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New State Bill Would Require A PLA for Pure Water Project

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To end a labor dispute that’s halted work on one of the largest and most important water projects in San Diego history, Assemblyman Todd Gloria rolled out a bill Friday to require union-friendly terms for work on the project.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 The pure water reclamation project has been touted as a crucial part of San Diego's water security and environmental future. But over the past months, a lawsuit has stopped the project in its tracks in June, a contractors group one and initial court battle over a part of the pure water contract seen as friendly to labor unions with the threat of a drawn out legal battle in site assembly. Men, Todd, Gloria has maneuvered a last minute bill in Sacramento to allow union friendly terms for the project. If the bill is passed and signed, it could have far reaching consequences for other construction projects. Joining me by Skype is Rye Revard who covers water issues and the environment at Voice of San Diego and Rye. Welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. What is this contractors lawsuit all about?

Speaker 2: 00:49 So back in 2012 a city voters passed proposition a which said that, um, the city shouldn't give preference to union workers when it's doing city work. Um, and that's been a source of tension for years. And the contractors said, hey, when the city went to build this pure water project, there were some contracts that really did seem to give preference to union workers and so sued

Speaker 1: 01:17 the city though they argue that prop a doesn't apply to the pure water project. Why is that?

Speaker 2: 01:23 Yeah, so they're, they're cases that proposition a was designed so that if there was a requirement that the city had when accepting state or federal money, because often that money comes with strings attached, that that is labor friendly for labor friendly work. That if the city is taking money from the state or federal government for contracts that require union friendly contracts, the city can't, you know, attempt to exclude union workers. And so there was a dispute over that a judge ultimately said in the case of the pure water contract, at least when he heard the case that the state hadn't required union friendly contracting terms and Gloria's bill would make clear that, hey, you know, this money comes with a string attached and that string includes, you know, hire some union workers on this thing.

Speaker 1: 02:09 Okay. So how has this legal challenge affected the project? What's supposed to be happening that's not happening?

Speaker 2: 02:16 Well, uh, you know, the city was, uh, there were about 11 contracts, um, that the city was looking to sign and, and, and for 11 different parts of this project, this is a one point $6 billion project and that's only the first phase of what will eventually be a three or $4 billion project under some estimates. And so the city had been hoping to get started on all these different elements of the project and um, uh, when this judge sided with the contractors, the city just sort of halted work on almost everything effectively halted work on almost everything.

Speaker 1: 02:48 Assemblyman Todd, Gloria's last minute bill is now up for a vote in the Senate. What would it do?

Speaker 2: 02:54 It would make clear that a huge chunk of this, uh, pure project, this water recycling project, like a fourth of it is, um, state money. And so his, uh, bill would make clear that if the city wants to accept this money from the state, that money needs to be spent on, uh, on projects that are friendly to union workers. And so the city is obviously, uh, oh be almost certain to accept that because if they don't take that 400 million from the state, that's 400 million more that city taxpayers have to pay.

Speaker 1: 03:28 There is a deadline this Friday for all bills to get passed by the legislature. If Todd Gloria's bill makes it to the governor's desk, could it affect other construction projects besides pure water

Speaker 2: 03:40 and paper? It doesn't have a obvious and immediate effect on other projects, but if you look at this in the context of some other things that are going on, for instance, the port of San Diego, um, adopted some, a new policy back in January that said, we prefer contractors that, um, don't have a history of doing battle with Labor. We think that if, um, organized labor is on board with the project, it's more likely to get built. So if you look at that and if you look at the Gloria Bill and then if you look at a battle that's going on today and this week between organized labor and um, the city effectively over how many local jobs there will be when the city decides to start its own agency to buy and sell electricity, I think we're going to see a sort of new era of organized labor. You know, trying to get jobs because they're going to be a lot of jobs. Um, I think there are some contracting groups that believe it's a zero sum game and there are others that are trying not to do too much battle with organized labor cause they think there's going to be enough jobs to go around

Speaker 1: 04:45 the group that sued the Associated General Contractors. Have they responded to Gloria's bill at all?

Speaker 2: 04:50 One of their sort of allies. This Guy Eric Christianson, who's done a lot of battles with unions over the years. He was clear he wasn't speaking for the associates associated general contractors, but he said, well, if this is, this is the, you know, unions tools in Sacramento doing their bidding for them, uh, overturning the will of the voters, um, that that's their, that's their position.

Speaker 1: 05:10 Just overall, can you remind us what this pure water project means for the regions water supply? Yeah, it's huge. Huge.

Speaker 2: 05:19 Um, so right now most of our water comes from, uh, far away, hundreds of miles away. The Colorado River or the rivers of northern California. Um, we get very little rainfall as anybody knows. And um, you know, there's a salination plant that provides about 10% of our supply, but you know, in the event of an earthquake or a major drought, we are in trouble. So what this would do is allow us to recycle the water that we've already brought into the area. Right now it's wastewater that's treated and then dumped into the ocean. This would treat wastewater much more highly, make it drinkable, and eventually a third of the city's water supply would come from recycled waste water. And since some of these delays have already happened, they're already history. Does this mean the overall cost of the project and the cost to taxpayers is going up?

Speaker 2: 06:07 This is something that people who have been objecting to the contractor's lawsuit have raised. The project costs are going up millions of dollars in $1 billion plus contract. I think the, the delays so far have been relatively minor. Um, but there are other issues. There are steel tariffs, there arrives rising labor costs. There are, you know, regulatory expenses, I think in, you know, unless this delay drags out for a much longer time, I don't think this is going to be much of a cost add. I've been speaking with the voice of San Diego, reporter Rye, Revard and Rye. Thanks for your time. Thanks for having me.

Speaker 3: 06:47 No, you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.