Will Someone Dare to Admit in Public that Labor Unions Derailed Meaningful CEQA Reform?

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As I reported in my August 12 www.UnionWatch.org article Union Environmental Appeal of San Jose Infill High-Rise Fools No One, construction trade unions are so confident about their capability to prevent meaningful reform of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that they brazenly appealed city approval of a San Jose infill project on CEQA grounds (as well as planning and zoning grounds) at a critical stage in the development of the primary CEQA reform bill, Senate Bill 731.

Union officials in San Jose surely knew that SB 731 has been whittled down to only addressing CEQA abuse on infill projects – the head of the Santa Clara-San Benito Counties Building and Construction Trades Council is married to a member of the California State Assembly.

As of this writing, the most updated insider report on CEQA reform (from California Forward’s California Economic Summit web site) reiterates the remarks of State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg at an August 12 Assembly hearing on SB 731. Here is an excerpt from CEQA Roundup: With Time Running Out, Steinberg Doubles Down on Infill, Tries to Pull Back Business:

Sen. Darrell Steinberg used the final policy committee hearing on his much-debated CEQA legislation this week to draw a clear line around the goal of his year-long effort to reform the state’s forty-year-old environmental law – and to try to pull back business leaders who have begun to drift away from negotiations as the legislative session nears an end.

Updating CEQA for infill projects, Steinberg made clear, is in.

As for the rest of the more comprehensive changes to the law sought by the business community – including efforts to rein in what business leaders consider widespread CEQA litigation abuse and to streamline its cumbersome process for projects outside specific infill sites? Those ideas, Steinberg said in surprisingly pointed remarks, are most definitely out

“If there is any expectation – and I know there is a big expectation – that my bill will include the lengthy and ever-changing list that the CEQA coalition seems to want, you’re going to have to find another author, another year, another time, another way to do this.”

Senator Steinberg represents the City of Sacramento. There are at least two Sacramento infill projects that construction trade unions recently tried to hassle using CEQA; the Railyards project and the Township 9 project. In addition, in recent years unions have used CEQA in Sacramento to block the Greenbriar and Delta Shores developments, the Sutter Medical Center in midtown, and the Promenade at Natomas development. Steinberg certainly knows about union greenmail – it happens in his own district.

At this time, lobbyists for construction unions that are active in “greenmail” (environmental permit extortion) claim their organizations support whatever Steinberg is developing, which means they aren’t worried about his bill ever compromising their power to stop infill projects when they want a Project Labor Agreement. The California Economic Summit blog has twice reported on the role of unions in discussions about CEQA reform and SB 731:

While would-be reformers have continued to push for what they call “meaningful” changes to CEQA, sources close to the negotiations have said Steinberg was surprised by the opposition from some labor leaders, in particular, who also pushed back against his legislation’s focus on streamlining CEQA for infill projects. Viewing those same projects as a steady stream of future jobs, labor groups are wary of losing CEQA as a tool they can use to reach project labor agreements with developers.

The main business coalition pushing for CEQA reform, CEQA Working Group, is still not publicly acknowledging that unions are a major (if not THE major) abuser of CEQA to win objectives unrelated to environmental protection. In fact, other people have mentioned to me that the otherwise-excellent CEQA Working Group list of ten “CEQA Misuse Case Studies” does not include one example of union greenmail. This is not an accident.

More is said in public by the CEQA Working Group about Andy’s BP using CEQA to prevent Moe’s Stop from adding three gas dispensers than is said about the pervasive involvement of unions in stopping residential, commercial, and industrial projects throughout the state in order to pressure developers to sign Project Labor Agreements or other labor agreements. Who has seen, heard, or viewed anything in the news recently that identifies unions as a primary obstacle to developing “green energy” projects essential for the state to reach its greenhouse gas emissions goals set through the “Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006” (AB 32)?

This does not mean that Californians wouldn’t regard union greenmail as outrageous and important; in fact, most ordinary people immediately label it as extortion when they find out about it. Silence about this practice shows how unions subtly control even what business and political leaders and the news media say in public about state and local government policies.

At least there is “alternative social media” nowadays to get the message out. I have compiled 21 CEQA Misuse Case Studies featuring union activity just for 2013 alone, and I’m sure the list is still missing several 2013 incidents. I’ve also compiled an extensive list of union environmental inference in the permitting for solar thermal power plants and solar photovoltaic projects. See these lists:

Collect Them All: Environmental Objections of California Unions in 2013

Involvement of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) or the Laborers Union (LIUNA) in the Local Government Permitting Process for Solar Photovoltaic Power Plants

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) Involvement in the Sixteen Applications to the California Energy Commission for Approval of a Solar Thermal Power Plant

In the meantime, I’m hoping that major California business groups act out their frustration about wasting a year trying to reform CEQA by finally exposing the Big Time CEQA abuse of unions.


One comment

  1. […] objections of small neighborhood groups. Unions have publicly refrained from taking a position, but reportedly their lobbyists have objected behind the scenes to any provisions that would weaken the ability of unions to use CEQA as a tool to pressure […]