[caption id="attachment_67318" align="alignnone" width="500"] A worker in January 2013 positions the beam used in the "topping off" ceremony for the Graton Resort & Casino project, which opened in November. The project is one of several pointed to as successful North Bay examples of project labor agreements.[/caption]
SANTA ROSA -- The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday appeared to back a proposed policy for project labor agreements on public construction of more than $10 million, although the matter will come back for a final vote in two weeks.
The board sent the matter back to county staff to draw up a final policy based on hours of debate, including more than three hours of public comment from both proponents and opponents. A majority of the board signaled support for a PLA policy, with Supervisor David Rabbit expressing the most reservations but not outright opposition. A final vote will take place during the board's Jan. 28 meeting.
While PLAs aren't final policy, opponents of such agreements sounded a tone of frustration and imminent defeat in the pitched political battle.
"What happened today was an incredible disappointment if you're a Sonoma County taxpayer," said Keith Woods, CEO of the North Coast Builders Exchange, which has long held that PLAs drive up costs for contractors.'Alternate bid,' $10 million threshold
The exchange's position, however, is that if it had to live with a countywide PLA policy, it would prefer a so-called "alternate bid" process, wherein a given construction project would be put out by the county to bid as both a PLA and a nonunion project, in an attempt to see which was more cost-effective.
Supervisors Efren Carrillo and Rabbit were the only board members to express strong support for this measure, with the remaining board noting that if the county determines a project bid is too high, it already has the authority to reject the bid and therefore would put out bids that were only a PLA.
Supervisors also lowered the threshold for PLA projects to $10 million, significantly below the originally proposed PLAs threshold for projects totaling more than $25 million on federally funded projects and more than $10 million on state or locally funded projects.
Supervisor Mike McGuire said the $10 million threshold and the proposed PLA policy are more than adequate, noting that the average county project is $4 million, according to the General Services Department.
"I think it is a very fair threshold," he said.
The policy calls for Sonoma County to adopt such agreements in an attempt draw down costs for bidding on major construction projects while promoting the use of local contractors and the local workforce. The board settled on the figure of 70 percent for local trade workers, with local being considered anyone from Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Mendocino counties.
"I believe we made our best attempt at putting forward something that is fair," said Supervisor Carrillo, who along with Supervisor Rabbit worked on an ad hoc committee report that recommended the alternate bidding provision.
Supervisor McGuire challenged the assertion from PLA policy opponents that the agreements can lead to project cost overruns. Major North Bay projects such as those by College of Marin, the county of Solano and Graton Resort & Casino were completed on time and on budget with a mix of bidders both affiliated with unions and not, he said.Politics of construction