demanding more information.

One of the data requests in the Sierra Club’s August 2 letter on HECA to the California Energy Commission (which must be answered by the applicant for the project approval) questions the claims made about local hiring and employment under the Project Labor Agreement that the project’s prime contractor, Fluor Corporation, claims to have signed with the national Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and the Kern, Inyo, Mono Counties Building Trades Council.

Project supporters held a press conference with union officials in Buttonwillow on May 31, 2012 to tout the alleged benefits of the Project Labor Agreement. An article in the Bakersfield Californian posted on May 31, 2012 (“Hydrogen Plant Agrees to Union Labor“) reported on the Project Labor Agreement but noted a few less savory aspects of the agreement:

The agreement gives Hydrogen Energy California significant new support as it looks to state agencies for approval. It also takes HECA’s owner, Massachusetts-based SCS Energy, a step further than the previous partners, BP and Rio Tinto, which a project spokeswoman said were in talks with construction unions but never formalized a labor agreement.

A spokesman for the trade group Associated Builders & Contractors Inc. [of Central California in Bakersfield – ed.], Russell Johnson, said the labor agreement was unfortunate because it could raise the project’s costs and “shut out” the 85 percent of California construction firms that are not union shops.

The article did not mention that California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) had become an intervenor in the California Energy Commission’s licensing procedure for HECA. Nor did it mention CURE’s reputed history of blocking or delaying approval of proposed power plants using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) until the developer or its agent signed a Project Labor Agreement. As you would expect, California Unions for Reliable Energy has not expressed any concerns about the environmental impact of this 400 megawatt project – that’s so strange considering how adamantly CURE objects to relatively innocuous small solar projects in the San Joaquin Valley!

Obviously the Sierra Club is skeptical about the union propaganda about “local hiring” concerning Project Labor Agreements for energy generation facilities in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Here is the excerpt from its August 2, 2012 letter, which speaks for itself:

Background: CONSTRUCTION TRAFFIC TRAVEL DISTANCES

The AFC, p. 5.1-9, states that trip distances for estimating off-site construction emissions were based on the assumption that workers and delivery trucks are traveling within Kern County. Appendix E-2, p. 35, shows that the AFC assumes off-site roundtrip distances worker commuting vehicles, delivery trucks, and import fill trucks of between 38.0 to 39.8 miles, i.e., it assumes that all vehicles operate only within a radius of less than 20 miles around the Project site. The AFC does not provide any support for these assumptions. A 20-mile roundtrip distance appears unrealistically short for both the construction workforce and the delivery/fill import vehicles and may therefore underestimate emissions associated with vehicle travel.

Data Requests:

25. According to the AFC, p. 5.8-15, the average size of the workforce over the approximately 49-month construction and commissioning period would be 1,159 workers (including construction workers and contractor staff); the peak month of construction would require 2,090 craft workers (on site) and 371 contractor staff. It appears unlikely that a sufficiently skilled construction labor force would be available in Kern County within a 20 mile radius of the Project site. Further, based on the 1982 report Socioeconomic Impacts of Power Plants by the Electric Power Research Institute, construction workers will commute as much as 60 miles daily to construction sites from their homes rather than relocate, and considerably further on a weekly basis. This indicates that the construction workforce would likely come from farther than 20 miles from the Project site. Elsewhere, the AFC states that approximately 60 percent of the workforce is expected to be hired from within Kern County but that it is possible that some portion of the labor force will be drawn from Los Angeles County. (AFC, pp. 5.8-3, -16 and -18.) In addition, HECA has recently signed a project labor agreement (“PLA”) with the National Building and Construction Trades Department, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, and the Kern, Inyo, and Mono Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. Thus, some of the construction workforce may come from Inyo and Mono Counties. The southern border of Mono County is more than 150 miles from the Project site.

a) Please provide a copy of the PLA and/or indicate whether the PLA contains a breakdown for the origin of the construction workforce by county.

b) Please provide a breakdown of the available construction labor workforce by county.

c) Please identify typical travel distances for the construction workforce by county.

d) Please discuss whether you anticipate that construction workers would commute from their residence on a daily or weekly basis or seek lodging closer to the Project site.

e) Please revise emission estimates for worker vehicle travel during Project construction according to your responses above.

Now more of the truth will come out about the union workforce locked in to build this power plant.

It Didn’t Take the First Time: Governor Brown Signs Union Bill #2 to Discourage Voters and City Councils from Banning Project Labor Agreements

Governor Jerry Brown apparently didn’t have any qualms about enacting a second bill to pressure California’s charter cities into abandoning their Fair and Open Competition policies that prohibit those cities from entering into contracts that require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with unions. On April 26, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 829 into law – only a few days after the bill passed the California State Legislature and only two months after Senator Michael Rubio (D-Bakersfield) completely changed the bill to financially punish charter cities that enact Fair and Open Competition policies.

It’s amazing how quickly the state government moves when the unions want something! Nothing was going to stop this bill, just like nothing stopped Senate Bill 922 last year to nullify Project Labor Agreement bans enacted by voters and elected representatives in counties and general law cities.

The bill adds Section 2503 to the Public Contract Code:

If a charter provision, initiative, or ordinance of a charter city prohibits, limits, or constrains in any way the governing board’s authority or discretion to adopt, require, or utilize a project labor agreement that includes all the taxpayer protection provisions of Section 2500 for some or all of the construction projects to be awarded by the city, then state funding or financial assistance shall not be used to support any construction projects awarded by the city. This section shall not be applicable until January 1, 2015, for charter cities in which a charter provision, initiative, or ordinance in effect prior to November 1, 2011, would disqualify a construction project from receiving state funding or financial assistance.

I will speculate (along with many other people) that Senate Bill 829 was created, whipped through the legislative process, and signed into law so that unions could use it as a campaign message in trying to convince voters in the City of San Diego to vote on June 5 against Proposition A, a ballot measure to prohibit the City of San Diego from entering into contracts that require construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions.

News Media Coverage:

Labor-Friendly Contract Option Backed by Brown – San Diego Union-Tribune – April 27, 2012 (this was a front page story)

DeMaio Criticizes Fletcher’s Absence on Labor Vote – San Diego Union-Tribune – April 28, 2012

San Diego’s Proposition A Clouded By Signing Of State Bill – KPBS – April 26, 2012

Assemblyman David Valadao: We Need to Protect Local Control of Local Projects – Bakersfield Californian (op-ed) – April 28, 2012

And the unabashedly “progressive” Ocean Beach Rag blog (in San Diego) has produced its first commentary critical of Proposition A: First Cuppa Coffee – Monday, April 16, 2012: Don’t Cry for Him San Diego Edition.

See my earlier posts on Senate Bill 829:

Unions Use Power Over California Legislature to Suppress Local Government Contracting Authority and Push for Project Labor Agreements

Six Legislators Defend the Right of California Cities to Enact Policies Guaranteeing Fair and Open Competition for Construction Contracts

Shameful! Democrats Reject Assemblywoman Shannon Grove’s Bill to Codify Court Decision Allowing Public Access to Certain Legislative Records

I’m 3 for 3 on guessing the outcome of the triad of bills introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) to reform the operations of the California State Legislature. On April 26, the Assembly Rules Committee rejected Assembly Bill 1946 on a 5-4 vote, with five Democrats opposed, four Republicans in support, and two Democrats not voting.

The bill was supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Dayton Public Policy Institute, a project of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC. (See my support letter here.) I was not able to attend the committee hearing to speak as a witness for AB 1946 because I was in Orange County on other business at that time.

This bill would have codified the December 2, 2011 Sacramento County Superior Court decision in Los Angeles Times Communications LLC v California Legislature (Case Number: 34-2011-80000929). It would have added to state law a statement of the court that “The language of the Open Records Act at issue here reflects a strong presumption in favor of public access to legislative records.” AB 1946 also would have added to state law the court’s statement that records that “reflect how Assembly money is budgeted and spent” are public records. According to the court, these records “indisputably contain information relating to the conduct of the public’s business” which is “critical to an understanding of the Legislature’s operations.”

The committee’s bill analysis for AB 1946 was essentially useless, although it suggested a clarification to the bill language that alluded to the practice of moving staff around from committees to personal offices to avoid budget restrictions.

News Media Coverage:

Assembly Kills Bill to Require Disclosure of Member Budgets – Sacramento Bee – April 26, 2012

Assembly Scuttles Bill to Make Budget Disclosure Permanent – Sacramento Bee – April 27, 2012

Assembly Errs in Keeping Its Process Closed – Bakersfield Californian (editorial) – April 30, 2012

Sacramento, A Place of No Surprises – Santa Maria Times (editorial) – May 1, 2012

Here’s a powerful excerpt from the Bakersfield Californian editorial:

One of the bills that died was an attempt by Bakersfield Assemblywoman Shannon Grove to stipulate in the Legislative Open Records Act that member-by-member budgets for individual lawmakers and their offices are public record. Grove’s bill came in response to a court decision in which a judge ruled legislative budgets are public records despite the Legislature’s long insistence otherwise. The Democratic-led committee said the judge’s decision was enough; the bill wasn’t necessary.

But why not codify the judge’s decision into law? The Legislative Open Records Act has long been regarded as a joke among open government experts and Grove’s bill could have helped bolster its legitimacy. It’s hard to see any political motivation on Grove’s part here, other than her well-documented disdain for big government and willingness to shine the light on those who take their duties as stewards of the public trust lightly. Her bill deserved more consideration and it’s a shame it was given short-shrift.

And an excerpt from the Santa Maria Times editorial:

The author of the disclosure bill, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, a Bakersfield Republican, admitted she filed the legislation knowing it had little chance of survival — which tells you a lot about how little confidence she had in her colleagues’ ability or willingness to be honest about how they spend your tax dollars.

It’s interesting to note that Assemblywoman Grove, who tried to launch the legislation mentioned above to require full financial disclosure, is also helping the group trying to promote the part-time Legislature notion. Well, at least we know one person in Sacramento is focused on making a better government.