Thursday, March 1, 2007
With confused or bored looks on their faces, the elected officials from the major Monterey County cities sat around a U-shaped row of tables. The members of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board scanned a two-page resolution with hand-drawn stars and underlined letters indicating changes. It was their only task of the day, Feb. 23, but a weighty one: deciding where construction workers should be paid a prevailing wage on the largest developable piece of public land on the Central Coast.
Carmel Mayor Sue McCloud repeatedly asked when the resolution would go into effect. (The draft document said it takes effect after adoption.) McCloud also wanted to know what developments the resolution would affect. “Shouldn’t the board know what we’re voting on?” she said, looking around for a reply.
Salinas City Councilwoman Janet Barnes, on the other hand, saved her puzzlement until the end of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting. Barnes asked why FORA needed to change the resolution if state law requires prevailing wage. “Why are we doing this?” Barnes said, a stack of papers spread out in front of her.
FORA Counsel Jerry Bowden said changing where developers pay prevailing wage would only affect future projects—like the Seaside Main Gate development and the Del Rey Oaks hotel/resort. A lawsuit, which was served in early February, triggered the discussion over FORA’s wage provision. The plaintiffs, a coalition of local unions, argue that prevailing wage is already required on all Fort Ord construction.
The FORA board didn’t take vote on the prevailing wage issue at its Feb. 23 meeting. It will likely vote on the matter on March 9. And maybe this time the three Monterey County Supervisors who sit on the FORA board will show up. The vote will, after all, affect the county’s extensive list of redevelopment projects on the former base.
But then, they might not. County officials seem to be afraid of a nonexistent lawsuit against East Garrison, a mixed-use development off Reservation Road unanimously approved by supervisors in 2005. The County hasn’t been threatened with a lawsuit over East Garrison. But it appears officials are worried they may be slapped with a suit in the future.
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In October, unions including the Monterey-Santa Cruz County Building and Construction Trades Council and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 234 sued Marina Community Partners, the developer of University Village, for trying to sidestep the wage conditions. Marina Community Partners has argued that prevailing wage doesn’t apply when they sell land to another entity like Kohl’s or to the hotel developers.
While University Village triggered the prevailing wage debate, other developments—particularly East Garrison—will be affected if the courts ever decide on the issue. But it’s likely that the University Village lawsuit will settled outside of court.
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County Counsel Charles McKee says he cautioned the three supervisors not to vote on the FORA prevailing wage item if it could potentially conflict with the wage agreement they have with East Garrison Partners. Supervisor Dave Potter says that’s why he didn’t attend the FORA meeting. According to an aide to Supervisor Lou Calcagno, who was also absent on Feb. 23, Calcagno had a budget meeting at the same time.
Potter says the County’s agreement with the developers is that only “horizontal” construction—like roads, sidewalks and utilities—will be prevailing wage. “Vertical” development, like the 1,400 homes and art studios won’t be built at prevailing wage, Potter says.
Potter is the only county official to answer where prevailing wage applies in building East Garrison. County spokeswoman Maia Carroll referred the matter to FORA. Redevelopment Director Jim Cook said he couldn’t answer where prevailing wage pertains to East Garrison.
“Unfortunately I’m not an attorney,” Cook says. “The various interpretations are very ambiguous. That’s why we are seeing all this discussion today.”
McKee, who is an attorney, says he can’t answer where prevailing wage applies without reviewing the agreement. “It’s up to the developer to determine the applicability of prevailing wages to their project based on the agreement signed to them,” McKee says.
The managing member of East Garrison Partners could not be reached by the Weekly’s deadline. Although the developer recently started deconstructing abandoned homes on the project site, it’s still unclear where prevailing wage applies for East Garrison.