Tag Archive for California Unions for Reliable Energy

Unions Use California’s Environmental Laws to Hinder Solar Energy Projects

Here is extensive primary source evidence to show that construction trade unions are hindering solar energy projects in California with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Power Plant Site Certification Program of the Warren-Alquist Act.

Here is a compilation of union involvement with proposed solar thermal power projects:

Did Unions Hasten Demise of California’s Solar Thermal Power Plants? – www.UnionWatch.org – July 16, 2013

Here is a compilation of union involvement with proposed solar photovoltaic power projects:

Unions Extensively Interfere with California Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant Permitting – www.UnionWatch.org – July 20, 2013

I asserted in an October 8, 2007 opinion piece in the Los Angeles Business Journal (Union Staffing Dims Market for Solar Panels) that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union “is the first and only organization in California to find staggering environmental problems with solar power. If the union can’t monopolize the construction of solar facilities it seeks to obstruct solar energy opportunities for everyone else.”

In the opinion piece, I cite an example from June 2007 of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) filing requests as an official “intervenor” for the proposed Victorville 2 Solar Hybrid Power Plant for the applicant to provide massive amounts of data to the California Energy Commission. This was the first of 16 proposed large solar thermal power projects in California following the enactment of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

I also cite an early example from July 2007 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 100 trying to use the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block approval of a proposed solar photovoltaic project at Fresno International Airport. This was among the first of the rush of proposed solar PV power projects following the enactment of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

Have unions continued to oppose solar power projects since then? Absolutely. My assertion about unions (especially the IBEW) acting as a chief obstacle to solar power has been confirmed.

I concluded my 2007 op-ed by declaring that state legislators and other elected officials should not allow the IBEW to interfere with the permitting of solar projects for the purpose of winning Project Labor Agreements or other union guarantees for construction and maintenance. Regrettably, the practice has continued without any serious legislative or regulatory efforts to restrict it.

Unions “Seeking Leverage for a Project Labor Agreement” on Construction of Geothermal Energy Plants in California

Construction trade unions in California are deploying their full arsenal of strategies under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block the construction and operation of geothermal energy generating facilities by Ormat Technologies, a “leading geothermal company and the only vertically-integrated company in the geothermal and recovered energy power business.”

It’s another example of union “greenmail” to exploit environmental laws in pursuit of labor agreements and other economic concessions unrelated to environmental protection.

As stated by Ormat Technologies on page 1 of its response to a 2011 complaint to the California Energy Commission from California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE), the unions are “seeking leverage for a project labor agreement.” Or as stated by its representative at a subsequent September 26, 2011 hearing of the California Energy Commission, “‘Let me guess. Ormat doesn’t have a Project Labor Agreement.’ That’s why we’re here.”

Here are some of the recent projects in which construction unions have attempted to interfere with Ormat Technologies’ proposed and operating geothermal energy generation plants.

Hudson Ranch II Geothermal Plant – Imperial County

As reported in the minutes of the Imperial County Planning Commission meeting on September 12, 2012, the law firm of Lozeau Drury submitted a “huge comment letter…five minutes before the meeting” on behalf of the Laborers Union (LIUNA) Local No. 1184 objecting to the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Hudson Ranch II Geothermal Plant. After the Planning Commission (and county staff) approved the project, the union appealed the decision to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, which rejected the appeal and approved the project. 

News Coverage of Union Environmental Objections:

County Planning Commission Approves Hudson Ranch II Geothermal PlantImperial Valley Press – September 12, 2012

Christina Caro, attorney for the Laborers International Union of North America came in opposition of the project. “Injection of geothermal brine has the potential to cause seismic activities,” she said. The project can also cause discomfort to local communities, animals such as horses and cattle, said Caro while alleging that mitigation was insufficient…

LIUNA’s comments were addressed as well, first by commissioner Dennis Bergh who said no evidence correlating brine extraction and seismic activity has been recorded. Willis also defended the EIR. “This document (EIR) does address each one of (the) issues and meets (California Environmental Quality Act) adequacy,” she said.

Hudson Ranch II Geothermal Plant ApprovedImperial Valley Press – October 24, 2012

Hudson Ranch II, a 49-megawatt geothermal plant set for Niland, was approved for development despite an appeal from the Laborers International Union of North America…

Both plants are expected to create dozens of jobs and bring millions of dollars in revenue to the county. And yet, the laborers’ union and two Imperial County residents appealed to the Planning Commission what they said were various environmental issues such as hydrology, loss of agricultural land and perhaps most important, compliance to the California Environmental Quality Act.

The laborers’ union is in support of renewable energy projects, union attorney Christina Caro said. However, she said her clients support those projects as long as they are done in an environmentally responsible manner.

Casa Diablo IV Development Project – Mono County

As I reported in my blog post Environmental Lawyers Make Long Trek to Mono County to Block Geothermal Energy Projects so Unions Can Get a Project Labor AgreementCalifornia Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and the Laborers Union (LIUNA) Local No. 783 objected on environmental grounds in the fall of 2012 to construction of a geothermal power plant in Mono County. CURE was represented by the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, and the Laborers Union is represented (now through a lawsuit, Concerned Bishop Residents v. County of Mono) by the law firm of Lozeau Drury.

News Coverage of Union Environmental Objections:

County Gives Thumbs Up to Geothermal Plant Expansion – Mammoth Times – November 16, 2012

The Mono County Board of Supervisors soundly rejected an appeal of a plan to expand the Casa Diablo geothermal plant Tuesday, after two out of area (mostly) union advocacy groups appealed the project during an almost five-hour public hearing. It’s the second time the groups have been in Mono County in the past few months…

The supervisors and county staff, one after the other, threw water on the groups’ claims that the environmental analysis done by the county was not adequate.

“It’s illuminating to me that the air district didn’t have a problem with this, yet you do,” said Supervisor Larry Johnston, when one group, called Californians For Reliable Energy, or CURE, said the expansion of the plant would create hazardous ozone pollution.

Union Advocacy Group Sues Over Geothermal Plant ProjectMammoth TimesJanuary 11, 2013

The lawsuit follows hard on the heels of several other actions from LIUNA and another union advocacy group called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). The two groups have been involved in commenting on and/or challenging the environmental review planning process for the past few years, making extensive comments about the inadequacy of the EIR, and appealing the Mono County Planning Commission’s and, the Mono County Board of Supervisor’s approval of the project.

The county has been critical of the tactics of the union groups in the past, calling it “greenmail,” wherein a group uses the pretext of environmental concerns about a proposed renewable energy project to try to gain construction work for its union members.

North Brawley and East Brawley Geothermal Developments – Imperial County (Ormat Technologies)

On June 28, 2011, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted a “Verified Complaint and Request for Investigation” on behalf of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) to the California Energy Commission. The complaint claimed that Ormat Technologies was trying to evade the licensing jurisdiction of the California Energy Commission by breaking up a single geothermal development into smaller pieces that fall below the 50 megwatt minimum threshold for CEC involvement. The North Brawley project was already built and operating when this complaint was filed, and the East Brawley project had been in the permitting process in Imperial County for three years.

The California Energy Commission rejected the complaint and then rejected a petition for reconsideration. See the full CEC docket for this proceeding: Complaint against Ormat Nevada, Inc. by California Unions for Reliable Energy.

CURE sued the California Energy Commission in Alameda County Superior Court to vacate its decision. After a court hearing in August and another in November, the court ruled against California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) on November 15, 2012.

The case is California Unions for Reliable Energy v. State of California State Energy Resources (the official name of the California Energy Commission), Ormat Nevada, Inc. as Real Party in Interest, case number RG12610669. Here’s a summary of the case from Ormat Technologies’ quarterly report for the first quarter of 2012 filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

On January 4, 2012, the California Unions for Reliable Energy (“CURE”) filed a petition in the Alameda Superior Court, naming the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) and the Company as defendant and real party in interest, respectively. The petition asks the Court to order the CEC to vacate its decision which denied, with prejudice, the complaint filed by CURE against the Company with the CEC. The CURE complaint alleged that the Company’s North Brawley project and East Brawley project both exceed the CEC’s 50 MW jurisdictional threshold and therefore are subject to the CEC licensing authority rather than the Imperial County licensing authority. In addition, the CURE petition asks the Court to investigate and halt any ongoing violation of the Warren Alquist Act by the Company, and to award CURE attorney’s fees and costs. As to North Brawley, CURE alleges that the CEC decision violated the Warren Alquist Act because it failed to consider provisions of the County permit for North Brawley, which CURE contends authorizes the Company to build a generating facility with a number of Ormat Energy Converters (“OECs”) capable of generating more than 50 MW. As to East Brawley, CURE alleges that the CEC decision violated the Warren Alquist Act because it failed to consider the conditional use permit application for East Brawley, which CURE contends shows that the Company requested authorization to build a facility with a number of OECs capable of generating more than 50 MW.

The Company believes that the petition is without merit and intends to respond and take necessary legal action to dismiss the proceedings. The parties have filed briefs in the proceeding, and the matter is set for hearing. The filing of the petition in and of itself does not have any immediate adverse implications for the North Brawley or East Brawley projects and the Company continues to operate the North Brawley project in the ordinary course of business and is proceeding with its development work on the East Brawley project.

So Ormat Technologies (and the California Energy Commission and Imperial County) won this round, but the union harassment using environmental laws will continue.

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

Riverside Press-Enterprise Publishes My Commentary: Don’t Blame Wal-Mart for Fighting CEQA Abuse

The Sunday, December 2, 2012 Riverside Press-Enterprise published my opinion piece Don’t Blame Wal-Mart for Fighting CEQA Abuse. It is a response to a Riverside Press Enterprise editorial from November 25, 2012, Big-Box Browbeating, which I felt lacked an important perspective: labor unions and other groups routinely exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to suppress potential competition or to coerce labor agreements or other payoffs from developers (a practice known as “greenmail”).

On October 30, 2012, a California appeals court ruled in Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance v. Superior Court of Tuolumne County (Wal-Mart and the City of Sonora, Real Parties in Interest) that a city cannot bypass CEQA and approve a project if voters qualify a ballot measure to approve the project.

The Sonora Planning Commission and the Sonora City Council didn’t seem to have objections to Wal-Mart in their town. “The legal battle slowing down Wal-Mart’s expansion frustrates Sonora Mayor Hank Russell,” according to an article in the November 19, 2012 Bay Citizen (Ruling Is Win for Environmental Law, Loss for Wal-Mart):

These people just want to delay a process that should be part of a free market economy. I don’t think it’s the city’s role to decide who can compete.

The League of California Cities and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s foundation submitted amicus briefs on behalf of the City of Sonora, which had won approval to bypass CEQA in Tuoloumne County Superior Court.

Meanwhile, the true identity of Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance does not appear to be public. Another mysterious group called CREED-21 (Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development) submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance.

A variety of anonymous organizations purporting to represent local citizens challenge proposed Wal-Mart superstores (Wal-Marts that sell groceries) using CEQA. Some of these groups are reportedly fronts for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents grocery store workers in the older, “legacy” grocery stores in California such as Safeway, Raley’s, Vons, Albertsons, Ralphs, Save Mart, and Stater Bros.

A November 21, 2011 California Watch article (Wal-Mart Ramps Up Ballot Threats to Speed New Stores) reported on the Wal-Mart ballot measure strategy and claimed it “raises questions about whether California’s communities – dogged by economic woes – can afford an aggressive use of the state’s system of direct democracy.”

I guess it would not be “progressive” to ask whether California’s communities – dogged by economic woes – can afford an aggressive misuse of the state’s environmental laws by unions and other leftist organizations that philosophically object to so-called “big box stores.” Has Wal-Mart ever considered releasing a list of the phony front groups and the names of the law firms that object to the Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) and file CEQA lawsuits?

The law firm representing Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance is Herum Crabtree, based in Stockton. A web search indicates this firm has also used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Northern California and Central California cities of Elk Grove, Lodi, Ceres, Tracy, American Canyon, Bakersfield, and Anderson.

Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development (CREED-21) is represented by the Briggs Law Corporation. A web search indicates this firm has used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Southern California cities of Tehachapi, Apple Valley, Lake Forest, Victorville, Ontario, San Bernardino, Hesperia, Menifee, Gelndora, Barstow, Rialto, Murrieta, and Vista.

These are not the only law firms prominent in using CEQA to stop Wal-Mart.

A lawyer based in Davis named William D. Kopper has used CEQA to hinder the construction of Wal-Mart superstores. A web search indicates this firm has used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Northern California cities of Redding, Red Bluff, Oroville, Linda, Yuba City, Galt, Stockton, Ukiah, Santa Rosa, and Gilroy. Kopper also exploits CEQA on behalf of construction trade unions seeking Project Labor Agreements from developers proposing private residential and commercial projects in Northern California.

The law firm of M.R. Wolfe & Associates, based in San Francisco, has used CEQA to challenge Wal-Mart projects. A web search indicates this firm has used CEQA to challenge proposed Wal-Marts in the Northern California and Central California cities of Antioch, Fremont, Hayward, Suisun City, Madera, Porterville, Visalia, Delano, Atascadero, and Rohnert Park.

Mark Wolfe used to work at the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, the CEQA lawyers of choice for California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and individual construction trade unions. I did not find any evidence through a web search that Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo has ever worked for a client who objected to a Wal-Mart on CEQA grounds.

Environmental Lawyers Make Long Trek to Mono County to Block Geothermal Energy Projects so Unions Can Get a Project Labor Agreement

UPDATE: On December 14, 2012, Laborers Union (LIUNA) Local No. 783 (with the jurisdiction of San Bernardino, Mono, and Inyo Counties) filed a lawsuit (Concerned Bishop Residents v. County of Mono) in Mono County Superior Court claiming that the Mono County Board of Supervisors violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved Ormat Technologies‘ replacement project for the Mammoth Pacific Unit 1 geothermal power plant.

The union filed the lawsuit with four individuals under the name “Concerned Bishop Residents.” The lawsuit notes that Laborers Union members “regularly travel to the Mammoth Lakes area of Mono County to enjoy its peaceful repose.” I’m sure they would also enjoy travel to the Mammoth Lakes area of Mono County to enjoy a union work monopoly under a Project Labor Agreement.

Latest News Coverage:

Union Advocacy Group Sues Over Geothermal Plant Project – Mammoth Times – January 11, 2013

More Time to Comment on New Geothermal Plant ProposalMammoth Times – January 11, 2013 (related to Casa Diablo IV proposed plant, includes references to union CEQA challenges to Ormat Technology’s Mammoth Pacific 1 replacement project)


The Mono County Board of Supervisors is not yet on my California Local Government Logbook, but the lawyers of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo have it on theirs. They went to a November 13, 2012 Board of Supervisors meeting (as well as an October 22, 2012 Mono County Planning Commission meeting) on behalf of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) to object under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to construction permits given to Ormat Technologies (based in Reno, Nevada) for proposed power plant construction and upgrades within the Casa Diablo Geothermal Complex.

And the county supervisors know their racket.

Here are some excerpts from an article in the November 16, 2012 Mammoth Times entitled County Give Thumbs Up to Geothermal Plant Expansion. The local reporter covering the story totally understands what’s going on, unlike some of the reporters in the big city papers who cover state and local government approval of proposed power plants.

The Mono County Board of Supervisors soundly rejected an appeal of a plan to expand the Casa Diablo geothermal plant Tuesday, after two out of area (mostly) union advocacy groups appealed the project during an almost five-hour public hearing. It’s the second time the groups have been in Mono County in the past few months. On Oct. 22, the county planning commission approved the project and recommended it to the county supervisors for approval. The groups filed an appeal shortly after and on Tuesday, they came armed for a fight. They got one…

It was supposed to have been a routine expansion, and it moved through the past several years with very little controversy – until several non-local groups, claiming to be unionized renewable energy plant workers, objected. These out-of-area groups claimed they were concerned for the environment and dumping hundreds of pages of said objections into the mandated state environmental review document process.

But research by the county and the MT shows the groups have used the same techniques before at other planned renewable energy power facilities, with the seeming intent to pressure applicants into using unionized workers, and they didn’t, they’d face more costly delays…

Other newspaper articles have stated that the same groups also tried the same tactic with a proposed geothermal plant in Imperial County this week – and were blocked by the county supervisors…

Calls to CURE were not returned before press time.

They will never call back; their response will come in the courts. Here are the agenda items from the November 13, 2012 meeting of the Mono County Board of Supervisors:

10a) PUBLIC HEARING 2:30 p.m. 60 minutes

California Unions for Responsible Energy appeal of the Planning Commission approval of the Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project

Planning Commission approval of Conditional Use Permit No. 12-004 and Final Environmental Impact Report for the Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project filed by California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE).

(Courtney Weiche) – Public hearing regarding appeal of Planning Commission approval of Conditional Use Permit No. 12-004 and Final Environmental Impact Report for the Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project filed by California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE).

Staff Report to Mono County Board of Supervisors on CURE Appeal

Recommended Action: Conduct a public hearing to receive all relevant information in considering the appeal filed by CURE and either affirm, affirm in part (i.e., modify), or reverse the Planning Commission’s actions. If the Board affirms, or affirms in part, the Planning Commission’s actions, then it should: Adopt “Resolution Denying Appeal of CUP 12-004 and FEIR Adoption for the Mammoth Pacific Replacement Project Filed by California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE); Certifying and Adopting the FEIR for the Project; and Affirming the Planning Commission’s Approval of CUP 12-004.

Fiscal Impact: The cost of the appeal is being borne by the applicant.

Additional Departments: Economic Development

10b) PUBLIC HEARING 60 minutes

Laborers Int’l Union of North America appeal of Planning Commission’s approval of Mammoth Pacific I Replacement Project

(Courtney Weiche) – Public hearing regarding appeal of the Planning Commission approval of the Final Environmental Impact Report, Clarifying General Plan Amendment 12-003(b) [sic], Conditional Use Permit 12-004, Variance 12-002, Reclamation Plan 12-001, and Notice of Decision for the Mammoth Pacific Replacement Project filed by Laborers International Union of North America, Local 783 (LIUNA).

The LIUNA appeal, too large to attach with the packet can be viewed by going to Laborers Union Appeal.

Recommended Action: Conduct a public hearing to receive all relevant information in considering the appeal filed by LIUNA and either affirm, affirm in part (i.e., modify), or reverse the Planning Commission’s actions.

If the Board affirms, or affirms in part, the Planning Commission’s actions, then it should: Adopt the “Resolution Denying Appeal of Planning Commission Approval of CUP 12-004, Variance 12-002, Reclamation Plan 12-001, FEIR Findings and Adoption, Notice of Determination and General Plan Amendment [sic] for the Mammoth Pacific Replacement Project Filed by Laborers International Union of North America, Local 783 (LIUNA); Certifying and Adopting the FEIR for the Project; and Affirming the Planning Commission’s Project Approvals.”

Fiscal Impact: All costs associated with appeal are borne by the applicant.

See a copy of the California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) appeal to the Mono County Community Development Department Planning Division – Mammoth Pacific 1 Replacement.

Union Slush Fund Sends Mailers to Costa Mesa Residents Attacking Measure V, the Proposed Charter

UPDATE (October 23, 2012): news coverage of the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust contributions against Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa:

Trade, Labor Groups Spending Big to Defeat Costa Mesa Charter – Orange County Register – October 18, 2012

Construction industry trade groups and labor unions are spending aggressively against Costa Mesa’s Measure V, the city charter initiative that could severely limit labor unions’ influence. The most money so far has come from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust, a Sacramento-based organization representing trade unions and major companies in the construction industry. It has contributed $100,000 this year to fight the measure, according to city campaign finance filings…

The money from outside groups has infuriated Councilman Jim Righeimer, the proposed charter’s architect and its chief advocate. He said construction labor groups are spending to preserve their high wages, as the charter would abolish the city’s requirement to pay a union-level wage for city-funded public works projects. “They don’t want to give up prevailing wage,” Righeimer said. “That’s the whole issue…”

The construction industry group says it is only natural for them to oppose a measure that could lower wages and toss out state rules on public works contracting. Lower wages ultimately harms the local economy, said Bob Balgenorth, chairman of the industry trust. His members “believe that prevailing wage benefits the community…it makes sure that low-wage contractors don’t bring in workers from out-of-state.”

Measure V Becomes a Six-Figure Battle – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – October 23, 2012

When it comes to Costa Mesa’s charter ballot initiative, organized labor so far has raised more and outspent its opposition, campaign finance records show…The majority has come from the Committee for Costa Mesa’s Future and its $100,000 contribution from the Sacramento-based California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer — the architect of the charter, which he contends will lead to taxpayer savings — said the campaign spending demonstrates the outside influence of the labor unions trying to decide city matters.


The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust has provided $100,000 as of September 30, 2012 as the sole donor to “Committee for Costa Mesa’s Future – No on V – Sponsored by Labor and Management Organizations.” This a political committee established to oppose Measure V, the proposed charter on the November 6, 2012 ballot in the City of Costa Mesa, California.

The treasurer for the “Committee for Costa Mesa’s Future – No on V – Sponsored by Labor and Management Organizations” is Robbie Hunter, head of the Los Angeles-Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust is a secretive group authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The head of the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust is Bob Balgenorth, head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California and California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE).

California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust 2010-2011 Form 990

For information about how this organization gets its money, see my www.UnionWatch.org article Mysterious Union Slush Fund Spends $100,000 Against Costa Mesa Charter.

For more information about this organization spends its money, see my article Where the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust Spends Its Money: Now We See How Unions Spread It.

Here are examples of mail funded by the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust through the “Committee for Costa Mesa’s Future – No on V – Sponsored by Labor and Management Organizations.”

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust funded this mailer opposing Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, California, in the November 6, 2012 election.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust funded this mailer opposing Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, California, in the November 6, 2012 election.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust funded this mailer opposing Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, California, in the November 6, 2012 election.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust funded this mailer opposing Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, California, in the November 6, 2012 election.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust funded this mailer opposing Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, California, in the November 6, 2012 election.

California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust funded this mailer opposing Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, California, in the November 6, 2012 election.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperative Trust funded this mailer opposing Measure V, the proposed charter in Costa Mesa, California, in the November 6, 2012 election.

 

Protecting the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle: One of Many Species Used By Unions to Block Projects Under CEQA Until the Owner Signs a Project Labor Agreement

Public objections based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to proposed projects in California’s Central Valley often focus on how these projects could affect habitats of several species. Some prominent examples of these creatures are the Swainson’s Hawk (a California threatened species), the San Joaquin kit fox (a federally endangered species and a California threatened species), the Western burrowing owl (a California species of special concern), the giant garter snake (a federally threatened species and California threatened species), the vernal pool fairy shrimp (a federally threatened species), the Delta smelt (a federally threatened species and California threatened species), the California red-legged frog (a federally threatened species), and the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle (a federally threatened species).

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to remove the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle from the federal Endangered Species Program list, according to articles in the October 1, 2012 Sacramento Business Journal (Feds Urge Beetle’s Removal from Endangered Species List) and the October 2, 2012 Sacramento Bee (Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle May Fall from ‘Threatened’ List). This move is a result of legal actions by the Pacific Legal Foundation, backed by farm bureaus, developers, and special district public agencies that build and manage flood control systems such as levees.

As early as 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to end the beetle’s threatened species status: “The slowdown in habitat loss, the protection and restoration of riverine habitat, and the increase in valley elderberry longhorn beetle occurrences, together have been the major reasons for the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) having considered delisting this species.”

Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle Habitat – still protected in 2012 in Roseville, California

Protecting and relocating existing elderberry shrubs and planting new elderberry seedlings is apparently expensive and inconvenient. The Rio del Oro development in the City of Rancho Cordova actually has its own “Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle Mitigation Plan” in its final Environmental Impact Report.

I checked to see if environmental law firms specializing in “greenmail” on behalf of construction unions had used threats to the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle as an environmental objection to proposed projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). I did find one.

In a January 3, 2011 comment letter concerning the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Fink Road Solar Farm in Stanislaus County (proposed by Turlock-based JKB Energy), the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo had this to say on behalf of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) about the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle:

3. The Project may result in significant impacts to the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle

The Valley elderberry longhorn beetle is a federally threatened species. The MND states that the beetle may be present on the Project site but does not propose adequate mitigation measures to avoid or reduce the Project’s impacts. In Mr. Cashen’s opinion, impacts to the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle are not less than significant.

The preconstruction surveys described in the MND may not be sufficient to detect elderberry shrubs within the Project site. Specifically, the MND does not provide basic information as to who will conduct the survey and when it will be conducted. The Project may, therefore, cause undisclosed and unmitigated impacts to a federally threatened species.

If elderberry shrubs are found during preconstruction surveys, the MND proposes to prohibit ground-disturbing activities within 20 feet of the shrub to avoid impacts.117 This measure, however, would not avoid the Project’s impacts. The USFWS only assumes complete avoidance when a 100-foot buffer is established. Shading and wind deflection caused by the Project’s structures will impact soil temperature and evaporation. In addition, maintenance water to clean the solar panels will increase soil moisture. According to Mr. Cashen, these factors may have an adverse impact on elderberry plants if an adequate buffer is not established.

If avoidance is not feasible, the Applicant will have to obtain a federal Incidental Take Permit and comply with USFWS guidelines regarding transplanting affected elderberry shrubs to a conservation area and potential replacement planting.122 The MND, however, does not require the Applicant to comply with these federal rules if impacts to elderberry shrubs cannot be avoided. Without specific, enforceable mitigation measures to reduce the Project’s impacts, the County may not conclude that impacts to Valley elderberry longhorn beetles will be less than significant.

The elderberry longhorn beetle objections, along with the other objections, apparently did the job for California Unions for Reliable Energy. As reported in a March 1, 2012 staff report to the Stanislaus County Planning Commission:

The County received a comment letter from Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo representing the California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). In response to this comment letter, the project applicant and CURE have signed an Agreement outlining how the applicant will address the issues and concerns raised by CURE in their comment letter. As a result, the project applicant has made minor revisions and modifications to the proposed project, including commitment to various environmental commitments that will be incorporated into the proposed project and made conditions of approval by the County.

I’m going to guess that this was one of the three Project Labor Agreement negotiations “resolved” for projects in Stanislaus County, as cited by Tony LaDoux of the Sheet Metal Workers Union Local No. 162 (now part of the consolidated Sheet Metal Workers Union Local No. 104) at the June 28, 2011 meeting of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors (who voted 5-0 for a Fair and Open Competition ordinance to ban Project Labor Agreements on county projects).

The county’s final approval of the Fink Road Solar Farm included the following plan regarding the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle:

To avoid and minimize impact to valley elderberry longhorn beetle, prior to construction, a survey shall be conducted for elderberry shrubs. The survey area shall include all areas subject to disturbance, and a 250 buffer area extending beyond areas subject to disturbance. In the event that any elderberry shrubs are found, the project applicant shall determine if the shrubs can be completely avoided. Complete avoidance would require no ground disturbance with 20 feet of the shrub. If complete avoidance is not feasible, the project applicant shall comply with USFWS compensation guidelines for valley elderberry longhorn beetle (USFWS 1999).

With California Unions for Reliable Energy out of the way and the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle safely preserved wherever it might be found, the Stanislaus County Planning Commission approved a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Fink Road Solar Farm on a 5-0 vote on April 19, 2012, with no public objections.

10,000 Households in Kings County Learn How Unions Are Extorting Solar Power Developers (Such as Recurrent Energy)

UPDATE: On October 1, 2012, the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow issued a press release announcing its follow-up to the 10,000 mailers: “Opponents of Union Manipulation of Mustang Ranch Solar Power Plant in Kings County Launch 10,000 Robo Calls About Union Greenmail on Project: Union Extortion Tactic Exposed to General Public in Widely Dispersed Automated Call.”


 

Front of mailer sent to 10,000 households in Kings County (California) informing residents about how unions are abusing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block solar power plant construction until the developers sign a Project Labor Agreement - a practice known as "greenmail."

Front of mailer sent to 10,000 households in Kings County (California) informing residents about how unions are abusing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block solar power plant construction until the developers sign a Project Labor Agreement – a practice known as “greenmail.”

Union CEQA Abuse Works! Please read: the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) signed by Recurrent Energy with unions for the construction of Mustang Solar Generation Project in Kings County, California.


Residents of Kings County (in the San Joaquin Valley of California) see local opportunities for economic growth and job creation through the construction and operation of proposed solar-powered electrical generation facilities. At the same time, residents worry about the possibility that out-of-town developers could build or partially build these solar power facilities on former farmland but then abandon them to rust when solar energy is found not to be profitable.

This is why the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow (ACT), a project of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction (CFEC), mailed 10,000 educational pieces this week to Kings County households informing them that construction trade unions are abusing the the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to grab control of solar power construction jobs, in the process increasing costs of construction and risking the economic viability of solar energy generation in the San Joaquin Valley.

Back of mailer sent to 10,000 households in Kings County (California) informing residents about how unions are abusing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block solar power plant construction until the developers sign a Project Labor Agreement - a practice known as "greenmail."

Back of mailer sent to 10,000 households in Kings County (California) informing residents about how unions are abusing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block solar power plant construction until the developers sign a Project Labor Agreement – a practice known as “greenmail.”

In a press release issued today (September 25, 2012), the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow reported that it intended to make 10,000 Kings County households aware of the epidemic of union “greenmail” against renewable energy projects in the San Joaquin Valley – and specifically against Recurrent Energy‘s Mustang Solar Generation Project in Kings County.

Groups such as California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local No. 100 in Fresno exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws to delay proposed projects. Their objective is to coerce developers to hand over monopoly control of the construction to unions through a Project Labor Agreement. The CEQA abuse racket is called “greenmail,” and it is rampant throughout California.

A San Francisco-based company, Recurrent Energy, succumbed to the union CEQA threats and signed a Project Labor Agreement for construction of the Mustang Solar Generation Project in Kings County.

Eric Christen, executive director of the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow, says the following in the September 25, 2012 press release:

For too long, construction unions have claimed, with a straight face, that solar power is bad for the environment. It’s as shameless as it is absurd. The unions block or threaten to block solar power projects using the California Environmental Quality Act – commonly known as CEQA – until the developer surrenders to the unions and agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA). This is exactly what happened on the 160 megawatt solar power plant in Lemoore called the Mustang Solar Generation Project.

The press release also outlines the details of how greenmail works.

The Kings County Planning Commission had received this letter from CURE when Recurrent (Energy) first made its plans known for a Kings County project. Like rain in springtime, these implicitly threatening letters appear like clockwork as soon as a project is announced anywhere in California…The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 100 has a long history of hiring the law firm of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo out of South San Francisco to dig up alleged environmental problems with solar projects. One of the most prominent was the Fresno Airport Parking solar project in 2007.

Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo is cited in the Project Labor Agreement for the Mustang Solar Generation Project.

The press release concludes with the motivation for sending the mailers:

We’re going to make sure that Kings County residents and the people of California and the San Joaquin Valley know why solar power plants are so expensive, why they are taking so long to build, and why local workers don’t get to build them,” Christen added.

When will the California State Legislature reform CEQA to stop this?

Feds Need Better Oversight of Labor-Management Cooperation Committees, Such as the Union Slush Fund that Spent $1.1 Million in the June 2012 Election in the City of San Diego

An August 27, 2012 article on the Investigative Newsource – Southern California web site contains the latest fleeting news reference to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust. The last two paragraphs of “Outside Donors Fuel Prop. Opponents, Fund Mayoral Hopefuls” states the following about Proposition A campaign in the City of San Diego for the June 6, 2012 election:

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust, a nonprofit located in Sacramento that promotes and protects project labor agreements around the state, donated more than $1 million to try unsuccessfully to defeat Prop. A, which banned project labor agreements. The agreements set some of the terms of employment, such as wage rates, on construction projects.

The Trust gets much of its money from laborers themselves. Clauses in some project labor agreements dictate that a portion of money per hour worked goes to the Trust.

The same Investigative Newsource was alone among news media groups in highlighting the extensive campaign involvement of this obscure organization before the June 6, 2012 election. From the May 25, 2012 article “Business Groups, Builders and Labor Battle over Propositions:”

All of the money for the one of the committees opposing Proposition A has come from the same donor.

Since March 18, the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust donated $675,000 to Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust is a tax-exempt Sacramento-based organization, which says its mission is, among other things, to “improve public awareness of the benefit of using organized labor contractors and workers.” The group is not required by the IRS to list specific sources of funding, but in general, it reported on its 2010 tax returns collecting $678,000 in membership dues. It reported more than $3 million in assets.

And the trust fund is also cited in the June 1, 2012 Investigative Newsource article “Fundraising Amps Up for Proposition A, B Committees:”

In the past week, a union trust gave an additional $320,000 into defeating Proposition A, a ballot measure that would ban project labor agreements for San Diego city projects if passed.

That brings to $1.18 million the amount raised by the anti-Prop. A forces, far outpacing the business interests pushing Proposition A. That committee, Fair and Open Competition, has raised $755,000 so far.

Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs — an anti-Prop. A committee — has benefited mainly from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust. The trust is responsible for more than 90 percent of its donations.

The labor trust is “heavily involved” with promoting and protecting project labor agreements (PLAs) around the state, according to secretary/treasurer Scott Strawbridge. A PLA is a type of collective bargaining agreement that a city can enter into with workers for city projects.

“We think (PLAs) are good business for our contractors and union members,” Strawbridge said.

A big part of the money in the trust comes from laborers themselves, he said. Clauses in certain PLAs specify that a small amount of money per hour worked goes into the trust.

The San Diego Union-Tribune briefly and generally mentioned the fund after the election, in the June 7, 2012 article “Impact of Proposition A on State Funds in Dispute:”

The major backer of the No on A campaign was a Sacramento-based group headed by Robert Balgenorth, the president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, a statewide union, which donated $1.1 million to stop it from passing.

This brief public reference was enough to provoke Scott Strawbridge (cited in the Investigative Newsource article above) to defend the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust publicly with an opinion piece in the Union-Tribune. (“In Response: Prop. A Put San Diego Citizens in Difficult Position,” June 22, 2012)

In doing so, he provided a public service in highlighting the unregulated slush fund that spent $1,095,000 to oppose Proposition A, a fair and open competition ordinance approved by 58% of San Diego voters on June 5.

This mysterious, Sacramento-based California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust is authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter.

The law lists specific purposes for these trusts: “improving labor-management relationships, job security, organizational effectiveness, enhancing economic development or involving workers in decisions affecting their jobs including improving communication with respect to subjects of mutual interest and concern.” And many trusts operating under this law do just that.

Nevertheless, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust circumvents these purposes without consequence.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service hasn’t implemented regulations to monitor or limit how such trusts operate. And these trusts don’t have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards.

Who wouldn’t enjoy having a slush fund with minimal oversight and controls?

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust recently gave $100,000 to the Apollo Alliance, $250,000 to a campaign committee opposing reforms to state eminent domain laws, and $770,000 to the biased California Construction Academy of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. It also gave $164,550 to “Other.”

How does the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust get its money? Do people contribute to it through the goodness of their hearts?

Actually, owners of proposed power plants (and their construction contractors) fund it when they sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) that require payments to it.

Power plant owners don’t sign these union agreements because they want union monopolies on construction or appreciate the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.

Instead, they sign them to discourage California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) from exploiting environmental laws to interfere with approval of their proposed power plants at the California Energy Commission and other government agencies.

It’s a tangled conspiracy. Especially intriguing is that one union official is the head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust, and California Unions for Reliable Energy.

Another interesting angle: when publicly-owned utilities sign these Project Labor Agreements, their electric customers ultimately fund the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust through their bills.

Senate Bill 790 – signed into law by Governor Jerrry Brown in 2011 – allows publicly-owned utilities to pass through to ratepayers the cost of payments to trusts authorized by the Labor Management Cooperation Act of 1978.

In its annual Form 990 statements to the IRS, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust classifies its receipts as “membership dues.” How do “members” such as the Northern California Power Agency and the Southern California Public Power Authority decide to contribute $1,095,000 to the No on A campaign in the City of San Diego?

It’s time to stop these abuses. If Mitt Romney is elected President, his appointees to oversee the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the Office of Labor Management Standards need to implement reasonable regulations for trusts authorized under the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978.

A First Crack at Analyzing the Proposed CEQA Reform: “The Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” of 2012

UPDATE: the Sacramento Bee reports in CEQA Overhaul Amended into Senate Bill that the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act has been inserted into Senate Bill 317, but as of 10:52 a.m. on August 23, the version of Senate Bill 317 posted on the California State Legislature’s web is still the old 2011 language. Not that anyone actually plans to read the language anyway … talking points are already prepared.


The rumors were true! Specific language is now circulating in the California State Legislature to make changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It’s called the “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act.”

Here’s a concise summary of the contents:

Section 21200 – Orwellian name of the bill is the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act.

Section 21200.5 – a LONG list (a through q) of the legislature’s findings regarding the innumerable environmental laws in effect in California, followed by some observations about additional environmental activities and priorities. At the very end of the list are some cautiously critical statements about duplicative environmental reviews and the problems that result, including “litigation and the considerable political uncertainty” that delay projects and activities.

Section 21201 – definitions of various terms related to CEQA and the bill itself.

Section 21202 – documents prepared about proposed projects and activities by lead public agencies under CEQA shall disclose all applicable environmental laws listed in Section 21200.5. The exclusive means for lead public agencies to evaluate and mitigate environmental impact of these projects and activities is to ensure compliance with that list of laws.

Section 21203 – outside parties cannot challenge individual projects on the basis of environmental laws for which the public agency has shown that the project complies, and outside parties cannot challenge individual projects with characteristics that are shown to conform to already existing land use plans.

Section 21204 – lead public agencies don’t need to evaluate “aesthetic impacts” under CEQA unless the project or activity affects an official state scenic highway.

Section 21204.5 – lead public agencies still need to evaluate impact on Native American resources and conform to existing laws about working with Native American representatives on such matters.

Section 21205 – the reforms in the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act only apply to projects for which lead public agencies agree to make an annual report available to the public in electronic form about the legally-mandated reporting or monitoring program meant to ensure changes and mitigation procedures actually occur.

Section 21206 – public agencies may adopt requirements for information or analysis beyond those requirements under CEQA.

Section 21207 – environmental documents prepared under CEQA shall be required to consider only the environmental topical areas lists in Section 21200.5(b); that is, 17 environmental topical areas with 84 criteria. Also, the state won’t reimburse local governments for the cost of these mandates.

Here’s how the loyal opposition found out about the proposed Sustainable Environmental Protection Act:

Republican legislators and staff received the language as an attachment late this afternoon with this email message:

Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 4:00 PM

Subject: CEQA Reform RN

To Assembly Republican Caucus Members,

Attached is the CEQA reform language we received this afternoon. This is what came out of Leg Counsel, however  we will not be able to confirm the accuracy of this language to what is put across the desk until the language it is actually across the desk. As soon as that happens our staff will be notified of the language and we will immediately reconcile. Should there be any changes or amendments we will analyze those a.s.a.p. and have updated comments for your consideration.

Should you have any questions for staff in the meantime, please don’t hesitate to contact xxxx at xxx-xxxx. Leadership staff is also available to answer any questions you might have.

One of the recipients of this email promptly sent it to me for my assessment of the proposed language in terms of how it would affect “greenmail,” the practice in which unions use CEQA objections to block or delay projects for the real purpose of seeking labor agreements or other labor concessions.

Would “greenmail” continue unabated if the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act became law? Would it be worth a compromise that included tax increases or other gifts to the tax-and-spend majority in the California State Legislature?

Here’s my preliminary analysis of the proposed Sustainable Environmental Protection Act, from the perspective of opposing union CEQA greenmail:

It’s hard to look at such a complicated bill and know the motives behind each and every provision. But I randomly selected from my files one massive union CEQA objection to a proposed solar energy plant (the Gestamp Asetym Solar “GIFFEN 1” Project in Fresno County) and cross-referenced it closely with the language of the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act. Here are my preliminary conclusions.

The Meat of the Bill #1: Outside Parties Cannot Challenge Individual Projects for Reasons Outside of the Numerous Environmental Laws Listed in the Bill

Section 21202 appears to establish that the exclusive means of evaluating and mitigating environmental impacts under CEQA for a proposed project or activity shall be the environmental document prepared under CEQA, provided the document discloses all applicable environmental laws listed in Section 21200.5 and indicates the changes to the project or the mitigation steps that will be taken to minimize environmental impact under those laws. A similar (perhaps redundant?) statement is made in Section 21207 regarding environmental topical issues in Section 21200.5(b).

Value of the Reform: QUESTIONABLE. It seems to me that the effectiveness of this language depends on how extensively outside parties use arguments in CEQA objections that are unambiguously irrelevant to current environmental laws.

For example, on May 7, 2012, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo objected on behalf of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and other parties to the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared by Fresno County for the Gestamp Asetym Solar “GIFFEN 1” Project. One of the arguments was that “The IS/MND Fails to Describe Baseline Conditions Related to Hazards and the Potential Occurrence of Coccidioides immitis at the Project Site.” This relates to how construction activities can reportedly stir up dust on which spores are attached that can cause “Valley Fever” if breathed into the lungs.

Now, which law listed in Section 21200.5 covers the risk of construction workers breathing in dust that could cause a Valley Fever infection? Is this an issue related to air quality, hazards and hazardous materials, or what? Could this item be reasonably ruled as outside of the list of laws in Section 21200.5?

In addition, even if this ONE particular item was ruled irrelevant under the provisions of the “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act,” the unions responded to Fresno County’s mitigated negative declaration with 28 pages of CEQA objections, many of them that a court would easily consider to fall under one of the classifications in the list of laws under Section 21200.5.

Perhaps Sections 21202 and 21207 would knock off some of the most far-fetched petty objections from small-time underfunded neighborhood troublemakers and even nullify a few of the numerous arguments generated by the professional extortionist law firms, but I question how often a project is blocked by objections completely unrelated to the 84 criteria in 17 environmental topic areas.

Recommendation: I recommend that state legislators ask the authors of this bill to provide FIVE examples of projects held up exclusively on the basis of environmental objections that fall outside of the list in Section 21200.5.

The Meat of the Bill #2: Outside Parties Cannot Challenge Individual Projects On The Basis Of Environmental Laws For Which The Public Agency Has Already Shown That The Project Complies

Section 21203(a)(1) appears to mean that if the public agency shows in its environmental document required under CEQA that environmental laws listed in Section 21200.5 are applicable to the project or activity, and the public agency also shows in the document how the changes or mitigation measures for the project ensure compliance with these laws, then outside parties cannot challenge the public agency’s decisions regarding these laws.

Value of the Reform: QUESTIONABLE. What serves as compliance for a public agency might not serve as compliance according to an outside party. Aren’t CEQA challenges (“causes of action”) premised on the idea that public agencies will often stretch to find compliance and therefore approve projects or activities despite the potential for significant environmental impact?

For example, on May 7, 2012, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo objected on behalf of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and other parties to the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration prepared by Fresno County for the 18 megawatt Gestamp Asetym Solar “GIFFEN 1” Project. Objections include claims that Fresno County failed to set the appropriate environmental baseline for agriculture, air quality, and hazards and failed to recognize potentially significant and unmitigated impacts on agriculture, air quality, and biological resources.

Would Section 21203 nullify all of these claims? Wouldn’t California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and other parties simply reject the County’s claim of compliance and seek a preliminary injunction from a judge to freeze approval of the project?

Recommendation: I recommend that state legislators ask the authors of this bill to provide FIVE examples of projects held up by objections that would be rejected under the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act because the projects were clearly and unambiguously in compliance with the huge list of environmental laws in Section 21200.5. Also, state legislators need to ask what the disincentive would be for an outside party to simply challenge the environmental document in court earlier in the CEQA proceeding.

The Meat of the Bill #3: Outside Parties Cannot Challenge Individual Projects That Are Shown To Characteristically Conform To Existing Land Use Plans

Section 21203(a)(2) appears to mean that if a specific proposed project or activity is shown by the public agency to be consistent with existing density, use type, and intensity requirements and standards in a Land Use Plan (such as a General Plan, a Specific Plan, or a Sustainable Community Strategy), then outside parties cannot challenge the public agency’s decision.

Value of the Reform: QUESTIONABLE. Let’s again take the example of the proposed 18 megawatt Gestamp Asetym Solar “GIFFEN 1” Project. The Gestamp Asetym Solar project is proposed for the Exclusive Agricultural, 20-acre minimum parcel size Zone District, according to a November 22, 2011 memo circulated within and outside the Fresno County Land Use and Planning Division. Obviously the reform of Section 21203(a)(2) would not assist the Gestamp Solar company in avoiding the union CEQA objections to their proposed solar energy plant.

In fact, how many proposed or approved solar energy generating facilities in California qualify within the existing density, use type, and intensity requirements and standards in a Land Use Plan? Many of the solar plants proposed in San Joaquin Valley are proposed for agricultural zones.

I recommend that state legislators ask the authors of this bill to provide FIVE examples of renewable energy projects held up by objections that would be rejected under the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act because of duplicative CEQA review.

The Meat of the Bill #4: The End of Aesthetics

Section 21204 states that, except for official state scenic highways, “a lead agency shall not be required to evaluate aesthetics pursuant to CEQA or this division, and the lead agency shall not be required to make findings” regarding aesthetics.

Value of the Reform: QUESTIONABLE. Aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder. Some people would say that the power plant in the City of Carlsbad is an ugly gash on the retina that destroys a beautiful coastal vista. Others might consider it an artistic touch that breaks the monotony of the shoreline and provides a pleasing, delightful contrast.

What is beauty? Who is the judge? Can aesthetics be reduced to a subjective economic measurement based on property values? (If so, would it be more appropriate to include aesthetics in an economic impact report than an environmental impact report?)

Has anyone ever analyzed the evaluation of aesthetics in CEQA documents? It sounds like a good PhD thesis for someone in art or architecture school.

Section 21204(b) allows lead public agencies to consider aesthetics under laws other than CEQA. My guess is that heritage trees and trees in general are often the primary aesthetics issue disputed in CEQA reviews. These are often matters of local law.

Recommendation: I recommend that state legislators ask the authors of this bill to provide examples of aesthetic objections to projects under CEQA that would not be applicable if the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act became law. What eyesores are at issue here?

The Bill Encourages Public Agencies to Collect and Maintain Electronic Records of CEQA Proceedings

I agree with one finding that is mildly critical of the current CEQA process. Section 21200.5(n) notes that the respondent public agency is the only party that has the complete record of documents concerning proceedings when outside parties use CEQA as the basis to challenge the agency’s decisions. It encourages public agencies to create and maintain electronic records of these proceedings.

As I’ve attempted to develop a complete documentary record of how unions exploit CEQA to block proposed construction projects, I’ve often found it difficult to obtain relevant documents from government agencies. Documents aren’t available on web sites and sometimes can’t be provided in electronic format. Apparently I’m not the only person who has encountered this obstacle to tracking CEQA actions.

Value of the Reform: WEAK. Unfortunately, the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act does not go so far as to REQUIRE public agencies to maintain electronic records about CEQA proceedings and make them available on their web sites, probably for practical reasons: some small public agencies in California probably don’t even own a document scanner. Effective outreach to the public with a web site varies widely among California local governments.

The Bill Provides an Incentive for Public Agencies to Be Diligent in Complying with Reporting and Monitoring of Changes and Directives to Reduce Environmental Impact

Section 21205 states that a public agency can only adopt the reforms of the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act if the agency complies with Public Resources Code Section 21081.6(a)(1), which states the following concerning an agency that determines that changes or alterations in a project mitigate or avoid significant environmental effects:

The public agency shall adopt a reporting or monitoring program for the changes made to the project or conditions of project approval, adopted in order to mitigate or avoid significant effects on the environment. The reporting or monitoring program shall be designed to ensure compliance during project implementation. For those changes which have been required or incorporated into the project at the request of a responsible agency or a public agency having jurisdiction by law over natural resources affected by the project, that agency shall, if so requested by the lead agency or a responsible agency, prepare and submit a proposed reporting or monitoring program.

Value of the Reform: WEAK. This requirement is already in law, so shouldn’t public agencies be doing it already?

Conclusion: There Are Better Options

Without obtaining a list of the specific past and future projects and activities that would have benefited from the Sustainable Environmental Protection Act, I certainly wouldn’t consider this bill to be a worthy trade-off for a tax increase. Besides, there have been better proposals in the past:

The most direct and effective way to stop the misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is to amend CEQA itself to prohibit the behavior. Past legislative efforts to do this have failed:

2008 – Bill to Make Greenmail a Crime Fails to Pass Senate Committee

A large coalition of construction groups supported Senate Bill 1631. Authored by Senator Dick Ackerman (R) on behalf of Associated General Contractors (AGC), this bill would have created a misdemeanor crime for any person who filed or threatened to file an environmental objection to a public works project in order to obtain or extract money or other thing of value from the person. Under the definition of “public works” in Labor Code Section 1720, applicable projects would have included numerous private projects that get public subsidies or other public benefits.

Opponents of the bill included various umbrella groups for construction unions, including the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. The bill failed in the Senate Government Organization Committee on April 15, 2008 on a 5-5 party line vote, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.

2005 – Bill to Squash Greenmail Fails in Senate Committee

Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California continued its legislative fight against “greenmail” targeted at power plant developers, in which unions block licensing of power plants on environmental grounds until the developer agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement. On April 19, 2005 the Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee considered Senate Bill 628, a bill sponsored by ABC of California and introduced by Senator Bob Dutton (R-Riverside). The bill would have required the California Energy Commission (CEC) to allow parties to present testimony about alleged misuse of its licensing procedures to exert economic pressure on a party to enter into a labor agreement. It also would have required the CEC to take certain steps to maintain its neutrality in labor disputes, including the exclusion of parties  from participating in the siting process, restricting the rights of parties in that process, and reducing the weight of the participation of a party in that process.

Committee Chairwoman Martha Escutia (D-Montebello) spent more than 20 minutes on discussion of the bill, including asking a representative of the CEC to speak on the matter. The Riverside Chamber of Commerce supported the bill, recognizing that greenmail is delaying Riverside’s proposed municipal power plant. An attorney for California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) and union lobbyists testified against the bill. The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California submitted an eight-page letter of opposition. It was defeated in a party-line vote.

2012 – Bill to Limit CEQA Lawsuits to the Attorney General Fails in Assembly Committee

On January 9, 2012, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee considered and rejected a proposed CEQA reform bill (Assembly Bill 598) introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) that would have given the California Attorney General the sole and exclusive right to file lawsuits against governments for inadequate environmental review under CEQA. Assemblywoman Grove cited four specific examples of CEQA abuse by labor unions:

In 2011, the Teamsters union filed a CEQA lawsuit against VWR International, a distributor of laboratory supplies. The union, in an attempt to intimidate VWR International into signing a union labor agreement at a proposed new facility in Visalia, is using CEQA to allege that trucks entering and exiting the facility will harm the environment. This large facility is likely to employ more than 100 people in a county that has an unemployment rate over 15% and desperately needs jobs, yet there are truckers trying to stop the use of trucks! And this is after an EIR has already been approved for the process.

In 2009, the California Nurses Association sued Alameda County under the pretense that the county did not comply with CEQA in approving a project to demolish the deficient Eden Medical Center Hospital and other buildings and replace them with a new state of the art hospital and medical office complex. The nurses’ union did not want Sutter Health to close the San Leandro Hospital and reduce the number of beds at the Eden Medical Center. Here we see nurses protesting against a state-of-the-art new hospital.

The Service Employees International Union filed a CEQA lawsuit in 2007 to stop construction of Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills and a CEQA lawsuit in 2006 to stop construction of Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. Both of these lawsuits occurred in the context of SEIU organizing campaigns.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been behind numerous CEQA lawsuits filed by a Davis lawyer against proposed Wal-Mart projects in Northern California. These lawsuits are related to unions concerns over non-signatory competition for grocery sales.

Until CEQA reform addresses this kind of abuse, it’s not going to make much of a difference.