Brazen! Union Officials and Their Environmental Lawyers at Port Commissioners’ Meeting Threaten to Stop San Diego Convention Center Expansion Using California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

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The September 19, 2012 meeting of the United Port of San Diego’s Board of Port Commissioners was packed with the San Diego region’s civic leadership, including the Mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders. They were at the meeting to see and celebrate the Port taking the next steps in approving the proposed $520 million San Diego Convention Center expansion, as well as an expansion of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. Representatives were there from numerous major business groups in the region, including the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

United Port of San Diego Headquarters Building on Pacific Highway

United Port of San Diego Headquarters Building, where union officials and their lawyer brazenly abused CEQA on September 19, 2012 in front of San Diego’s civic leadership.

Also there was Kevin Dayton, President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC. No one there knew or cared, and I finally found a seat in the back corner. I suspected that the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo was going to pull a stunt at the meeting on behalf of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30. Knowing their modus operendi, I figured a lawyer was going to make a huge last-minute document dump at the meeting under the authority of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). I was right!

The party-poopers promptly rained on the parade when the commissioners opened the agenda item to public comment. An official of the UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 led off the attack by declaring that the 1400-page final Environmental Impact Report required under CEQA was deficient and needed to be withdrawn for revisions. Then someone from the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted to the commissioners a 42 page letter (with 197 footnotes) on behalf of the phony union front group called “The San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center” with 250 pages of referenced exhibits. She was given extra time to speak because Tom Lemmon – head of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council – submitted a speaker card and then transferred his speaking time to her.

CEQA Objections to San Diego Convention Center Expansion

The cover page of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) “document dump” of the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo on behalf of unions against the Environmental Impact Report for the San Diego Convention Center expansion project.

Never to be left out of a militant union action in San Diego, Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego County Central Labor Council, rushed into the meeting late to announce there were problems with the Environmental Impact Report for the convention center. She proposed that the Port Commissioners approve a “tolling agreement” that would extend the statute of limitations for the unions to file a lawsuit. This would give unions more time to squeeze their demands out of the developers and the convention center’s public and private partners.

A representative of the leftist San Diego-based Center for Policy Initiatives attended the meeting but did not speak. This group has not been involved in CEQA issues, but it is very involved in labor issues.

I also spoke, as a representative of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC. I noted there was an underlying story and then revealed the whole scheme. Of course, most people in the room knew about it already but do not want to acknowledge it in public.

After these antics, the Port Commissioners recessed the meeting for about 20 minutes so Port staff could scan the document dump by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo and make a preliminary determination of whether or not the unions introduced new and valid CEQA objections to the proposed convention center and hotel expansion. If the comments were serious threats, the Port Commissioners would need to table the approval of the Environmental Impact Report.

Staff ultimately identified four potential areas vulnerable to lawsuits or appeals, but also indicated how the issues would be addressed. In the end, the Port Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Environmental Impact Report, while noting that they expected litigation and appeals unless relevant parties were able to make a deal with the unions.

What is the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council seeking with its CEQA objections? As I documented in my March 11, 2011 article entitled It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, construction union officials want a requirement for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of working on the projects. Presumably UNITE HERE wants some sort of neutrality agreement for union organizing.

It’s nothing new in California and nothing new in San Diego. It’s “greenmail.”


Convention Center Project Takes a Major Step Forward – San Diego Union-Tribune – September 20, 2012

Port Approves Environmental Report For Convention Center Expansion – KPBS – September 19, 2012

One comment

  1. […] Act (CEQA) to win a Project Labor Agreement and other labor concessions for this project. I even spoke at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners for the United Port of Sa… during public comment why unions had so many environmental objections to the proposed project […]