Tag Archive for City of San Francisco

Prediction: Chick-fil-A Will Soon Become Acquainted with How the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Is Wielded for Purposes Unrelated to Environmental Protection

As someone who has spent 15 years tracking and exposing how labor unions exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to block proposed projects in pursuit of objectives unrelated to environmental protection, I predict Chick-fil-A is about to join Wal-Mart and large solar power plant developers as a favorite California target of “greenmail,” or environmental permit extortion.

Based on the latest developments outlined below, one can conclude that the days are over of city planning staff in California quietly granting routine zoning variances for Chick-fil-A. Soon the company will be dealing with lawsuits demanding lengthy and costly Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), and after those reports are completed and the projects are approved, then there will be more lawsuits challenging the adequacy of the reports and the steps for environmental mitigation.

Obvious weak points for Chick-fil-A are traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles idling in drive-through lines. In-N-Out Burger has dealt with these issues in recent years (recent examples being neighborhood resistance in Studio City, Santa RosaPleasant Hill, and Seaside), but Chick-fil-A will surely provide ripe new opportunities for environmental law firms to test their theories and hone their skills in blocking proposed fast food restaurants.

Chick-fil-A and Wal-Mart: Two Southern-Based Corporations Destined to Face Resistance in California

The Chick-fil-A venture into California is similar to the experience of Wal-Mart as it expanded out of the South and began moving into the very different political, religious, and socio-economic culture of the major metropolitan areas of California and the Northeast. Wal-Mart entered California quietly in the 1990s, but as it began operating in the cities and seeking approval for “Supercenters” that sell groceries, it started to get hammered by a broad coalition of unions, environmental groups, academics, and activists who represented innumerable “progressive” interests. Underlying these interests were subtle class connotations: California’s elite recoiled from the values, priorities, and business practices of the South.

In the mid-2000s, Wal-Mart frequently dealt with environmental objections backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. For example, William D. Kopper, an attorney based in Davis, took various actions to block approval of Wal-Marts in several California cities, including in Oroville, Stockton, Galt, Santa Rosa, Redding, Ukiah, and Gilroy. (Kopper also did the same kind of work for construction unions seeking Project Labor Agreements from developers.) The UFCW found local allies among a variety of community groups and local activists determined to keep Wal-Mart out of their town.

Now Chick-fil-A has moved into the same regions and invited the same responses. Like Wal-Mart, it moved in quietly, opening its first Southern California locations (eight of them) in 2004 and its first Northern California location in Roseville (a suburb of Sacramento) in October 2005. Since then outlets have been popping up throughout the state. It is finally daring to move into the San Francisco Bay Area, and people are taking notice.

Chick-fil-A in the San Francisco Bay Area – It’s Going to Be a Tough Road Ahead

The Mayor of San Francisco – Ed Lee – received national news media attention last week for jumping on the Chick-fil-A commentary bandwagon with his back-to-back Tweets on July 26:

Edwin Lee @mayoredlee

Very disappointed #ChickFilA doesn’t share San Francisco’s values & strong commitment to equality for everyone.

Closest #ChickFilA to San Francisco is 40 miles away & I strongly recommend that they not try to come any closer.

This Chick-fil-A location 40 miles from San Francisco and referenced by Mayor Lee is the corporation’s current equivalent of Fort Ross, the southernmost frontier post of the Russian Empire in Alta California. Fort Ross was founded in 1812 as Russia penetrated deep into Spanish-claimed territory in what is now Sonoma County.

You can visit Fort Ross today (it’s a state park), and you can also visit the only operating San Francisco Bay Area Chick-fil-A in Fairfield, just off I-80 at the Travis Boulevard exit next to the Westfield Solano Mall.

This is the closest Chick-fil-A to San Francisco: 40 miles away, in Fairfield.

It opened in September 2011. San Francisco Bay Area TV news crews (such as Channel 7 and Channel 2) have showed up there recently for local visuals and interviews with customers.

According to the Chick-fil-A web site, an establishment will open in San Jose on August 16. There will be protests. Another one will open in Walnut Creek on September 20, and a protest is already being planned.

There is likely to be disruption if the planned Chick-fil-A ever opens in Santa Rosa, according to an article in the July 25 Santa Rosa Press-Democrat newspaper. That proposed restaurant had already generated controversy: the Santa Rosa City Council had voted 5-2 at its May 22 meeting to grant approval to build the Chick-fil-A at the site of a vacant Burger King after the Santa Rosa Planning Commission had rejected it on a 3-3-1 vote at its April 12 meeting. Opponents cited the greenhouse gas emissions of vehicles in the planned drive-through lane and general objections to fast food. (See the city staff report here.)

One Santa Rosa City Council member who voted against the Chick-fil-A was Susan Gorin, who is in a highly-competitive race for a seat on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. I’m guessing she’ll be trying to ride this high-profile issue to victory in November.

Note that the Chick-fil-A planned for Santa Rosa “is also proposing to incorporate Public Art in Private Development and is currently working with the City parks department to find an artist.” This may become another interesting angle: who will be the artist, and will a subversive message be expressed through the public art?

Meanwhile, in Mountain View (a suburb of San Jose), two citizens raised $1000 to challenge a “routine zoning variance” from city staff to allow a Chick-fil-A to build an outlet there. This article from the July 20 San Jose Mercury-News indicates that they intend to use traffic-related concerns to stop it:

“We need to make our city better – more sidewalk and bicycle friendly – not worse by increasing the number of cars driving up and over our sidewalks to speed in and get fast food,” the appeal states. “The convenience of drive-thru junk food is not worth the increased danger the traffic poses to our citizens.”

This campaign in Mountain View has a fundraising site and is reportedly receiving support from former city councilmember and State Senate candidate Sally Lieber, who is best known for introducing a bill to ban (child) spanking when she was in the California State Assembly. Lieber has a highly competitive race against another Democrat for this seat.

Chick-fil-A in Southern California: Potential for Trouble There, Too

A Chick-fil-A operating in West Hollywood was profiled in this article in the Los Angeles Times on July 28. Meanwhile, a Chick-fil-A opened in Laguna Hills (in Orange County) on July 26 and experienced an opening day protest, as reported here in the Los Angeles Times and here in the Orange County Register.

According to the Chick-fil-A web site, Chick-fil-A outlets will open in Westlake Village (in Los Angeles County) on August 30, Buena Park (in Orange County) on September 13, and Encinitas (in San Diego County) on September 20.

An Unexpected Opportunity for the Public to Learn About Misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

One of the frustrations of trying to educate the public about CEQA abuse by labor unions is that many reporters completely miss how the fundamental issue at play has nothing to do with environmental concerns. They take the comments, data requests, and lawsuits at face value.

Of course, the legal arguments on the surface are simply a public charade, while the real underlying issue (pressuring the developer to sign a union agreement or trying to block non-union competition) stays hidden from the public. With the upcoming environmental objections to Chick-fil-A, the underlying issue will never be mentioned in the legal documents, but the objective will be apparent and understood by all observers.

San Francisco: So Liberal That Unions Take the Role of Defending the Interests of the “One Percent”

Update – November 6, 2013: More than 60% of San Francisco voters rejected two referendums – supported by the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council – that would have allowed the 8 Washington Street project to move forward. See 8 Washington Condo Project Loses Big in S.F.San Francisco Chronicle – November 5, 2013.

I was at the Embarcadero in San Francisco yesterday and learned about the tizzy over a proposal to build some “luxury condos” close to the waterfront on the edge of the Downtown Financial District in San Francisco. A coalition group opposed to the project called “No Wall on the Waterfront” submitted signatures to the City of San Francisco on July 19 to qualify a November ballot measure that would allow voters to reverse the intentions of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and stop the project.

Called the 8 Washington Street/Seawall Lot 351 Project, this 134-unit condo development with a parking garage and some associated commercial space would replace the private Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club and a surface parking lot owned by the Port of San Francisco. See a current picture of the site on the cover of the City of San Francisco Planning Department’s June 2011 draft Environmental Impact Report here and a picture of its proposed replacement here.

The developer’s promotional site says “8 Washington reflects a desire to reconnect the City with its waterfront and is inspired by a deep respect for San Francisco’s history and topography.” The opposition talking points include the claim that the project creates a “Wall of Wealth” and a “gated community for the super-rich.”

It’s difficult to pick a side in this fight, ongoing since the developer’s original application for project approval was submitted to the City of San Francisco on January 3, 2007. Construction trade unions have teamed up with the developer to battle environmental and neighborhood interests opposing the project.

The San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council claims the project will create 250 construction jobs, or an average of 160 construction jobs per day. It is supporting the project, which means the developer must have agreed to build it exclusively with union labor. Despite the routine union arguments about prevailing wages allowing construction workers to buy the housing they build, it doesn’t seem possible that the “prevailing wages” on this project will be high enough for construction workers to buy these multi-million dollar condos – even with the 35-hour workweek in place for IBEW Local No. 6 Inside Wireman in San Francisco.

Those San Francisco construction unions are obviously hungry for work to support this project to enhance the pleasures of the dastardly 1%. As reported in the March 15, 2012 San Francisco Business Times:

2011 was a tough year for new housing in the Bay Area. That’s an understatement, really. Almost no new large projects were built due to the housing collapse that began in 2008, meaning very few started construction in 2009 or 2010 … For perhaps the first time ever, we didn’t even have a market-rate housing category that focused exclusively on San Francisco. Our reporter J.K. Dineen found that the biggest condo developments to wrap in the city in 2011 were little more than 20 units.

A major investor in the project is the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), which has allegedly already provided $25 million, according to project opponents. Opponents are apparently outraged about this, stating on this web site that “The California Teachers Retirement System has invested $25 million into this project. Why are they not investing in affordable housing for teachers? Most teachers cannot afford to live in San Francisco.”

Just another day in California.

Inflatable Rat Balloon Gets Swelled Head: Targets Big Banks Instead of Non-Union Local Contractors

The union inflatable rat balloon is regularly in the news and maintains cult status among people who follow construction labor issues. It has even earned its own Wikipedia entry. Allegedly developed 22 years ago by a company near Chicago, the inflatable rat has been a symbol long used by construction unions to bug (and sometimes delight) Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and its member companies in California and across the country.

I was dismayed today to see that a construction union apparently lent Scabby to a different crowd – the Occupy Wall Street movement in San Francisco. An inflatable rat balloon was on display on Monday, April 24 and today at a multi-day protest in San Francisco outside the meeting of the Wells Fargo annual shareholder meeting.

The photo at this link was the lead on today’s “Featured Photo Gallery” of San Francisco’s KGO Channel 7 News web site: Protesters at Wells Fargo Shareholders Meeting – Photo 2 of 8.

I was unable to determine using the web which union actually owned the rat, although it is mentioned in numerous blogs and news articles, including this from the Los Angeles Times: Protesters Disrupt Wells Fargo Shareholder Meeting – April 25, 2012

Any Wells Fargo executive or major shareholder who saw this rat might be confused about what message it’s sending to bankers. Notice the rat is wearing an orange construction vest and wears a hard hat that says “Safety Last.”

I suspect a construction union in Northern California allowed its long-recognized symbol of opposition to the Merit Shop to be borrowed for a few days for a protest of the business practices of one of the biggest banks in the United States. Apparently it’s too pedestrian in this day and age to limit the job of rat balloons to the harrassment of family-owned contractors performing tenant improvements at chain restaurants and budget hotels in obscure Bay Area suburban towns.

Keeping an inflatable rat (often costing several thousand dollars) from experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED) is still a job best reserved for the professional union tradesman. As you can see in this Reuters photo, not all went well with the anti-ABC rat turned anti-Wall Street rat.

Demonstrators Try to Contain a Deflating Balloon of a Wall Street Rat… – April 24, 2012