Tag Archive for Riverside Press-Enterprise

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.

Will California Voters Punish School Board Members in the November 6 Election for Requiring Construction Companies to Sign Project Labor Agreements with Unions?

Internal polling and the election results for recent ballot measures in the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Oceanside, and El Cajon and in the County of San Diego show that a majority of California voters want their local governments to solicit bids for construction contracts under fair and open competition. They don’t want their local governments to require their contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions for taxpayer-funded construction.

But elected officials keep voting for government-mandated Project Labor Agreements. Why?

  1. Local elected officials are fed by their political ambitions. In 1990, California voters imposed term limits on state legislators. This resulted in a constant churning of state legislators, with frequent opportunities for local elected officials to advance and extend their political careers with a few terms as full-time state legislators.
  2. In addition, in 2000 a bipartisan gerrymandering deal resulted in ten years of state legislative districts that were generally not competitive between the two major political parties. This means that local candidates with ambitions for higher office looked for initiatives to distinguish themselves from other candidates in the same political party. Getting the organizational and financial campaign support of unions often led to victory in a Democrat legislative primary.
  3. Finally, local elected officials often push for Project Labor Agreements assuming that voters will not make them accountable for their votes. At many local governments, elected officials feel they can vote for just about anything with impunity. No one is paying attention. There is no accountability.

It takes a solid commitment of local activists and organizations to send an effective message to voters that certain elected officials are putting special interest groups ahead of prudent fiscal management. As the serious campaigns get underway for the November 6, 2012 elections, there are several movements afoot in California to make local elected officials accountable to voters for using the government to give unions a monopoly on taxpayer-funded construction.

Riverside Community College District’s Elected Board of Trustees

For example, a September 6, 2012 article by Dave Everett of the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors in www.FlashReport.org (Cost Revealed for Takano & Medina Choosing Their Special Interest Friends Over Our Kids) reports on a plan to inform voters that two board members of the Riverside Community College District voted in March 2010 to require contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the San Bernardino and Riverside County Building and Construction Trades Council. The labor agreement applied to subsequent construction funded by Measure C, a $350 bond measure approved by voters six years earlier.

That government-mandated Project Labor Agreement was approved in a 3-2 vote – board members Jose Medina, Mark Takano, and Mary Figueroa in support, and Janet Green and Virginia Blumenthal opposed. Before the vote at the March 16 meeting, the three board members in support of the Project Labor Agreement made defiant speeches in support of unionism and their vision of social justice – a vision that excluded half of the 300 construction workers packing the auditorium. As you might guess, this was about upcoming elections.

Democrat Jose Medina ran for California State Assembly in 2010 and lost to the Republican incumbent. He has left the community college board and is again running for California State Assembly, in the open District 61 seat. Medina is endorsed by numerous labor unions.

Democrat Mark Takano is running for the open 41st Congressional District seat against Riverside County Supervisor and Republican John Tavaglione. The Riverside Press-Enterprise endorsed Tavaglione in the June 2012 primary and criticized Takano’s vote for the Project Labor Agreement in a May 2, 2010 editorial (INLAND: 1 for Congress):

Mark Takano, the other well-known candidate in this race, has a long tenure on the Riverside Community College District board. But Takano’s record and approach are more partisan and less collaborative than Tavaglione’s. And Takano in 2010 was one of three college board trustees who socked area taxpayers with an egregious project labor agreement. This needless giveaway inflated college district construction costs to curry favor with a special interest — hardly a compelling qualification for congressional service.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction sponsored a full-page advertisement in the Riverside Press-Enterprise on June 4, 2012 informing readers about Takano’s vote.

Riverside County voters can make Mark Takano accountable for his fiscal irresponsibility by voting for Bill Batey for Assembly. Riverside County voters can also make Jose Medina accountable for his fiscal irresponsibility by voting for John Tavaglione for Congress.

Bond Measures in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District, and the San Diego Unified School District

The upcoming November 6, 2012 election brings a parade of California local school districts and community college districts asking the Victimized California Taxpayer to approve borrowing millions (or billions) of dollars through bond sales to pay for construction projects.

Some of the construction funded by these proposed bond measures will be managed by elected school board members who recognize their responsibility to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. They will ensure that their school districts seek reasonable interest rates for bonds and award construction contracts to companies under fair and open bid competition, without favoritism.

But three school districts proposing new bond measures to voters in November are notorious for fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement. School boards in these three districts continually implement the costly demands of union officials, including the requirement that construction contractors sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with unions as a condition of work. These school districts are the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District, and the San Diego Unified School District.

Local taxpayer organizations – allied with grassroots community groups and local activists – have submitted ballot arguments and rebuttal arguments against these three proposed bond measures. I expect fierce campaigns in the next two months over these very costly proposals to borrow money for school construction by selling bonds to investors.