1/12/08

Discouraging non-union labor in Sacramento

The city of Sacramento was hit with two more lawsuits this week challenging its approval of a massive development in the downtown railyard.

As of Friday, the parade of litigants grew to include Westfield LLC, owner of the Downtown Plaza shopping center; and three individuals represented by former Davis Mayor William Kopper. Kopper's group calls itself the Sacramento Citizens Concerned About the Railyards, or SCCARY.

Local government officials and developers who have dealt with Kopper in the past allege he really represents construction unions seeking labor agreements.

Kopper could not be reached for comment Friday, but he has previously declined to tell The Bee who is paying for his legal challenge. Kopper has been involved in similar lawsuits throughout Northern California.

The two new lawsuits followed an earlier filing by Moe Mohanna, a K Street property owner in the midst of an eminent domain fight with the city, which seeks control of his properties on the 700 and 800 blocks of K Street.

All three complaints filed in Sacramento Superior Court challenge the city's environmental review of the railyard project, which could one day include more than 12,000 units of housing, office buildings, museums, entertainment and more than enough retail space to populate a large shopping mall.

Suheil Totah, vice president of Thomas Enterprises, the railyard developer, said the lawsuits came as no surprise and would not hold up the development. The developer still has to finish cleaning up toxic contamination on the Superfund site.

The developer also plans to apply later this year for millions of dollars in state bond money to help build streets, sewers and other pieces of the backbone needed to support the new community. The earliest that construction could begin on actual buildings would likely be 2010, Totah said.

"We will be continuing with the project on schedule," he said.

In its lawsuit, Westfield alleges that the official description of the railyard project shifted repeatedly during the city approval process. It says the city failed to adequately analyze the traffic impacts of the railyard project, or to include the ongoing toxic cleanup of the railyard in its environmental assessment.

Westfield spokeswoman Catharine Dickey released a written statement on Friday saying that Westfield supports "responsible" development of the railyard but views the current plan as a "front-loaded retail development scheme that resulted from a flawed/inadequate (environmental) process which failed to analyze numerous traffic and other impacts, and was based on an incorrect/misleading project description."

The company also objected to what it characterized as "in excess of $500 million in subsidies for a project where there is inadequate demand" and which would hurt the rest of downtown.

Kopper's lawsuit follows a similar theme to Westfield's, arguing that the city did not adequately describe the project and its impact on traffic, among other things.

Mayor Heather Fargo said she hasn't had time to review the lawsuits but opined that they won't stop the railyard project. Absent a court injunction, Thomas Enterprises is free to move ahead with construction.

"It's going to add to the cost, and it might add to the length of time, but I don't think it changes the outcome," Fargo said.

She said Kopper and his motives are a mystery to her. "He's becoming a regular here at City Hall," she said. "I keep hearing that he represents unions, but he won't tell us the organizations he's representing. I don't think I know who he's representing."

Others who have watched Kopper for some time say he tries to win project labor agreements that guarantee work for his union clients.

"If a developer signs it, his lawsuit goes away," said Placer County Supervisor F.C. "Rocky" Rockholm, who represents much of Roseville. "He's done it many times."

Kopper is currently suing Placer County over its approval of the 14,132-home Placer Vineyards development. Lawyer James Moose, who represents the Placer Vineyards property owners, would not discuss that case, but said Kopper's general approach is well known.

"My belief from observing his practice over the last 10 years is that he normally represents union members, and the relief he's really seeking has nothing to do with environmental issues, and instead relates to the desire to have union labor do all the construction," Moose said.

In addition to Placer Vineyards, Kopper recently sued to stop the Yuba Highlands development in Yuba County. He also appealed the Sacramento Planning Commission's approval of the Metropolitan, a downtown high-rise condominium and hotel project proposed by developer John Saca.

In the late 1990s, Kopper was hired by the Mid-Valley Trades Council to protest the potential environmental impacts of a new racetrack proposed for Yuba County.

In 2001, he told The Bee that the trades council dropped its objections after reaching an agreement with track developer Frank Arciero to use union labor. "They came to some kind of an agreement, and I wasn't authorized to do any more work on it," Kopper told The Bee. The racetrack was never built, however.

Kopper also sued earlier this decade to stop Roseville's westward expansion, said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for project developers Signature Properties and Westpark Associates.

The developers later signed a project labor agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340, the United Association (Plumbers) Local 447 and the Sheet Metal Workers Local 162.

The lawsuit against the developers was dropped.

(sacbee.com)

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails