Unions drop opposition to convention center expansion

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SAN DIEGO — Organized labor will drop its opposition to a planned expansion of the San Diego Convention Center due to a series of agreements reached with the city and the project contractor, the two sides announced Thursday.

At a news conference attended by Mayor Jerry Sanders, project manager Charles Black, San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council CEO Lorena Gonzalez and other officials, it was announced that deals were reached on local hiring rules, worker safety and other contentious issues.

In exchange, unions will drop litigation over the project, end their opposition to an environmental impact report and express their support for the expansion when it is considered by the labor-friendly California Coastal Commission next year.

“We feel now that we’re in a position that it is a good project, that it’s a project that’s going to create a good number of local jobs, good local jobs for construction workers here in San Diego,” Gonzalez said.

“We think that (with) the new (mayor) coming in and our current council and the leadership we have on our council that we’re going to continue to have the discussions we need to have on the tourism industry and the types of jobs created there,” she said.

California Coastal Commission approval to expand the center along San Diego Bay is one of two remaining obstacles before construction can begin. The other is the city’s validation lawsuit — scheduled to be heard in February — to get a judicial ruling on the legality of a financing plan in which hoteliers voted to fund a major portion of the expansion, using a percentage of revenues.

An environmental attorney and civic watchdog are the remaining litigants against the city in the validation suit, Black said.

The officials took pains to say the deal is not a Project Labor Agreement, which the city is not allowed to enter into after the passage of Proposition A in June.

Gonzalez said typical components of PLAs, like hiring practices and compensation, are being dealt with directly with the contractors, not the city. The deals will provide “good middle class jobs” for San Diegans who build and work in the expanded center, she said.

Sanders said he hopes construction will begin next spring. Black estimated that construction will take 33 months, with a planned opening sometime in 2016.

By James R. Riffel, City News Service

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