10K and two stories?

Downtown councilman says law firm’s message is inconsistent with what union leaders on the ground report, sides with developer Nikky Mohanna in unanimous vote

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the Aug. 1, 2019 issue.

Sacramento needs more housing—now.

That’s a message city leaders have heard for more than three years, and they decided to echo it themselves when voting down an appeal last week that would have stopped a mixed-use residential project over environmental concerns from labor.

Developer Nikky Mohanna made headlines last year when she unveiled her 11-story tower known as 19J, which added 175 living units to Midtown. Since then, Mohanna’s been working on a project called the 10K, which will replace three vacant buildings on the 900 block of K Street with a mixed-use development that includes a 200-room hotel and 196 apartments.

Last month, city staff urged the Planning and Design Commission to approve the project, despite an official objection from the Oakland-based law firm Lozeau Drury, which represented Laborers International of North America Local 185. The law firm told commissioners that construction would put laborers at a high risk for formaldehyde exposure. After the commission approved the project, the law firm officially appealed to the City Council on July 23.

“We had a certified industrial hygienist and engineer review the project,” attorney Mike Lozeau told council members. “Formaldehyde is a toxic chemical. It is a carcinogen that causes cancer.”

Staff from the city’s Community Development Department made it clear they disagreed with the consultant’s estimates of airborne exposure being significant.

Eric Christen, executive director of Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, accused Lozeua’s firm and Local 185 of abusing the CEQA process “in an attempt to extort the owner into a project labor agreement.”

When it was Mohanna’s turn to speak, she did not echo that claim, but assured the council that she shares common values with Local 185.

“[The project] meets an immediate need of housing for our urban workforce,” Mohanna said. “I truly believe in advancing the environmental sustainability goals of our state and our city, and we intend to uphold every environmental policy.”

Minutes before the council unanimously moved 10K forward, Councilman Steven Hansen said he’d spoken to leadership from Local 185 that day and was told it had no concerns about the project.

“I don’t even understand why we’re here right now,” he said with a note of frustration.