(Editor's note: The Sonoma County Accountable Development Coalition signed Sonoma County's first Community Benefits Agreement last month with Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park.)Commentaryby John CorryCalling something a “Community Benefits Agreement” doesn’t make it so. Nothing could demonstrate this fact more clearly than a simple description of what they really are.While the Sonoma County Accountable Development Coalition would like for citizens to believe these agreements benefit the community, in reality, they only prevent qualified local businesses from submitting a bid to compete for construction projects if they aren’t union operations.It doesn’t matter if they can provide better quality at a lower cost. These so-called community benefit agreements are special interest giveaways and the result of power politics.Here’s how they work. Government agencies or commercial developers are asked by unions to enter into what is more commonly known as a Project Labor Agreement, which requires that union labor must be used on the project and in some cases requires a cash payment to the union’s trust fund.If the agreement is declined, then lawsuits are filed claiming that the project does not meet environmental requirements. These suits are filed by law firms working for unions including Adams Broadwell, Joseph & Cardoza, M.R. Wolfe & Associates, William F. Kopper Law Firm and Weinberg Roger & Rosenfeld.Other times, an organization calling itself CURE (California Unions for Reliable Energy) also will sue governments and developers for the same purpose.These tactics result in costly delays, forcing the project developer to weigh the costs of these delays against the cost of acquiescing to the union demand. Sadly, it is sometimes less expensive to give in to this organized blackmail than it is to stand up for opportunity, quality and accountability in the construction process.Once a Project Labor Agreement is signed, the lawsuits are coincidentally withdrawn. What was once an alleged environmental concern is apparently no longer … so long as the union gets its way.Responding to these allegations, unions and their allies suggest that the agreements are valuable because they can eliminate the potential for labor strikes against a project and require that the project can be built by local workers. The truth is that these are all things that can be guaranteed through a standard competitive bidding process and an enforceable contract. The reality behind the rhetoric is that unions drive the cost of projects higher for local governments and entities that cannot afford it. Not now or ever.Nonprofit associations, including those representing non-union contractors, oppose these agreements and believe that construction projects should be awarded to the firm that provides the best quality work at the best cost, whether it is union or non-union. If a union firm can submit a bid that guarantees quality work at a lower cost, then it should be hired. Just like General Motor’s new slogan, “may the best car win,” the same rule should apply to taxpayer-funded public works construction projects.Local governments today are facing budget shortfalls unlike any other time in California history. Making the most from every penny is important, whether it is used to build roads, water systems, government buildings or anything else. It should be noted that Orange County and the city of Fresno are just two examples of governments that have actually banned Project Labor Agreements.They are able to deliver construction projects that meet taxpayer needs. Union companies are welcome to compete on a level playing field with other businesses. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t. But regardless, taxpayers are always well-served.