The public would have reason to be encouraged if a controversial proposal that goes before the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees for a vote today is a true pilot project.
“I think the board is willing to take a look at it,” said President Frank Chong of a plan to invoke a project labor agreement on a $23 million remodeling plan for Burbank Auditorium. “We will see how it works.”
The problem is that if this were a true test case, the board would make clear the criteria it will use to determine whether it is a success so everyone could see it and determine for themselves. More important, the trustees would make clear how they plan to evaluate whether the criticisms of project labor agreements — namely that they put non-union contractors at a competitive disadvantage and drive up costs of construction by as much as 10 to 20 percent — are valid. But the board has no such plan.
The junior college’s metrics for evaluating the success of this “pilot project” are fuzzy, subjective and soft. They include determining whether the deal has cost-containment measures, bolsters a union-driven apprenticeship program and “encourages participation by local labor.”
Merely seeing if projects have cost-containment provisions or even if they come in on budget is no barometer of success. Not if the bids themselves ended up coming in 10 percent or more higher at the outset. Without metrics to compare the actual costs of the Burbank project with a project labor agreement and one without, the public will never know how much the PLA is costing them and whether the money is being spent as voters intended.
This is not just our concern. The Santa Rosa Junior College bond oversight committee, whose responsibility it is to ensure the $410 million Measure H bond approved in 2014 is spent as the public intended, is also encouraging the trustees to adopt clear metrics.
In a unanimous vote, the seven-member committee approved a resolution encouraging the trustees to adopt “objective, verifiable measures to track cost differences that may occur due to PLAs.” So far the trustees have ignored them. The board didn’t even have the courtesy of putting the committee’s resolution on the agenda for discussion when Pam Chanter, the chairwoman of the committee, came to present it at the Aug. 8 trustees meeting. Instead she had to read it during public comments. She has yet to receive a response.
The public deserves better than this. We have already argued that voters should have decided for themselves whether they wanted project labor agreements when they voted on Measure H three years ago. The trustees should not add them in now — a potential $2 million cost increase on the Burbank Auditorium project alone — without going back to the voters. At the least, the public should be able to see for themselves what the true cost of adding a PLA will be. But instead of a fair analysis, what they’re likely to get is something this community can least afford if it ever hopes to get another bond measure passed — a charade.