Throughout California, budget problems are forcing local governments to pinch pennies to maintain resident service levels. Sadly, this isn’t enough in many cities and counties. Layoffs have been an unfortunate consequence of the red ink. There’s no good way to tell a loyal employee that they no longer have a job.

I’m heartened by the fact that, in the face of economic hardship, many local governments are doing everything possible to save money, be efficient, and identify ways to protect municipal services. These dedicated public servants are doing their job and representing the public sector with honor.

Sadly, it only takes one bad actor to give an entire community a bad name. A recent example is the Northern California Power Agency, an obscure Joint Powers Authority headquartered in Roseville, but representing a wide geographic region including Redding, Santa Clara, Lompoc, Ukiah, Healdsburg, Oakland, Lodi, and Truckee-Donner among others. It is an inconspicuous public consortium that represents and provides support for 20 local governments in California.
Each local government assigns a representative to serve as a commissioner.

For more than a year the Agency has been seeking a permit from the California Energy Commission to build the Lodi Energy Center, a natural gas-fired combined-cycle energy generating facility. This $432 million public works project would have a prospective payroll of $60 million, which would support hundreds, if not thousands of jobs.

Not surprisingly, big labor decided that they were entitled to a guaranteed piece of this pie and engaged in a practice known as “Greenmail.” Fronted by an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy, big labor has threatened to use the California Environmental Quality Act to stall the project until and unless the Agency agrees to a Project Labor Agreement.

Project Labor Agreements are special interest giveaways that would bar qualified businesses from even bidding to help construct the facility. In the case of the proposed Lodi facility, the Project Labor Agreement would add an additional $7 million to the overall cost of the project as well as includes an incredible $150,000 cash payment to a union trust fund.

If this isn’t bad enough, instead of resisting this extortion and seeking to protect the integrity of the Agency, staff simply surrendered suggesting that a Project Labor Agreement was a regrettable but necessary part of the energy business in California.

Then, last Thursday, they put the issue to a vote. In what has to be one of the most incredible vote totals in California history, the final outcome of the vote was 3 yes, 3 no, 5 abstentions and 9 absences. This for a nearly half billion project!

Northern California Power Agency staff, recognizing that there was little support for the Project Labor Agreement, should have moved on. But instead of following the direction of the Board, after the fact, they incredible informed Board members that the vote was non-binding due to the low turnout and called a “special” meeting for November 2 to reconsider. Attached to the meeting notice was not an agenda, but rather “Not for Distribution…Talking Points and Key Considerations”. It was nothing more than pro-Project Labor Agreement propaganda, similar to what labor unions put out on a regular basis.

Today, if you go to the Northern California Power Agency website, you won’t find any posting giving notice for next Monday’s special meeting. In fact, the last news release they’ve posted was from 2008. But that likely won’t stop them from trying to waste taxpayer dollars again in the hope that they get a majority of board members to vote yes on what is a $7 million give-in to union extortion that provides no benefit to taxpayers.

Taxpayer-funded contracts should be about the best work at the best price…always. Let’s hope that the Board of the Northern California Power Agency reminds staff of that fact next Monday.