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Why Unions Oppose Overhauling CEQA

Ben Adler
Capital Public Radio

The coalition of groups that will fight efforts in the state legislature this year to overhaul the California Environmental Quality Act is taking shape.  It includes environmental groups, some Democratic lawmakers … and labor unions.  Ben Adler reports from Sacramento on why unions are on this side of the CEQA debate.

You might expect unions to support changes that would streamline CEQA.  After all, the faster development projects start, the faster construction jobs are available.  But at a Capitol news conference yesterday to oppose efforts to weaken CEQA, several of the speakers had names and titles like this:

“Good morning.  My name’s Robbie Hunter, and I’m the president at the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.” 

Hunter and other labor leaders say they oppose what they call “deregulation” of CEQA:

“Deregulation is never in the interest of the ordinary working person – the everyday worker.  That’s who we are.  We’re the ones that always pick up that tab for deregulation,” says Hunter. 

And they say unions must be environmentalists – to protect their workers and communities.

But Republican State Senator Tom Berryhill says unions – and developers – use the threat of a CEQA lawsuit as leverage in negotiations to achieve their goals.  And he points to a union-backed bill a few years ago that streamlined CEQA for a proposed Los Angeles football stadium.

“When they have a billion-dollar stadium that they want to build, they waive all CEQA (requirements) at the drop of a hat.  But a small businessman or woman that wants to open a new business, and they have a developer that’s across the street or a union that wants higher wages – routinely, this stuff’s thrown in court on frivolous lawsuits for many, many years, sometimes,” says Berryhill.

Governor Jerry Brown and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg say they want to speed up CEQA’s legal process without weakening its environmental protections.  If they succeed, they’ll do so over the objections of the unions who are among Democrats’ biggest financial contributors.

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