Caltrans’ Union Holds Hostage San Francisco’s Presidio Parkway

Once again a union of Caltrans employees is using the courts to hold up an important public safety project, gain leverage over the project and force its will on the people. This $1 billion project, called Presidio Parkway, would make major public safety improvements to and ease congestion on the southern, San Francisco approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Caltrans union—Sacramento-based Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG)—has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction that would delay the delivery and increase the costs of the project. Moreover, PECG’s project-threatening, job-threatening lawsuit comes at a time, when California’s economy is in terrible shape, and when elected leaders of all political persuasions are urgently calling for more job creation in California.

It is a real travesty when Caltrans employees—the very public officials whose fundamental duty it is to provide the public with a safe and efficient transportation system—go to court to stop an important and badly needed transportation project.

This latest PECG lawsuit was filed against both the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority alleging that they made technical violations of SBX2 4 (Cogdill), California’s public-private partnership (P3) law enacted in 2009.

However, the allegations in PECG’s lawsuit are really just a smokescreen. The truth is that PECG opposed SBX2 4 in the legislature and in every subsequent public agency hearing on the issue. What PECG really wants from its lawsuit is to prevent competition and to maintain and expand its near monopoly on engineering work for major transportation projects.

The passage of SBX2 4 in 2009 was California’s modest step forward towards catching up with the rest of the nation and the world. For today public agencies everywhere, except in California, regularly use P3s to combine government oversight with private sector expertise and financing to speed up the delivery of needed infrastructure improvements. P3s are a particularly vital technique for delivering projects, when governments are strapped for cash—and that is certainly the case today in California. (http://www.acec-ca.org/news.asp?nid=268)

Sadly, as evidenced by its anti-Presidio Parkway lawsuit, PECG is far more interested in prohibiting competition with its monopoly than it is with helping to deliver needed projects. Once you get past the legalese, PECG’s anti-Presidio Parkway lawsuit is clearly a calculated move designed to divert attention from the union’s primary goal: to make sure that transportation work in California is awarded only to PECG’s members.

In addition to being patently unfair, a state-union monopoly scares away private investment. Private sector partners want open competitive bidding combined with public agency oversight—not a state employees union monopoly—in order to foster innovation, accountability and speedy project delivery.

PECG’s anti-Presidio Parkway lawsuit is a tool for eliminating private sector competition so that they can keep their bloated union staff intact, in spite of growing calls to cut state overhead.

This is not the first time that PECG has filed a lawsuit in order to get its way. In fact this run-to-the-courts strategy is becoming its standard operating procedure. Since the passage of Prop 35 in 2000—a measure which gives public agencies the choice to use public or private sector engineers as the public agencies see fit—PECG has filed multiple lawsuits attacking that measure. However, the courts, including the California Supreme Court in two separate lawsuits, have resoundingly and repeatedly rejected PECG’s legal claims.

Unfortunately, PECG’s past failures in court have not deterred PECG from continuing to run to court. In fact PECG’s anti-Presidio Parkway lawsuit includes yet another legal attack on Prop 35.

PECG is once again thumbing its nose at the Governor, the legislature and the people of California by holding hostage an important project for public safety and transportation efficiency. It is long past the time when PECG should be held to accountable to every California citizen for constantly placing its own self-interests above the interests of the public.

Paul Meyer
ACEC California Executive Director

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