|By Craig Gustafson, The San Diego
Union-TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 21, 2009--A labor-backed proposal that would require hotel developers to seek San Diego City Council approval for their downtown projects -- and possibly force them to use union workers -- is making its way through City Hall.
The council has a 6-2 Democratic majority, strengthened by labor support in last year's elections. Still, the council reduced pay and benefits over objections of the city's unionized workers in April.
The new hotel proposal could become the next test case for labor-council alliances going forward.
Council President Ben Hueso and Councilwoman Donna Frye are pushing a plan that would require proposed hotels with 200 or more rooms to seek final approval from the council. Those with 100 to 200 rooms could be appealed to the council.
The authority to approve such projects now rests with the Centre City Development Corp., a nonprofit city agency that oversees downtown redevelopment. The agency has held that power since 1992, when city leaders wanted to expedite redevelopment and eliminate red tape.
Phil Rath, a policy adviser for Mayor Jerry Sanders, said the proposal could have disastrous, unintended consequences.
"We feel that if this were to go forward, the small amount of potential hotel development in San Diego that could occur in the next five to 10 years would be severely hampered by this requirement," he said.
The proposal will be considered today at the council's Land Use and Housing Committee. If approved, it would go before the full council.
Supporters, including Unite Here! Local 30, which represents 4,500 hotel and restaurant workers in the county, say the new proposal would make the city more responsive and accountable to the public. They complain CCDC has ignored their concerns about creating decent-paying jobs.
Building-industry leaders say the move is just a way to give unions a bigger say in the projects. They fear the council would use its authority to require developers to sign a project labor agreement, a tool used to ensure union construction workers are hired.
"Of all the actions not to take in a job-starved, investment-starved economy is to add an amendment that would certainly drive away new investment," said Borre Winckel, chief executive of the Building Industry Association of San Diego. "We view this as a union threat."
Graham Forbes, a research analyst with Unite Here!, said his group is frustrated that projects continue to get approved with little to no consideration for the quality of jobs they create. That can be changed, he said, by giving the council a bigger voice in the decision-making.
"We need hotels. This isn't to stop development or slow development in any way," Forbes said. "Let's have a conversation about one aspect of development that isn't being heard."
Frye said her support is more focused on the environmental impacts of the hotel projects. She has been fighting for years to allow the council to have a say on CCDC projects and views the proposal as a way to accomplish that goal.
"This is an environmental issue, but if it helps the unions, good," she said.
Councilman Todd Gloria issued a memo Friday that said he wants to take the proposal a step further by allowing the council to review any CCDC decision if three council members request it.
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