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Cement factory ruins American Canyon

Watson Ranch, which would incorporate portions of the old cement factory ruins, is heading to the City Council for approval on Oct. 16. 

Watson Ranch is moving closer to its big day before the American Canyon City Council, following the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval of the project last week.

But it remains to be seen if the project gets held up as a result of a labor squabble between the developer and several unions.

Late Thursday evening after a marathon session, planning commissioners voted 5-0 in support of Watson Ranch’s Specific Plan, environmental impact report, development agreement, and other documents.

The City Council is scheduled to decide the project’s fate on Oct. 16.

Watson Ranch has been more than a decade in the making, undergoing numerous changes and revisions over the years as city officials, residents and others weighed in on what would be the largest development project in American Canyon’s history.

The plan calls for building 1,253 homes in northeast American Canyon, plus a large commercial and entertainment town center known as the Napa Valley Ruins & Gardens on the site of the old cement factory.

Covering more than 300 acres, Watson Ranch would also create 53 acres of parks, trails and open space, build a new elementary school, and add a host of infrastructure improvements over eight years of construction.

Residents and planning commissioners largely endorsed the project during the Oct. 4 meeting — with one key exception.

Collin McCarthy with the law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo appeared before the commission and asked it to delay voting on Watson Ranch.

The firm — based in South San Francisco and Sacramento, where it conducts lobbying among other work — represents a local group called American Canyon Residents for Responsible Development, which McCarthy described as a “coalition of labor organizations, their members and their families.”

The group consists of local residents Joel Hernandez, Pamela Lewis and James Aken, plus the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 343, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, according to a lengthy letter dated Sept. 28 filled with comments on Watson Ranch’s EIR.

The comments marked the second time that the group had weighed in on the EIR. Two years ago when the draft EIR was first released for public review, it submitted a long list of concerns with the project’s environmental impact.

Its most recent set of EIR comments, totaling more than 100 pages, cited concerns with the report’s assessments regarding air pollution, health risks, greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on species.

McCarthy urged city officials to delay any decision on Watson Ranch until the EIR was revised.

Terrence McGrath with McGrath Properties, the project’s lead developer, took exception to McCarthy’s request, saying the late opposition had less to do with environmental concerns and more with ongoing labor negotiations.

“Does anybody find the timing of this a little odd,” McGrath said while holding up the group’s hefty letter. He added that the unions involved “are seeking a project labor agreement [PLA] on Watson Ranch.”

McGrath also said the two sides have been negotiating for the past three months without reaching a compromise.

As for the group’s EIR comments, McGrath claimed the letter could represent the first step by American Canyon Residents for Responsible Development to file a lawsuit challenging the validity of the EIR that could tie up the project in court for years.

McCarthy did not respond to McGrath’s claims at the meeting.

Planning Commissioner Bernie Zipay was critical of the late opposition, calling it “despicable.”

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American Canyon Eagle editor

Noel Brinkerhoff has been editor of the American Canyon Eagle since 2014. Prior to that he covered state politics in Sacramento for the California Journal.