Housing Policy

Union Sues Over Approval of 1,000-Unit Silicon Valley Housing Project, Arguing Building's Shiny Windows Will Kill Too Many Birds

An environmental lawsuit holds up yet another residential development in housing-starved California.

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Dangerous cancer-causing construction materials. Legions of dead birds. These are some of the potentially disastrous consequences that could allegedly arise if a major new construction project in Sunnyvale, California, is allowed to break ground.

That, at least, is what the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local 270—which represents unionized construction workers in the area—claims in a new lawsuit it has filed against the City of Sunnyvale and its city council.

At issue is Sunnyvale's approval of a 1,051-unit residential project being sponsored by the Irvine Company. The developer is proposing to tear down a collection of office buildings in an industrial area of the city and replace them with a mix of apartments and townhouses.

Additional housing in the ultra-expensive Silicon Valley community—where the median home price sits at $1.7 million—might sound like a good thing, particularly given that 58 of the project's new units would be rented out at below-market rates to low- and moderate-income tenants.

But the LIUNA lawsuit claims that moving forward with the project without additional environmental review could cause irreparable harm both to future residents and to area wildlife, particularly birds, who allegedly will be killed en masse by flying into the proposed building's reflective windows.

The union can hold up the Irvine project because of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a decades-old state law that requires government agencies to study projects for any potentially significant environmental impacts they might have and, if any are found, to propose changes that would mitigate those impacts.

The purpose of the law was to protect the state's natural environment. But many people contend that CEQA is often hijacked by self-interested parties who want either to kill off unwanted developments or to extract concessions from a developer.

Indeed, LIUANA's Local Angeles local is currently defending itself from just such a charge in a federal racketeering lawsuit. Back in January, the developer Icon sued LIUANA Local 300, alleging that the union had used frivolous CEQA complaints to delay one of the company's L.A.-area projects until Icon agreed to hire all-union labor. This practice, Icon's suit contends, violates federal racketeering laws.

The Sunnyvale drama started back in December 2018, when LIUNA filed a comment letter claiming that a 326-page draft environmental impact report (EIR) issued by the city for the Irvine project failed to adequately study all potentially significant environmental impacts. Ironically, LIUNA's letter alleging that the report was insufficiently detailed itself contained no specific complaints.

In February 2019 the city issued a final EIR for the Irvine project, prompting LIUNA to raise a far more extensive set of objections.

In a March 24 comment letter, the union argued this final EIR failed to study the negative health effects that might arise should formaldehyde-containing construction materials be used when building the Irvine project.

LIUNA also argued that some 509 birds would kill themselves each year by flying into the project's overly reflective windows.

The letter also claimed that the city did not do enough to study the environmental impact of future residents' pet cats, who might kill even more birds while pooping out dangerous parasites.

In April, environmental consultants hired by the city filed a response arguing that LIUANA's experts relied on outdated studies that didn't take into account newer, stricter regulations of construction materials. They also argued that the Irvine project was similar enough to nearby buildings that it didn't pose any new risks to birds in the area, that it abided by the Sunnyvale's "Bird Safe" design guidelines, and that concerns about residents' cats were entirely speculative.

On April 8, the city's Planning Commission forwarded the Irvine project to the Sunnyvale City Council, recommending its approval. A few weeks later, the council voted 7–0 to approve the project. Its administrative remedies exhausted, LIUNA filed a CEQA lawsuit in late May, demanding that the approval be overturned so that yet more environmental analysis can be done.

The project could now be held up for months, if not years, while the case works its way through the courts, potentially costing its developer millions of dollars and denying Sunnyvale residents of additional housing options.

Whether LIUNA's lawsuit is motivated by environmental concerns or self-interest is impossible to say definitively.

According to a blog post written Sunnyvale City Councilmember Michael Goldman, Irvine has already agreed to hire local union labor for its project. That said, it's not unheard of for a union local to hold up a project with CEQA appeals and lawsuits until their members are guaranteed the work.

Even if you assume that LIUNA's objections are accurate and made in good faith, there is still a question of trade-offs. At what point does the well-being of birds outweigh the human need for housing?

NEXT: Big Little Lies Returns with Bigger Lies, Stars

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  1. Can the union bosses really work up that much enthusiasm for creatures that sing?

    1. Whether LIUNA’s lawsuit is motivated by environmental concerns or self-interest is impossible to say definitively.

      Is it a mistake that this is not in quotes? I don’t it being attributed to anyone else…

      Please blink if you were forced to add that paragraph against your will.

      1. Show us on the doll where Robby touched you, Christian.

      2. If the LIUNA lawsuit is motivated by environmental concerns, then the union leaders are abusing their positions by spending union resources to advance their personal environmental political views. Construction workers have no interest in protecting birds. That would provide a perfect example of why workers should not be forced to pay union dues to support political causes that they disagree with. On the other hand, if the LIUNA lawsuit really is about advancing their members’ economic interests, then they are abusing CEQA. So, which is it, does this case support right-to-work laws or does it make a good case for CEQA reform?

        To be honest, before reading the article, I hadn’t realized that unions could use environmental laws to blackmail developers to extract labor concessions. From the headline, I actually thought this case might be an example of left-wing union leaders advancing a left-wing political cause unrelated to labor issues, similar to the way bank employees have used their positions to advance personal anti-gun political views unrelated to banks’ generally apolitical business interests or social media employees have used their positions to advance personal anti-conservative political views unrelated to their companies’ stated apolitical business activities like selling targeted ads. There are actually many such cases of what might be principal-agent conflicts: decision-makers within organizations using their authority to cause those organizations to pick and choose sides on various political issues that would not on their face seem to relate to those organizations’ central missions. However, this probably is not one of them, given the union negotiations with the developer.

      3. That was funny. Anyone who spends anytime in litigating or transacting in this area knows about the union shakedowns. CEQA is such a giant joke. It is leverage to extort for anyone with a “stake.” The Laborers are real pieces of shit. They are trying to hijack the Cement Masons and Carpenters unions, among others. I suspect that is what this is about — expanding the scope of the Laborers trade at the expense of competing unions. They do this by forcing the contractor/owner to sign an agreement that provides a very expansive definition of what is a “laborer” and agreeing that only Laborers get hired for what used to be, and really, still is, non-Laborer work. It makes it hard to staff a job with union requirements (already, this is an assfucking of epic proportions to deal with these organizations) and gives one union a lot more power than it should have.

    2. Can the union bosses really work up that much enthusiasm for creatures that sing?

      That reminds me, the other day, a superstitious person told me that bed bugs are the result of gossip and the proof is that birds who sing end up with flies. That’s ridiculous. Gossip doesn’t cause bed bugs. The towel from a mangy dog that some nigger throws into your laundry basket to punish you for snitching causes bed bugs. 😀

  2. I suggest another title:
    Construction Workers’ Union Uses Regulatory Lawfare to Squeeze Another Developer

    1. Who knew environmentalism could be used as a political cudgel?

      1. Hitler?

      2. The authors of the migratory bird treaty that allowed Congress to work with Canadian legislators to regulate land use in ways that constitution forbade them from directly regulating?

      3. Well Al Gore did muse about being the world’s first carbon billionaire.

    2. Clearly only unionized labor can prevent avian suicide.

  3. At what point does the well-being of birds outweigh the human need for housing?

    GASP! Buried at the end of the article, where the author no doubt hoped readers wouldn’t venture, we see the height of callousness. You’re a hard man, Britschgi.

    1. Depends on whether we are talking African or European swallow?

      1. 11 meters per second, or 24 miles an hour.

        For an unladen European swallow.

        The South African swallow is non migratory.

        http://style.org/unladenswallow/

        1. The European swallow migrates to Tunisia in winter, thus making it an African swallow as well.

          I believe that was a joke that Monty Python worked in to the bigger joke.

          1. Good one.

            That would explain the coconuts.

            1. What’s your favorite color?

              1. Blue.

                Well, you have to know these sorts of things when you’re a king.

        2. I saw a Cooper’s Hawk take out a Mourning Dove on my deck one time. The dove was sitting there with his bros not bothering anyone, when “poof!” he disappeared in a cloud of feathers. Those hawks can dive at 120 miles per hour. His buddies scattered.

    2. Can’t they just mandate X number of birdhouses be built on the roof?

  4. Even if you assume that LIUNA’s objections are accurate and made in good faith, there is still a question of trade-offs.

    They’re not accurate and not made in good faith. So the question of “tradeoffs” means you’ve weakened your defenses already.

  5. Birds are assholes

    1. Yeah, fuck birds. Birds look nice from a distance, but they are really filthy nasty creatures.

      I’ve been watching an ongoing battle between osprey and a bald eagle this spring. Pretty entertaining. All other birds hate bald eagles.

      1. They’re not much fun when mourning doves nest near your house and pick a fight with themselves in your windows for weeks on end.

      2. I haven’t seen a bald eagle have to fight, but I have seen starlings fly a hawk to the ground.

        1. My son caught a fantastic picture of a German shepherd going after a bald eagle. The bird is on its back on the roadway with its wings fully spread and it looks like the dog is going to ravage it. He didn’t take another picture after the eagle proceeded to claw both of the dogs eyes out.

          1. There aren’t many eagles by me, so I only see a few a year. I wouldn’t mess with anything that has talons like them.

            The weirdest encounter with a raptor for me was when a turkey vulture landed on my driveway, looked me over, and then took off again.

            1. Did he say “I’ll be back?”

        2. It’s funny, the eagle has a few trees it likes to sit in. But invariably it gets dive bombed by the osprey and hassled by a bunch of crows and chased away. Bald eagles tend to prefer sealing food from other birds to hunting for it themselves, which I assume is why they don’t want them around.

        3. the crows will gang up on red tailed hawks to drive them out of the crows’ nesting area. it’s quite a sight to see.

      3. wow you guys are such haters i blow through 10lb of birdseed a week on my back patio i love them and the squirrels

        1. So that’s where all the squirrels went!

        2. That’s a lot of blow. But you should do it indoors.

          1. lol was discussing copious amounts of blow w/coworker like 10 minutes ago

        3. I don’t actually hate birds. They are dirty though.

          Squirrels can go to hell.

        4. We used to feed birds and squirrels on our back deck, until we realized the squirrels were undermining the deck with tunnels so they could sneak up without the hawks getting them.

  6. What are they, the bird union?

    I can only assume they are working some angle to get a better contract for the union.

    1. Shut down every union construction project where the same building characteristics are in play… because of our precious resources.

      1. I guess CA will be also shutdown all their wind mill and solar panel plants too.

        1. It wouldn’t surprise me.

        2. You beat me to it.

          I was wondering if the estimated bird deaths are more or less than a windmill.

          1. “estimated that in the United States wind turbines kill between 20,000 and 573,000 birds a year.”
            (to prove his impartiality, the study author based all remaining “environmental impact” effects on the 20,000 figure)

            Every article I found that actually published numbers included ranges from 100,000 or so to over 350,000, then proceeded to say that doesn’t matter because wind. Every single one.

    2. It’s called “wetting your beak”. I’m assuming the union worked in the bird angle as a joke.

      1. I think “feathering their nest” is more apt.

  7. Birds crashing into windows.

    It happens and ours are just ordinary.

    We have lots of birdies.

    1. Are you sure the bird wasn’t already dead before your neighbor threw it at your window?

  8. I like birds and certainly wouldn’t be happy about the completed project killing 500 birds a year – bu what about the bird deaths from wind turbines? Estimates range from 100,000 (National Research Council), to 300,000 (American Bird Conservancy). And let’s not forget those big solar farms. The Ivanpah Solar plan in the Mojave desert fries up to 28,000 birds a year.

    1. Ivanpah should augment its income stream with a fried chicken shack.

  9. Quick!. Someone tell the unions it’s just stool pigeons getting rubbed out.

  10. Its only a matter of time until California elects a strong man that will say “ENOUGH” and direct a shit ton of tax dollars to public housing projects that will be of poor quality and ugly as hell.

    They will fight tooth and nail to not allow private industry to make housing, then they will be so starved for affordable housing (while blaming private industry for not supplying it) that they will rise up and elect a leftist populist to force housing projects through the government. Those housing projects will be entirely run by the state, however.

    1. Its only a matter of time until California elects a strong man that will say “ENOUGH”

      Russia sold us AK. Maybe we could get Putin to buy CA.

      1. Putin’s not socialist. He’s a kleptocrat.

        On second thought, he is socialist.

      2. No, just get rid of all the progs. They don’t like guns and only prefer a fistfight if it’s six progressives guys against a small woman in her sixties.

        So disposing of the traitors should be a relatively easy task. Not that I want to. I do kind of feel like we owe it to them.

    2. they’re already starting to force developers to reserve some units for the underprivileged, and other units for the overprivileged (government workers like cops, firemen and teachers) at reduced rates.

    3. ^ It would be easier to promote new housing through zoning at the federal level. After private industry and investors have built the new housing the Dems will issue mandatory Section 8 rentals or class, race, immigrant status integration. Add DeBlasio’s seizure for non-maintenance for good measure (I’d like to see the 70,000 page list of non-maintenance standards). Additionally, confiscatory taxes on empty units to force property owners or banks into rentals. In other words, a federal takeover of real estate. I’d think twice about real estate rental investing until after 2020.

  11. the union argued this final EIR failed to study the negative health effects that might arise should formaldehyde-containing construction materials be used when building the Irvine project.”

    ITS CALIFORNIA every construction project is already required to use low VOC products so no need to study Formaldehyde it not in there anymore.

    1. The formaldehyde was replaced with asbestos and mercury.

  12. “At what point does the well-being of birds outweigh the human need for housing?”

    If it saves just one bird, no amount of human suffering is too much.

    /Eco Prog

    1. Exactly. two birds are worth one snail darter.

  13. >>>At what point does the well-being of birds outweigh the human need for housing?

    is big planet. room for all.

    1. Especially when buried.

  14. Can you say blackmail? I knew you could.

  15. So again California is on the political cutting edge. How will the struggle between labor unions (old school liberals) and social activists (new school liberals) play out?

    1. Union thugs can kick a lot more ass than some bitch ass student activists. And it will be fun to watch too.

      Seeing soyboys being beaten half to death by Teamsters is it’s own entertainment.

  16. My schaedenfreude meter goes to 11 when reading about the Left coast eating itself…

  17. LIUNA also argued that some 509 birds would kill themselves each year by flying into the project’s overly reflective windows.

    That’s upwards of 3 birds every two days on average. Any what kind of glass are these windows going to be made of if they’re “overly” reflective?

    A solution could be to angle the exterior windows downward about five degrees, so they’re not reflecting anything above them like the sky and clouds. But I strongly suspect the union is not interested in any kind of solution that doesn’t fatten their pockets.

    1. I was thinking that 509 number is either overly pseudo-precise or symbolic. But I’ve never heard of ‘509’ being used as some magical incantation

      1. It’s the area code of eastern WA State.

  18. As an expert in bird law, I have to say…
    Haha, fuck Silicon Valley. This is the type of shit you want for all of us, the least you can do is stew in it a while first.

  19. Windows should be less shiny, for the safety of the birds and to not annoy people driving cars. But next week those same people will be complaining that rent is too high.

  20. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  21. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  22. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  23. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  24. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  25. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  26. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  27. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  28. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  29. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  30. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  31. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  32. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  33. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  34. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  35. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  36. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  37. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  38. […] by the Irvine Company, may cause permanent damage to the environment and thus must be scrapped, Reason magazine […]

  39. “…Whether LIUNA’s lawsuit is motivated by environmental concerns or self-interest is impossible to say definitively…”

    Naah, it’s easy.

  40. These motherfuckers are just angling for a payoff. I hope the defendants go after them for frivolous litigation and bankrupt the assholes.

    -jcr

    1. Yeah, poor sorry privately owned Irvine Company.

      (Sole owner Donald Leroy Bren is worth SEVENTEEN Billion $$$$ and makes EIGHT HUNDRED MILLION MORE $$$ a year)

  41. I’m no relation to the author, heh..The wind generators, the big fans, they kill birds. Solar steam generators, they kill birds. Hell, the new football stadiums in Dallas, Atlanta, the Toaster in Az, they all attract birds who then crash and die (or in the case of Solar generators, fry in the beams). Fresnel lenses on lighthouses fry birds. Birds are bottom of the food chain. Clean up the carcasses and move on. Stupid birds. Stupid human’s, too.

    1. Birds are pretty high on the food chain. Maybe you should read some biology books.

  42. Rich prog: “We want to do something for the homeless!”

    People: “What do you want to do?”

    Rich prog: “Send them anywhere else!”

  43. The City of Austin forces us to install double pane windows. As soon as the first one was installed, a dove flew into it and broke its neck. Several more birds injured themselves until enough dust built up to warn them. Like the subsidized bird-choppers ecological national socialists force folks to pay for in California, it’s the altruistic intentions that count–that and the thrill of ordering people at gunpoint.

    1. Well Hank, maybe some of those birds were pregnant females. So you can giggle gleefully at that idea.

  44. At what point does the well-being of birds outweigh the human need for housing?

    This is a nicer version of when Mr. Burns releases the hounds. People who like animals more than they like people are basically hiding behind the animals as they try to eliminate unwanted humans from the area.

  45. CEQA is a lot like Prop 65. They’re both protection rackets enforced largely by unions and lawyers.
    Dear Gov. Gav,
    Can you pass a bill that I can use to beat unions and lawyers over the head?
    sincerely,
    FYTW

  46. Most bird species are in rapid decline for many reasons, all of them human. Nature is dying all over the world, and those who think it doesn’t matter really oughta take a high school biology class. Scoffing at environmental concerns is like shitting in the kitchen.

    It is easy to make buildings which do not kill birds by the thousands, and to control the cat population which kills them by the hundred millions.

    1. Bad news.
      Humans are part of nature.

  47. 58/1051

    That’s a whole 5% of that housing that will be going for less than 4000$/month.

    This will make a big difference to no one.

    1. and it would be nice if the author/editors would clean up the Sunnyvale/Angeles/Irvine designation sloppiness.

  48. During the DOT.com boom, Sunnyvale decided it wanted to be a bedroom community. So while every neighboring city (Mountain View, Santa Clara, Cupertino) was doing gangbusters, Sunnyvale was blocking new business construction. So during the whole boom, bust, and new boom, it only had tiny business park style “incubators”. Retail businesses where okay, still had to have their shopping. But tech business was discouraged.

    I will let you guess which direction the tax revenues went.

    Thankfully the old city council got booted out. We now have some big players coming in. But we’re still short on housing. And and it will take a while to get us out of our hole. We have acres and acres of those “incubator” parks that are largely empty thanks to the prior policies. Converting them to housing makes sense. Fancy townhomes for the fancy union lawyers. Oh wait, they all live in Palo Alto. Sigh.

  49. “LIUNA’s letter alleging that the report was insufficiently detailed itself contained no specific complaints.”

    So it was a frivolous complaint. One thing our legal system needs is penalties for that.

  50. As a California resident and native I really don’t think we deserve any more housing. The state is a mess yet folks keep voting in idiots.
    We have what we deserve.

  51. […] Meanwhile, the Golden State continues to produce a trickle of stories about housing developments being stalled over concerns that they’ll cast too many shadows or kill too many birds. […]

  52. […] Meanwhile, the Golden State continues to produce a trickle of stories about housing developments being stalled over concerns that they’ll cast too many shadows or kill too many birds. […]

  53. […] Union Sues Over Approval of 1,000-Unit Silicon Valley Housing Project, Arguing Building’s Shin… […]

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