The passage of Santiago’s bill highlighted a continually messy debate at the state Capitol concerning which projects deserve breaks from strictly complying with the California Environmental Quality Act, the primary environmental law governing development. The law, known as CEQA, requires developers to disclose and reduce projects’ effects on the environment, often a time-consuming and costly process made longer by lawsuits that can last years.
Legislators have long talked about overhauling CEQA — Gov. Jerry Brown has called doing so “the Lord’s work” — but the rare measures that advance often only provide relief for deep-pocketed developers or have the backing of Sacramento’s most powerful interests.
Labor influence over climate policies occasionally made Democrats uncomfortable last week. One late addition to state budget legislation, Assembly Bill 134, directs regulators to develop a process for determining whether automakers are “fair and responsible” in their treatment of workers.
If lawmakers approve the process next year and companies fall short of that standard, their electric cars could become ineligible for California rebates that are crucial to making zero-emission vehicles more cost competitive. Tesla, the state’s only automaker, has resisted efforts to unionize the workforce at its Fremont factory.
The provision was supported by the California Labor Federation, a coalition that includes the United Auto Workers, as a way to ensure public money doesn’t flow to companies that mistreat employees. But these kinds of rules could end up “undermining our own goals” of fighting climate change with more electric cars, said Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).
Organized labor doesn’t rack up a lot of wins these days, and Silicon Valley isn’t most people’s idea of a union hotbed. Nonetheless, in the past three years unions have organized 5,000 people who work on Valley campuses. Among others, they’ve unionized shuttle drivers at Apple, Tesla, Twitter, LinkedIn, EBay, Salesforce.com, Yahoo!, Cisco, and Facebook; security guards at Adobe, IBM, Cisco, and Facebook; and cafeteria workers at Cisco, Intel, and, earlier this summer, Facebook.
The workers aren’t technically employed by any of those companies. Like many businesses, Valley giants hire contractors that typically offer much less in the way of pay and benefits than the tech companies’ direct employees get. Among other things, such arrangements help companies distance themselves from the way their cafeteria workers and security guards are treated, because somebody else is cutting the checks. Silicon Valley Rising, a coalition of unions and civil rights, community, and clergy groups heading the organizing campaign, says its successes have come largely from puncturing that veneer of plausible deniability.
Toastmasters Chief Executive Daniel Rex, who called the move "deeply emotional," said the costs of operating in Orange County were a major consideration in the move. The company employs about 180 people. Toastmasters reportedly already has several potential sites in Denver and will likely buy property. “When you look at the availability of workers, when you look at the cost of commerce and real estate, this is something that makes sense,” Rex told the Times. Toastmasters, which aims to help members improve their speaking and leadership skills, was founded in Santa Ana in 1924 and has had its headquarters in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, since 1990
And then there’s the Public Records Act, California’s landmark law giving the public, mostly via news media, access to official documents, with some exceptions. Unfortunately, the list of PRA exceptions seems to be growing as legislators, who are not inclined toward openness in the first place, protect their fellow officials and/or do the bidding of powerful interests. The current session has had 79 bills involving the PRA. While most of the proposals amount to innocuous boilerplate, the Legislature is moving those that create more exceptions and blocking those that would expand access.