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By Miriam Raftery

September 23, 2023 (La  Mesa) –On Sept. 25, the La Mesa City Council will consider a staff recommendation to adopt a draft Project Labor Agreement with the San Diego Building and Construction Trades Council and associated craft unions. The PLA would apply to public projects in  La Mesa with a construction value of at least $1 million.

PLAs are pre-hire collective bargaining agreements negotiated between construction unions and construction contractors that establish terms and conditions of employment for construction projects.

According to the U.S.Dept. of Labor’s PLA Resource Guide, PLAs are an effective tool to ensure timely completion of projects at or under budget,  provide employers with a reliable source of highly skilled workers,increase diversity and support equitable workforce development, and improve worker health and safety on the job.

Opponents of project labor agreements have argued that PLAs may increase cost by mandating union wages and restricting competition, are unfair to nonunion contractors and nonunion workers, and hinder use of employer training programs that are not union apprenticeships.

The Council’s agenda also includes a request by Mayor Mark Arapostathis and Councilman Colin Parent to reconsider the Council’s rejection of a measure to authorize electronic billboards. The measure was previously defeated 3-2,  with Parent and Arapostathis voting in favor.

In a memo to Council, Arapostathis and Parent state, “…the agenda  item did not clearly identify the benefits to the public that might flow from an agreement for digital billboards in La Mesa. We are proposing to revisit the question of proceeding with an RFP, with a new guarantee that revenues from any such agreement will finance public art and public safety.”

Specifically, their proposal would require that for the first five years, revenues from any electronic billboards would be split into thirds, funding public art,  the La Mesa Police, and Heartland Fire Department. 

Councilman Jack Shu, who voted against the e-billboard proposal, says while he supports the goal of more funding for the arts,  police he still opposes the billboard plan due to safety concerns.   He calls the new proposal to use funds for police, fire and the arts a “ploy.”

Shu says the current budget already funds "pretty much everything" police and fire departments have requested. He believes the city has enough money to invest a million dollars in the arts program without the need for the e-billboards.

“We’ve already shown that it is dangerous,” he says of electronic billboards, citing a continuum of 15 academic studies.  None found electronic billboards to be safe, and many found that they resulted in an increase in accidents by distracting motorists. He notes that the proposed billboard location on  I-8 near the 125 interchange and  Grossmont Center “is already dangerous.”

ClearChannel had proposed giving the city an estimated $300,000 a year off e-billboard revenues.  But those revenues could easily be dwarfed by legal fees and potential settlements or legal judgments if an e-billboard causes a crash resulting in death or serious injury. The city recently paid out a $10 million verdict to a protester who lost an eye as the result of a beanbag fired by police, for example.


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