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The Concord City Council on Tuesday delayed a deal involving 310 market-rate apartments downtown, just blocks from the BART station, after asking the developer to come back with a commitment to hiring local, organized labor for construction in the development agreement.

AvalonBay Communities is looking to purchase roughly 3 acres of land at 1765 Galindo St. from the city for $4 million. The property was owned by Concord’s now-dissolved Redevelopment Agency, or RDA, but it is currently vacant. Neighbors might recognize it by the presence of a white picket fence.

That land was an orchard in the mid-20th century, but AvalonBay is looking to put a mixed-use development there with housing and 6,500 square feet of commercial space, possibly occupied by a high-end restaurant or similar tenant that might add to the draw of the downtown corridor.

Plans for the property have been subject to significant public pushback, however, and not just over who will do the work.

A group called Concord Residents for Responsible Development has questioned whether the site itself is suitable for residential development due to the possibility of pesticide contamination from the property’s agricultural past.

The law firm representing the group, Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, submitted letters to the city in December and then again Tuesday arguing the project would violate the California Environmental Quality Act and that a costly environmental impact report must be conducted before it can go forward.

Thomas Enslow, an attorney representing Concord Residents for Responsible Development, argued during public comment that there may be DDT contamination in the soil, and that could continue to pose a hazard for centuries. Enslow said:

“This is a real issue, but the bottom line is this is a CEQA issue.”

They’ve also argued that the deal would violate the city’s general plan policies on hiring local tradesmen and apprentices.

Trent Wilson from Analytical Environmental Services, a consultant hired by the city, argued that DDT contamination in soil has a half-life as low as two years and that risk of exposure was extremely low, but it was unclear at the time of Tuesday night’s vote whether the legal and environmental questions raised would be sufficient to stop or delay the project.

With regard to labor, AvalonBay Senior Vice President Nathan Hong said that union shops would be welcome to bid on subcontracting opportunities, but stopped short of expressing a preference for hiring them.

During a calm, careful exchange between Hong and Councilman Edi Birsan, the former mayor repeatedly posed a hypothetical question asking Hong which firm AvalonBay would choose if Firm A offered a lower price but the more expensive Firm B had union workers with apprenticeship opportunities and veterans programs.

Hong eventually admitted:

“If all things were equal then it would be A.”

Ten or more Concord residents representing at least five trade unions addressed the City Council during a subsequent public comment, pressuring their elected officials to reject the deal on those grounds.

“I’m asking you to reject the (agreement) with AvalonBay because it lacks what other developers in this community are committed to doing, which is put in writing that they’re going to have local hire and that they’re going to use apprentices,” said Eric Haynes from Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 104.

During that round of public comment, no one spoke out in favor of approving the development agreement as it’s currently written, but Hong was given an opportunity for rebuttal.

Hong said:

“We definitely want to include (unions). … It’s part of a good process.”

When pressed by Mayor Carlyn Obringer, Hong agreed to come back to the council with language in the development agreement that reflects a commitment to hiring local workers.

Birsan motioned to continue the matter to the next meeting on Jan. 22. It was seconded by Councilmember Laura Hoffmeister and passed.

If approved later this month, the project is expected to break ground sometime between 2020 and 2022, amid uncertain economic conditions.

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