San Diego Union Officials Ignored Global Warming-Related Sea Level Rise in Environmental Settlements for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, Despite Identifying It as Major Deficiency Under CEQA

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UPDATE: More news coverage from KPBS:

Coastal Commission Concerned About Sea Level Rise and Convention Center Expansion – KPBS (San Diego) – January 28, 2013

Note: for background on the deal referenced below, see Unions Get Control of San Diego Convention Center Expansion: CEQA Abuse Is Effective, Fair and Open Competition Ordinance Evaded and Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction Obtains City of San Diego Settlement Agreements with Unions for Convention Center. Also, the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council just issued a press release (dated November 15, 2012) celebrating the Project Labor Agreement on the San Diego Convention Center expansion, although the unions have STILL not released the document for public scrutiny.

After getting a Project Labor Agreement and other labor concessions as part of a deal to withdraw their environmental complaints about the proposed San Diego Convention Center Expansion Phase III project, did top San Diego union officials allow the Port of San Diego to move forward with the project, despite knowing that the Port’s final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) omitted critical analysis of rising sea levels caused by global warming?

The answer seems to be YES. Although quite aware of risk to the project from a rising sea level (as proven by comments submitted on behalf of unions about the draft EIR), union officials and their environmental lawyers with the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo did not address in their environmental settlement agreements this glaring failure of the Port to abide by CEQA. (See the environmental settlement agreements: Settlement Agreement – Building Trades Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012 and Settlement Agreement – Various Construction Trade Unions – San Diego Convention Center – 2012).

Even when the unions stumbled on a major problem with the EIR, they were willing to back off on forcing the Port to correct it, as long as unions obtained a monopoly on the work.

Lorena Gonzalez – the Secretary-Treasurer/CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council and apparent ringleader of the union environmental complaints – is a believer in global climate change, as shown by this “Resolution in Support of Preserving Environmental Laws and Building Environmental Partnerships” she signed on April 20, 2010. As someone with an undergraduate degree, a law degree, and a master’s degree from highly prestigious institutions of higher learning, surely she recognizes with her educated, enlightened peers that “the science is settled” and agrees with the California State Legislature that a future rising sea level will be a catastrophe for the State of California unless proactive measures start now.

Nevertheless, it isn’t the unions, but KPBS news (in San Diego) that is focusing on the deficiency in the Port’s EIR with an article today (November 15, 2012) reporting on dire new revelations about the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. The article Flood Maps Raise Questions About Convention Center Expansion warns that “the expanded version of the Convention Center could be inundated with seawater by mid century if climate change predictions are accurate.”

According to the article, “Allowing the development anyway could require massive protection measures with a huge price tag…the extent of potential flood risk along the tideline is alarming far beyond the convention center project if public agencies do nothing…Despite knowing the convention center expansion could be underwater in 2050, the port commission voted unanimously in September to move forward using the old data. Meanwhile, commissioners decided this week to hold a retreat on how to handle climate change.”

I have posted two comments under the article pointing out that both the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow and the unions were aware of this deficiency in the Port’s Environmental Impact Report and noted it in their June 29, 2012 comments to the Port. But the unions chose to ignore it once their “greenmail” achieved their objective – unrelated to environmental protection – to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement.

Here are my comments:

Kevin_Dayton | today at 6:02 p.m.

Interesting…I see that the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow noted the risk to the convention center expansion in its June 29, 2012 comments to the Port of San Diego concerning the draft Environmental Impact Report:

11. The Report Needs to Warn the Public about the Massive Wall that Might Be Needed to Hold Back the Flood Waters from Inundating the Project as Global Warming Raises Sea Levels

California government agencies such as the California Energy Commission, the California Ocean Protection Council, and the California Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a report released in 2009 by the Pacific Institute that shows California coastal areas at risk of inundation or frequent flooding because of the rising sea level caused by global climate change.

It’s surprising that the Draft EIR doesn’t address this looming problem, as the San Diego Unified Port District collaborated in the development of the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy for San Diego Bay, published by the San Diego Foundation in February 2012.

This Draft EIR needs to include a Sea Level Action Plan developed using information from the following sources: (1) the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy prepared by the Natural Resources Agency, (2) the Report on Sea Level Rise Preparedness prepared by the State Lands Commission, (3) the Sea Level Rise Assessment Report prepared by the National Academy of Sciences, (4) the resolution of the California Ocean Protection Council on Sea-Level Rise, (5) the State of California Sea-Level Rise Interim Guidance Document, and of course (6) the Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy for San Diego Bay.

The Port should have listened to the Global Catastrophe experts at the Alliance for a Cleaner Tomorrow, who get their outstanding scientific insight on the future from statements of the California State Legislature and stuff they hear on TV. Now the Port will need to build a massive sea wall or build the convention center in Santee in anticipation of the future shoreline.

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Kevin_Dayton | today at 7 p.m.

Whoa! I just looked at the comments about the Port’s draft EIR submitted on June 29, 2012 by the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo on behalf of “San Diego Coalition for a Better Convention Center,” a front group for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local 30. They have several pages of comments pointing out how the EIR did not consider rising sea levels.

See those comments starting on page 35 of this document:

But here is the strange thing: look at the environmental settlement agreements that the City of San Diego just signed with the unions as part of a deal for the unions to withdraw their CEQA environmental complaints. Nothing whatsoever is mentioned in the settlement agreements about mitigation for rising sea levels. NOTHING!

Why didn’t the unions and their world-renowned environmental lawyers with Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo pursue this issue with the diligence that KPBS is putting into this issue? For some reason, the unions no longer considered it important after a Project Labor Agreement was signed for construction of the convention center expansion. But now we find that rising sea levels could SINK the project altogether!

See the two union environmental settlement agreements here:


  1. […] As shown in comments starting on page 35 of this document, unions were aware of this danger and included it in their objections to the draft Environmental Impact Report. But the unions did not include mitigation to address sea level rise in their settlement agreements, as reported in San Diego Union Officials Ignored Global Warming-Related Sea Level Rise in Environmental Settlements…. […]

  2. […] The California Coastal Commission may soon consider approval of this project, now unimpeded by earlier concerns cited by unions about how the sea-level rise caused by global warming might submerg…. […]

  3. […] Notable in these settlement agreements is the abandonment of the union demand that the Environmental Impact Report address the effect on the convention center expansion of an expected sea level rise caused by global warming. As it turns out, the California Coastal Commission sees this as a legitimate concern, and its approval of the project has been delayed, reportedly because of this issue. See San Diego Union Officials Ignored Global Warming-Related Sea Level Rise in Environmental Settlements…. […]