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ABC Unified School District Board Approves Bond Resolution During Heated Meeting

BY BRIAN HEWS

The ABC Unified School District held their regular Board meeting this past Tuesday night but it was far from regular, as the Trustees considered striking an item from the infrastructure bond “resolution” that excluded Project Labor Agreements.

The exclusion stated, “that the Board does not plan to build and maintain its bond-funded capital facilities under a Project Labor Agreement (PLA).”

A PLA is when the government awards contracts for public construction projects exclusively to unionized firms.

The PLA requires all contractors, whether they are unionized or not, to subject themselves and their employees to unionization in order to work on a government-funded construction project. 

It is essentially a comprehensive pre-hire collective bargaining agreement. The basic terms and conditions for labor are established in advance for all organizations involved in the project.

A typical PLA includes no-strike, no lock-out agreements, and also includes procedures for quickly settling any problems or disputes that might arise during the project.

Critics always point to their anti-competitive nature, but PLA’s never restrict bidding solely to union contractors, projects are available to any contractor who will accept the terms of the PLA.

The Board meeting included heated exchanges, two controversial votes, and even a tirade from one of the Board members.

At public comment, all but one speaker supported removing the exclusion of the PLA from the resolution.

Ernesto Medrano from the LA/OC Building and Construction Trades Council spoke in support of the Bond and for the PLA.

“Please delete or strike out that section that excludes the PLA-Community Benefits Agreement, workers want to work locally and we should hire locally.”

Adam Elliot from the Local 582 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union was next to speak supporting the bond and against the exclusion of the PLA.

“This community deserves those man-hours on the job, they are going to pay the taxes, they should get the benefit, you need to back the PLA.”

Richard Hathaway, a member of the Facilities Committee, wanted to remove the exclusion, “if you take it out, you can discuss the issue, you are not agreeing to have one so you can include it later. You will see more security, better educational facilities for STEAM and STEM, and property values will go up.”

Chris Martinez from the Local 803 Carpenter’s Union spoke in support of the bond and against the exclusion of the PLA, “we all want to work local, the Union is not asking a PLA be required, we are asking for a fair shot at working local.”

One resident spoke of the minor contribution homeowners would make given the tax formula for the bond. The formula is based on the assessed value of your home, not the market value. 

“The median assessed value of home in the ABCUSD is in the $300,000 range, so median taxes would go up $150 per year, $12.50 per month.”

His house was worth more than $300,000 but that did not matter. “Over 10 years I will pay $3,500 but my house value will rise much more than that.”

James Yee was against the bond measure calling it “premature.” Yee cited the enrollment policy that should tabulated before the bond is put up for a vote.  Yee speculated that the enrollment study “would necessitate combining schools.”

Yee also cited that 15% of the students come from outside the district. One district official told HMG-CN it was closer to 10%. “Senior citizens and families are outraged,” said Yee.

Yee lives in Cerritos, the average assessed value in his area is $257,000. That dictates an additional annual payment of $187 per year, an extra $15.58 per month for Mr. Yee, if the bond passed.

The outside number would be lower, but construction of new homes in the ABC is almost non-existent and a major factor why children come from outside the district.

Sophia Tse

Board discussion ensued with VP Letty Mendoza quickly moving to amend the resolution and remove the exclusion of the PLAs; Board member Chris Apodaca immediately seconded the motion.

Sophia Tse spoke up and, in an overt political maneuver – Tse is rumored once again to be running for Cerritos Council – moved to change the language of the exclusion to state “using the lowest responsible bidder” even though current state law and district policy already mandate awarding a project to the lowest responsible bidder.

Grumblings came from the audience which elicited a response from Tse, “I am union my brothers and sisters.”

Mendoza wanted to keep her original motion intact, but Ernie Nishii seconded Tse’s motion.

Apodaca spoke up and said, “the best practice here is to strike the motion, we already take the lowest responsible bidder. Let’s remove the exclusion and move on.”

Board member Nishii spoke next saying, “we can’t come back with the same language, let’s include the lowest bidder statement.” 

Even though the district is required by law to take the lowest bidder, Nishii was adamant for redundancy in the resolution, “we are not paying by the word,” he stated.

Clerk Olga Rios supported Mendoza’s motion to strike the language, joining Apodaca.

The Board voted on Mendoza’s motion to strike the PLA exclusion, the motion passed 5-2 with Tse and President Soo Yoo voting to exclude PLAs.

The motion was then made to include Tse’s redundant “lowest bidder” amendment.

On a vote of 4-3, the motion predictably failed to pass, with Tse, President Soo Yoo and Nishii voting yes.

Nishii then made the point to lower the amount of the bond to $227 million, cutting the amount by $31 million. The initial $258 million was recommended by a district ad-hoc committee.

Board member Maynard Law was not in favor of cutting the amount, “we have already cut $100 million from the initial amount, one of our major goals is to make school’s safe, we had 1,100 people work on this plan and it a solid plan, things that we need. We need to move on the full amount.”

Apodaca echoed Law’s statement, “our plan is about needs, not shiny things, we should not change the amount. It warms my heart that our Union brothers and sisters and residents who know the value of the bond spoke up tonight ready to pay the average $150 per year.”

Soo Yoo

President Yoo once again spoke about the lowest bidder addition to the resolution, evidently not understanding that both California law and district policy dictate that the lowest responsible bid must be awarded.

“We lost the 2014 bond, it is a different climate and culture, what kind of confidence are we giving our voters if we do not include the lowest bidder?”

Soo asked ABC attorney Robert Ainslow, who “was confused” at Yoo’s question, finally explaining that the lowest bidder inclusion “will not appear on any documents that voters will see.”

“You are going to follow California state law for the bidding process,” Ainslow said.

VP Mendoza echoed Law and Apodaca, “the $258 million is our needs, not a wish list. Our kids will have classrooms that will be up-to-date, that’s what they need, if we do not improve our schools, families will go elsewhere. And I want the men and woman in the audience who spoke to work on our schools, I saw the passion. If we approve less than $258 million what are we telling our kids?”

Nishii once again argued for a lower amount, which would lower the tax amount placed on residents by a nominal amount, instead of $50 per hundred of assessed value, it would be $35 of the assessed value, but the bond would be cut from $258 million to $178 million.

Sophia Tse followed Nishii with the same argument, claiming she was not playing politics. She stumbled on her math computations, and launched into a tirade for over four minutes screaming loudly while pounding the dais.

Contradicting her entire argument, at the end Tse said, “I support the $258 million.”

President Yoo once again delayed the vote on removing the PLA exclusion saying, “taxes and Unions are taboo in Cerritos,” echoing the old neo-con views that are prevalent in Cerritos and validating the moniker that ABC means “All About Cerritos.”

Yoo, who owns a tutoring business in Cerritos, with some claiming conflict of interest between that business and her Board position, concentrated on the voters of Cerritos when she spoke.

“I am disappointed in our Board members, we focused on PLA, what happened, I don’t have the confidence to continue.”

Apodaca interrupted and called for point of order to stay on the subject and “stay focused on the matter at hand, don’t chastise those in the audience or your fellow Board members who you are supposed to be leading at this moment.”

Finally, after two hours and forty minutes Board member Law made the motion to approve the bond at $258 million dollars. 

But a vote could not be taken until after additional public comments.

Long-time Cerritos neo-con and self-proclaimed campaign consultant Matt Kauble, who questionably waited until after the PLA debate to comment, sided with Yoo and said “your problem is not with Cerritos voters but with Artesia voters as well.”

Matt Kauble

Kauble, who sources tell HMG-CN assisted with the campaigns of Sophia Tse, Soo Yoo, and Ernie Nishii, omitted Hawaiian Gardens and Lakewood voters, even though they are in the ABCUSD.

“You have three trust issues,” he stated,  “corruption, incompetence, and whether the Board listens to the district. Nobody trusts the government around here.”

Kauble then threw out a statement  that precipitated more grumblings, “you have created an extra hurdle by removing the PLA language…voting to get it out might have cost the votes you need.”

As he left the podium, no one in attendance clapped.

Public comment was done and a vote was taken: the motion passed 7-0 to remove the exclusion of PLAs.

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