Mayor Bob Taylor and councilmen Chris Becnel and Bob Brockman provided the aye votes Tuesday, putting the expected $66 million project out to bid. The vote was preceded by a brief review of the project’s financing, $41.5 million of which will come from bonds, $24.4 million of which has already been collected from developer fees.
The bonding will come from three sources. Property within the city’s Redevelopment District has about $20 million worth of capacity, half of which will be tapped. Property within the existing Community Facilities Districts (CFDs) will support $17 million, and all of that capacity will be used. The remaining $14.5 million will come from savings the city has already secured by refinancing existing bonds on infrastructure in the city.
“The big thing is that we don’t need any growth to do this,” said Finance Director Pam Ehler. She added that although CFDs would be maxed out if the cost comes in at the estimated $65.9 million, the capacity of the districts would grow when construction resumes and new subdivisions begin to come on line once again.
The bids on the project, however, could well come in below estimates. The recession has depressed construction costs as much as 20 percent on other public-works jobs in the area amid stiff competition for fewer projects. City management analyst Gail Leech said Tuesday that 25 potential bidders had already expressed interest in the civic center project, and were currently being pre-qualified.
The council voted as expected. Councilmen Erick Stonebarger and Brandon Richey voted no, having consistently expressed concern that the uncertain economy makes the project premature at this point. Only two members of the public spoke, both in favor of moving ahead with the project before construction costs begin to rise again.
That’s a far cry from the council session last Thursday, when the council agreed to a project labor agreement (PLA) that would govern the construction of its new downtown civic center.
The PLA, which is drawn primarily from union collective bargaining agreements, is intended to be a tool through which local residents would, by utilizing worker lists at union hiring halls, be given preference for jobs on the project. It also provides a set of uniform rules by which all trades working on the project must abide.
Prior to the vote, the council heard from nearly 50 speakers, who supported the use of a PLA by a margin of 2-to-1. Pro-PLA speakers cited the quality and dependability of union workers, and the ready availability of qualified craftspeople.
Anti-PLA speakers decried the document as a union effort to control the construction job market. Several felt that the PLA’s requirement for all employers to pay into union benefit funds, regardless of whether non-union shops had similar plans in place, made it financially unfeasible for them to compete. Also, although workers would not technically be required to join the unions, the PLA would require that union initiation fees and dues be paid for them.
In agreeing last month to negotiate a possible PLA, councilmembers said they hoped the so-called “double benefits” issue could be avoided. When the PLA came forward without allowing for alternate, non-union benefit plans, some speakers criticized the council for not following through. Becnel said that, in any negotiation, there are some things that just can’t be achieved.
The council was also criticized for not following the example set on a project in Palmdale, where a local hiring preference was used without a PLA. City Attorney Damien Brower, however, said he did not believe the Palmdale model – which had not been tested in court – could withstand a court challenge.
Overall, Becnel said, the PLA was the best way for the city to achieve its stated priories for hiring locals, despite the fact all its goals might not have been reachable: “This has to do with whether I believe (the PLA is) in the best interest of the City of Brentwood. The bottom line is that this gives us a much better ability to get what we want. I want to make sure this project puts the most people from Brentwood to work that we can.”
Brockman ticked off a list of his objections to the PLA, including the aforementioned benefits rules. He pointed out that although the agreement required the use of union hiring practices, “I don’t know what (those rules) are. I don’t have a clue.”
Brockman felt that the PLA provided a disincentive for non-union firms to bid on the project. “I feel we’re being pushed into a corner,” he said. “Why can’t we coordinate our own contract? Put it out (to bid). Maybe we’ll still end up with a union contract.”
Stonebarger also believed that local non-union firms would be put at a disadvantage. In contradiction to testimony from several members of the public that the huge, non-PLA Streets of Brentwood project had provided few jobs for locals, he said the only company he had spoken to about it had said 23 Brentwood electricians had worked there. The potential that local non-union workers might not get an equal opportunity to work the civic center was a “hurdle I’ve had to get over,” said Stonebarger, “and that I haven’t gotten over yet.”
Richey floated the idea that further negotiation might yield more progress on the issues of concern to PLA opponents. That idea, however, meant additional delay, and the possible loss of significant savings available because of the current bidding climate, “and still might not yield a better agreement,” according to City Manager Donna Landeros.
Taylor reiterated his position that the civic center represented a “stimulus package for Brentwood, and that the 10 years it had been under development was long enough, and local people needed jobs right now. “This bantering puts no money in anyone’s bank account,” he said, adding a warning that he would be spending lots of time on the job site. “If we go with a PLA, and we do not have local jobs,” he warned unions, “you guys are going to catch hell.”
The vote to approve the PLA was 3-2, with Stonebarger and Brockman dissenting. Richey voted for the plan, despite the fact that a lack of “teeth” in the local hiring preference left him with a lack of enthusiasm for it.
“If it was up to Brandon Richey,” he said, “I would have this thing hammered out to the precipice of illegality when it comes to local hiring preferences,” he said. “Given the will of the council, I believe this is the best local preference program I can get at this time.”
Bid packages, including the PLA, will now be distributed to all qualified contractors, to be returned by Aug. 25. Meanwhile, the financing package will be put together and returned to council at about the same time. Together, the data will be evaluated by the council, and a final go/no-go decision on the civic center will be made in September.