Bond betrayal: Did college district dupe OC Tax on PLA?

UnionsLastHopeMarch 29, 2013

By John Hrabe

When Orange County voters approved $698 million in new borrowing for the Coast Community College District last fall, they received reassurances from the county’s preeminent taxpayer organization that the measure took a responsible approach to long-term indebtedness. That helped the district garner 57 percent of the vote on Measure M on Nov. 6, just above the 55 percent threshold for passing such bonds. The bond money will be repaid with tax increases on property owners.

OC Tax doesn’t endorse or oppose school bond measures, but it does offer an exhaustive 13-point list of criteria for the public to judge bond measures. The last item of OC Tax’s list is: disclosure of whether the agency intends to use any project labor agreements during construction. A PLA is defined as, “when the government awards contracts for public construction projects exclusively to unionized firms.”

Back in September, when the district was desperately seeking OCTax’s coveted seal of approval, Reed Royalty, then-president of the organization, directly asked the district to address the PLA issue.

“One problem: your last item says ‘The ballot language contains no reference to a PLA.’ I can’t tell whether that statement precludes, includes, or simply ignores the possibility of having the work done under a PLA,” Royalty wrote on September 19 to district spokeswoman Martha Parham, according to copies of the emails exclusively obtained by CalWatchdog.com. “OCTax doesn’t like PLAs, but we don’t insist that you refuse to hire a contractor that operates under one.”

“We simply want voters to know in advance whether or not you will do so. We want voters to know what they’ll be paying for,” he added. “OCTax will not state that Measure M meets our 13 criteria unless/until you disclose your intent.”

Two and a half hours later, the district replied with an emphatic no.

“We do NOT have PLAs in place nor do we intend to enter into a PLA,” Parham wrote. “I hope that clarifies things, please let me know if you have further questions. — Martha.”

The emails are reproduced at the end of this article.

But now, as the district begins to draft construction contracts, it appears to have changed its mind. The Daily Pilot’s Jeremiah Dobruck wrote that, at a recent board meeting, “a board member floated a broad labor agreement,” which contained support for a PLA “on how to spend $698 million in bond money.”

Transparency

OC Tax’s new president, Carolyn Cavecche, says the issue is less about PLAs and more about transparency.

“We simply want transparency for the taxpayers while they determine how they will vote,” Cavecche told CalWatchdog.com. “We were given written assurances by the district that the Measure was silent on the issue because PLA’s would not be a part of Measure M.”

Cavecche pointed out that Measure M could have met OCTax’s bond criteria even if it had included a PLA. She believes that the district staff were among those caught off guard by the sample agreement.

“I get the impression that district staff was taken off guard by the board’s request to consider a Project Labor Agreement,” she said.

Local contractors, including the Associated Builders and Contractors and the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, are less forgiving and see the district’s move as a deliberate trick.

“How can the CCCD Trustees even consider a PLA after they told the OC Taxpayers Association in writing that there would not be a PLA on the bond?” asked Dave Everett, the government affairs director for the Associated Builders and Contractors, Southern California Chapter.  “Not only would this waste over $100 million of students’ education dollars, but it would discriminate against eight out of 10 construction workers.”

Hoodwinked

One anti-union activist believes the election outcome would have been different if the taxpayer group hadn’t been “hoodwinked by the college district” into providing its seal of approval.  

“The Orange County Taxpayers Association must feel a little sheepish, getting hoodwinked by the college district into endorsing Measure M even though they specifically won’t endorse bond measures for which a Project Labor Agreement is planned,” argued Kevin Dayton, the president and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, who was the first blogger to report on the Coast Community College District’s potential use of a PLA. “I bet Measure M would have failed without their endorsement — Measure M only passed with 57 percent of the vote.”

Cavecche said the organization will be reconsidering its bond measure policies.

“Needless to say, OCTax will be re-evaluating how we review future school bond measures,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the district was unavailable to comment for the story. However, a district spokeswoman told the Daily Pilot that no PLA was being drafted or negotiated.

This isn’t the first controversy involving Measure M. Orange County Register Watchdog Ronald Campbell reported last November that the Coast Community College Foundation may have violated federal tax rules with a $200,000 contribution to the Yes on Measure M campaign.

“The foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit, is legally barred from spending a ‘substantial’ share of its money on lobbying,” Campbell wrote. “The gift to Measure M on the Nov. 6 ballot was equivalent to 59 percent of the foundation’s total expenditures last year and 51 percent of its average annual expenditures over the past five years.”

Measure M increased taxes about $215 a year for a home with the area’s median price of $500,000.

(The following emails, between Reed Royalty and Martha Parham, have had the email addresses removed.)

Hrabe Measure M emails

8 comments

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  1. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 29 March, 2013, 09:45

    Thanks Reed Royalty, thanks for pushing Measure M over the top. Real bang up job you did for O.C. taxpayers on that one. Yes, we can all afford that extra $215 extracted from our meager post depression incomes. Let me guess, it’s for the children right?

    The passage of this bond is yet more proof that most voters have the intellectual capacity of a cabbage. Does anyone except me actually look at their property tax bill in this county? It’s already larded up with special fees and assessments. For all intents and purposes Prop. 13 has already been neutralized.

    How about reducing the burden on real property owners, many of whom are still financially distressed, by raising tuition for all the idle soccer mommies, bored grannies, GED slugs, jug headed jocks and perpetual students that clog up the glorified high schools we call community colleges. Why not reduce the salary and benefits for all of the district employees, many of whom are over paid education complex leeches. Come on, lets do it for the kids.

    P.S. Hey CWD, maybe you could do your devoted readers a favor and investigate Mr. Royalty (can a name be more pretentious than that?) and OC Taxpayers Foundation. A quick perusal of their website shows that the first accomplishment they list on their “About” page is THE RESTORATION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY TO ISSUE GENERAL OBLIGATION BONDS! No epic fail there huh?

    Reply this comment
  2. Project labor agreements back in Orange County
    Project labor agreements back in Orange County 29 March, 2013, 09:53

    Next week the Rancho Santiago Community College District board of trustees is also voting on requiring construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement for its bond-funded construction. See Item 6.5 on the April 1 agenda:

    http://www.rsccd.edu/Trustees/Documents/Agendas/2013%20Agendas/04-01-13%20agenda.revised.pdf

    There was a rash of Project Labor Agreements in Orange County in the early 2000s, read the history here:

    http://www.flashreport.org/blog/2013/03/10/pugnacious-defense-of-economic-freedom-in-orange-county-can-inspire-californias-free-market-activists/

    Reply this comment
  3. Dave Everett
    Dave Everett 29 March, 2013, 10:08

    Wow. They really said “However, a district spokeswoman told the Daily Pilot that no PLA was being drafted or negotiated.” Well, here is the link to the agenda for the April 3rd meeting and it has a PLA on it! It is item #25. The pages from the agenda that refer to the PLA are pages 1, 8, 171,172, and 515.

    Here is a copy of the full agenda. http://www.cccd.edu/board/docs/board/agn892.pdf

    Reply this comment
  4. Dave Everett
    Dave Everett 29 March, 2013, 10:18

    I think the Coast Community College District deserves the blame for this. Not Reed Royalty or OC Tax. They should be commended for shining a light on the deception. It is pretty bold to lie in writing to a taxpayers association. If a group is going to be deceptive, they usually use mush mouth ambiguous claims that they can’t be pinned down on. Lying in writing is pretty over-the-line behavior. I probably would have taken their word for it too – especially in writing. But it sounds like OC Tax is changing its policy to avoid that in the future too. I’m also pretty sure Reed doesn’t get to pick his last name.

    Here is the OC Tax op-ed in the OC Register today: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/bond-501793-district-college.html

    Reply this comment
  5. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 29 March, 2013, 12:20

    Check the OC Tax Foundation website “About” page to see what is a pretty spotty history of defending tax payers. It seems as if even a very modest amount of skepticism would have avoided their latest failure in due diligence. They more or less admit they screwed up and promise to close the barn door now that the horse is loose. That’s better than nothing but it just adds to what seems like a hit and miss record.

    Besides, the PLA contracts are not the only legitimate objection to these school bonds. Why don’t they question the basic fairness of putting these bond burdens on real property owners exclusively? Why should renters and 20 year old free loaders living with parents get to vote on raising someone else’s taxes for their own benefit. A better system would be for those who benefit directly from community colleges to pay in proportion to their benefit via higher tuition.

    Reply this comment
  6. eric christen
    eric christen 30 March, 2013, 08:11

    So someone is protecting taxpayers and worker rights and they are given the title “”anti-union activist.” Really?

    The laziness of today’s reporters is breathtaking.

    Reply this comment
  7. Howard Be My Name
    Howard Be My Name 30 March, 2013, 08:17

    “Yes, we can all afford that extra $215 extracted from our meager post depression incomes.”

    It’s all about *you,* right? You can’t afford to pay for something that would allow someone else to be paid a decent wage to perform work, right?

    The self-centeredness of Orange County conservatives will never, ever cease to disgust me. I suppose “Dyspeptic” also considers himself or herself a Christian. Well, I’ve got news for you, bucko…

    Reply this comment
  8. Howard Be a Coast College
    Howard Be a Coast College "Professor of Religious Studies" 30 March, 2013, 08:37

    Howard, the state forces companies to pay those workers prevailing wage no matter who’s working on it, so what’s you point? The state makes sure the payment is done with love and justice, and sinners who fail to pay are punished. Just like your bible says.

    You don’t even know the law, but you’ll be at the Coast College meeting on Wednesday night preaching your religion.

    Reply this comment

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