Don't be too impressed with the leadership of state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, in reforming the California Environmental Quality Act. From personal experience, I know his interest in stopping CEQA abuse is highly selective. And his proposed reforms reflect it.
In 2008, I was working for a construction trade association in Bakersfield that represented numerous local industrial contractors. Big West/Flying J had bought the old Shell refinery and was planning a $700 million modernization. Local contractors and workers were excited about the work opportunities.
Initially, many local citizens had concerns about some of the specific environmental implications. In the end, Big West/Flying J responded to the concerns of the legitimate local groups, explaining the project and making some environmental and safety-related changes to improve it.
CEQA seemed to be working for the people of Bakersfield. But one group continued to assault the project with massive CEQA objections.
Six construction unions hired the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo to object to the refinery upgrade. Operating under the deceptive name Bakersfield Refinery Coalition, they had succeeded in slowing down the project and increasing the cost of planning and preparation.
While this law firm hounded Big West/Flying J and Kern County with massive objections to the environmental impact reports on the project, union officials were meeting with refinery management and demanding that they require their contractors to sign a project labor agreement for the project. This would give unions a monopoly on the construction.
On Sept. 25, 2008, the Kern County Planning Commission voted 5-0 to approve the project. I spoke at the meeting and revealed what everyone already knew: the CEQA objections were not about environmental concerns, but union demands.
Then on Oct. 21, 2008, the Kern County Board of Supervisors considered approval of the project. At this meeting, Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo did a new massive "document dump" of CEQA objections in front of the county supervisors and a room full of supporters. I spoke at the meeting and again exposed the true intent of the phony coalition objecting to the project under CEQA. As before, everyone there knew I was telling the truth.
One county supervisor then criticized me by name for my comments about the unions and their ulterior motivations for their CEQA objections. It was Supervisor Michael Rubio, union-backed candidate for the California State Senate.
If you analyze the CEQA reform bill that Rubio introduced late in the 2012 legislative session, you'll see that it attempts to suppress a lot of the CEQA tactics used by small community-based groups to stop undesirable projects in their neighborhoods. Rubio cites these cases regularly as he promotes CEQA reform.
But his bill does nothing to address the costly and substantial CEQA abuse of the big-time players: construction unions, nurses unions, truckers unions, grocery workers unions, and hotel and hospitality unions.
Unions and their law firms are comprehensive in their attacks. Rubio's nitpicking reforms, such as restricting CEQA objections based on aesthetics, will make no difference to the union special interests that control the California Legislature.
Kevin D. Korenthal is the president and CEO of KORE Communications and a former director of government affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California.