Unions Submit 436 Pages of Objections to Draft Environmental Impact Report for Proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase III Expansion Project: CEQA Abuse Run Rampant

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The United Port of San Diego gave the public a deadline of June 29, 2012 to submit comments regarding the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq.) for the proposed San Diego Convention Center Phase III Expansion Project and an expansion of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.

The San Diego Union-Tribune and the San Diego Daily Transcript then reported on the parties that submitted comments regarding the environmental impact of this high-profile $520 million proposed project. Here are links to the articles, along with the parties identified in each article that submitted the comments:

Convention Center EIR Cites Numerous Impacts – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 3, 2012 and Concerns Expressed on Center Expansion: Report Brings Up Aesthetics, Noise, Air Quality, Traffic – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 6, 2012

18 individuals and organizations, including the city of Coronado, the San Diego Padres and the San Diego County Archaeological Society

Port Preparing Final Convention Center Environmental Impact Report – San Diego Daily Transcript – July 3, 2012

Organizations to comment on the 61-megabyte report included CalTrans, the Department of Toxic Substances Control, the Native American Heritage Commission, the city of Coronado, the city of San Diego, the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow, the San Diego Padres, Ballpark Village, the San Diego Archaeological Society and San Diego Association of Governments.

So when I looked at the United Port of San Diego’s PDF file containing the comments submitted for the draft EIR, I was stunned to see that 436 of the 536 pages of submissions came from an organization not mentioned in either of these articles: “The San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center.”

The San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center is “an unincorporated association of individuals and labor unions” identified as including the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council, the UNITE HERE Local 30 union, and their local union affiliates. It is represented by the South San Francisco law firm of Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo.

The union CEQA objection letter itself to the San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase III is 62 pages, and then there are 374 pages of exhibits. To see the letter AND the exhibits, go to the full set of Convention Center CEQA comments here. (The union submission starts at page 101 of the PDF document and ends at page 536.)

I have to admit I’m flabbergasted that the public in San Diego remains unaware that construction unions and hotel employee unions submitted the bulk of environmental objections to this project. How were the unions and their lawyers able to sneak this by without attracting attention to it?

Adams, Broadwell, Joseph & Cardozo has an extensive history of submitting burdensome environmental comments about proposed San Diego projects on behalf of unions, while at the same time top officials running these unions pressure the project developer to sign a Project Labor Agreement for construction and/or some sort of agreement with UNITE HERE for hotel employees. Some of the most prominent examples include Petco Park, Ballpark Village, and Lane Field. The list below is an excerpt from my June 1, 2012 post entitled Is the City of San Diego’s Proposition A (on the June 5, 2012 Ballot) Meaningful and Necessary? Absolutely! Here’s the Documented Proof.

Unions Routinely Block Private Projects in the San Diego Region with Environmental Objections Until Developers Surrender and Agree to Sign Project Labor Agreements with Unions and Require Their Contractors to Do the Same

It’s hard to track and document the numerous threats and legal actions in the San Diego area by construction unions (and other unions such as UNITE-HERE) to exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws to block and delay approval of private development projects until a labor agreement is signed. The negotiations and extortion goes on behind closed doors, and often the victimized developer is compelled to succumb in secret while claiming publicly that signing a Project Labor Agreement with unions is a wonderful business practice.

Two companies that exposed the union extortion to the public were Seaworld and Gaylord Entertainment.

1. Seaworld expansion – threatened in 2002, but resisted, and a PLA was not implemented.

2. Gaylord Entertainment hotel and convention center at the Chula Vista Bayfront – threatened in 2007 and 2008, but resisted. Gaylord ultimately abandoned the project and commenced construction instead of a resort complex in Arizona.

Other companies gave in without much of a public fight:

1. San Diego Padres Petco Park – IBEW Local 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 1999, developer agreed to a PLA in 2000, project magically became OK for the environment.

2. Ballpark Village – there was a Ballpark Village draft PLA circulating in 2005, after a law firm representing IBEW Local No. 569 identified environmental problems with the project. Four years later, the same law firm identified environmental problems with the project on behalf of UNITE-HERE. Do you still wonder why California is struggling economically?

3. Poseidon Desalination Plant in Carlsbad – developer avoided union interference by agreeing to a PLA in 2005.

4. Downtown San Diego hotel projects, including Lane Field (Intercontinental Hotel and Aviana Suites), Sunroad Harbor Island Hotel, and San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina facilities expansion projects – although the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo has identified alleged environmental problems with these proposed projects on behalf of UNITE-HERE Local No. 30 in at least some of these cases, that same law firm has also represented the IBEW Local No. 569 using the same strategy of exploiting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

5. Palomar Power Plant in Escondido – Sempra Energy signed a PLA and avoided licensing delays at the California Energy Commission instigated by intervenor California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). There is also a 30-year Maintenance Labor Agreement for this power plant.

6. Otay Mesa Generating Station – see here how CURE extracted this PLA from Calpine.

7. Sunrise Powerlink transmission line – PLA implemented in 2010.

8. Pio Pico Energy Center in East Otay Mesa – The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California proudly announced on November 3, 2011 that it had extracted a PLA for the construction of this power plant. You will not be stunned to hear that California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) did NOT intervene in the licensing process at the California Energy Commission on this 300 MW project. It’s odd how CURE sees devastating environmental problems with solar energy generation but passed this one by…

Other projects of uncertain status:

1. 655 Broadway – no PLA, union-only though.

2. Sapphire Tower at 1262 Kettner Boulevard (Santa Fe Parcel 6) – IBEW Local No. 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 2004.

3. Chula Vista Bayfront project – Pacifica Companies – news media indicated that PLA seemed likely.

4. Carlsbad Energy Center – threat or already agreed to PLA.

5 comments

  1. Kevin D. Korenthal says:

    This use of a local coalition tied directly to Adams, Broadwell, Joseph and Cardozo sounds eerily familiar… Why is that???

    Oh yeah, I remember now! It’s because the same law firm attempted the same misleading tactic on the Bakersfield Refinery Expansion EIR. Just so happens that there is a very entertaining 8 minute video showing the lie and its revelation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_jrXdbAgw

    Enjoy!

  2. […] I reported in my August 8 post (“Unions Submit 436 Pages of Objections to Draft Environmental Impact Report for Proposed San Diego Co…“), UNITE HERE Local 30 (based in San Diego) and the San Diego County Building and […]

  3. […] one mentioned the notorious CEQA document dumps in May 2012 and in September 2012 by the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE […]