Blackmail Goes Green

JAN. 10, 2012


Anyone who tries to change the sacred texts of the California Environmental Equality Act will find out just how sacred they are and lose.  Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, found that out Monday.

CEQA provides a process for evaluating the environmental effects of building, construction or development projects by private businesses or public agencies.

But according to the Public Policy Institute of California, one lawsuit is filed for every 354 projects reviewed under CEQA. Grove is pushing for the judicial review by the California Attorney General of these lawsuits in order to assure that CEQA’s requirements are followed appropriately, and that private sector, non-union businesses are not a constant target.

CEQA was enacted in 1970, and signed into law by then Gov. Ronald Reagan. It requires elected officials to analyze and consider environmental impacts of proposed development and construction projects, and limit those impacts before approval could be given.

But the reports can take months to prepare, and often are thousands of pages long. Many say that CEQA was created to protect the environment, but has instead become an instrument to stop all development.

CEQA As a Tool

Grove presented AB 598 to the Natural Resources Committee Monday. “Many people exploit CEQA,” Grove explained, “and with labor union intents behind many.”

Grove’s bill reads, “This bill would prohibit any person, other than the Attorney General, from commencing or maintaining an action or lawsuit alleging that an environmental impact report, negative declaration, or mitigated negative declaration does not comply with CEQA.”

Grove told the committee that a form of “greenmail” has been taking place in California using CEQA’s environmental laws, and is stifling and stopping business, renovation projects and new construction attempts.

According to Grove, after a building or development project has received approval from a local government, labor unions file a lawsuit against the business, questioning the environmental impact the building or construction project will have, and demanding a full environmental impact report.  But once the builder or contractor waffles, and eventually agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement and hire union workers, the lawsuit is dropped and all concerns about environmental issues are dropped.

Another wrinkle has come about recently: CEQA exemptions. Kevin Dayton, government affairs director for the Associated Builders and Contractors, said that very large projects are receiving exemptions if the principals are well-connected.

The proposed downtown Los Angeles football stadium and convention center project received an exemption when SB 292 was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. SB 292 greatly modified the usual CEQA requirements in order to get the stadium project moving.

The lawsuits are not brought about because of concerns about the environment. Many are brought by competitors who lost a bid, and by labor unions against non-union companies. “It’s a slap in the face to anyone wanting to help California’s environment,” Grove said. She said that California needed to find a way to provide business protections against unwarranted attacks under the guise of CEQA as quickly as possible, so construction projects can begin again.

Opposition to AB 598

In opposition to AB 598, the Attorney General’s office states it “is not, nor could it feasibly be, budgeted and staffed to monitor every project with potential environmental impacts undertaken throughout California…. AB 598 would effectively eliminate, rather than reform, CEQA as substantive state policy.”

“All of us can share concern when law is abused — there are safeguards in the system to deal with that,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. “There is a right way to do this. This bill is a whole different thing. We are really talking about gutting CEQA.… it’s a very unfortunate bill, but fortunately it’s about to take a long nap.”

Huffman even said that he doubted that Grove would be willing to approve an increased budget for the Attorney General, which would be needed to review all of the additional CEQA lawsuits.

“Is that the only reason you oppose the bill — that the AG’s office doesn’t have the staff?” Assemblyman Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, asked the Deputy Attorney General. “Is there nothing else to preclude you from doing this?”

The representative from the Attorney General’s office said that there were “other complications,” and it would create conflict with other state agencies if the Attorney General was the sole enforcer of CEQA.

“I wonder if the AG’s office will weigh in if we pass a bill that will never have a way of policing by the Attorney General,” Knight suggested.

“I am not approved to answer that,” replied the Deputy Attorney General.

Jobs versus Union Jobs

Grove shared several stories about businesses and developers effectively shut down, even after adhering to the rules and laws for development or renovation projects.

Assemblywoman Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, told committee members about a solar panel project at the Fresno Airport in her district that was halted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The IBEW claimed that a proper environmental impact report was not done. However, Fresno City Council members questioned whether the union’s real concern was the environment, or union jobs.

California is one of only three states that require private projects to comply with its own environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act. While CEQA is credited with helping preserve waterways for fish, mountainous regions, desert and coastline, CEQA has also been described as allowing a single bird watcher to protect an endangered animal.

Grove said that her sole objection is that CEQA is being used by labor unions to either kill the competition, or force a non-union business into labor agreements; and that the way CEQA laws are being abused, entire regions are stuck in the recession without the ability to move forward with building projects.

Grove met with expected opposition from the Sierra Club and the Planning and Conservation League, the Consumer Attorneys of California and California League of Conservation Voters.


Write a comment
  1. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 10 January, 2012, 10:19

    This is another reason why anyone who does business in California should have his head examined.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  2. PJ
    PJ 10 January, 2012, 11:07

    I encountered my first Stupid New Law today. Can’t use self checkout for wine. Pushback against stores using self checkout instead of union workers?

    Lots of people buy alcohol at grocery stores; therefore, more (union) workers are now needed to check out shoppers.

    Reply this comment
  3. queeg
    queeg 10 January, 2012, 14:35

    CEQA is the full employment act for attornies…

    Stop worrying about unions. Days are numbered…

    Reply this comment
  4. Bruce Ross
    Bruce Ross 10 January, 2012, 18:04

    CEQA is widely abused and needs reform, yet Grove’s bill would dramatically roll back Californians’ rights and concentrate enormous power in the attorney general’s office. It is an obvious non-starter.

    Was she actually interested in promoting legislation?

    Reply this comment
  5. CEQA Abuse Examples
    CEQA Abuse Examples 11 January, 2012, 13:25

    Someday someone will put together a complete list of the hundreds of major construction projects blocked by unions using CEQA for purposes unrelated to environmental protection. Here are a few specific examples:

    1. The Teamsters union filed a CEQA lawsuit in 2011 against VWR International, a distributor of laboratory supplies. In an attempt to intimidate VWR International into signing a union agreement at a proposed new facility in Visalia, the Teamsters allege that trucks entering and exiting the facility will harm the environment. The case – Coalition for Clean Air et al. v. City of Visalia et al. – will next be heard at the Fifth District State Appellate Court. (The Teamsters lost in Tulare County Superior Court.)

    2. In 2009, the California Nurses Association sued Alameda County under the pretense that the county did not comply with CEQA in approving a project to demolish the seismically-deficient Eden Medical Center Hospital and other buildings and replace them with a new hospital and medical office complex. The nurses’ union did not want Sutter Health to close the San Leandro Hospital and reduce the number of beds at the Eden Medical Center.

    3. The Service Employees International Union (or SEIU) filed a CEQA lawsuit in 2007 to stop construction of Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills and a CEQA lawsuit in 2006 to stop construction of Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento. Both of these lawsuits occurred in the context of SEIU organizing campaigns.

    4. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (or UFCW) has been behind numerous CEQA lawsuits filed by a Davis lawyer against proposed Wal-Mart projects in Northern California. These lawsuits are related to unions concerns over non-union competition for grocery sales.

    5. UNITE-HERE (a coalition of hotel and restaurant worker unions) filed a CEQA lawsuit against the United Port of San Diego in 2009 to stop construction of a hotel at Lane Field in the City of San Diego. UNITE-HERE wanted an agreement with future hotel operators to allow easy organization of their employees.

    6. In 2011, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) used CEQA as a basis for challenging the approval of the Kramer Junction solar project by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

    That’s just a start…

    Reply this comment
  6. mac heebey
    mac heebey 13 January, 2012, 23:00

    7. The Gaylord Hotel was about to begin the construction phase on a two Billion dollar 76 acre waterfront resort in Chula Vista when the united brotherhood of carpenters filed a CEQA lawsuit because the developer didn’t sign a project labor agreement. After the lawsuit was filed, the developer moved the entire operation to Arizona.

    Green mail is another thug tactic in a long list of thug tactics unions use to bullie the public and hide behind government mandates. It’s the only way the dieing dinosaur continues to survive–cheating and manipulating the government corruption system.

    Reply this comment
    D BISHTON 14 January, 2012, 16:00

    Any group that uses the bully pulpit to foster their aims , are not necessarily in the wrong, but the examples shown, only seem to reflect a bias against unions. These unions only exist to foster good working conditions, craft knowledge, and benefits for their members. You don’t seem to like their tactics, because they work. But on the other hand, putting so much pressure on a good project, that the project moves to Arizona, seems, excessive. So many things are done with shoddy and an inexperienced work force these days, it seems to me that unions with apprenticeship programs, or just craft proficiency testing , would work out better. A job done once is always cheaper [even with union labor] then doing it twice.

    Reply this comment

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