Contracts for library reconstruction and a waste-to-energy feasibility study were approved Thursday night in a special City Council meeting.
The council then adjourned for its annual summer recess in August.
The council agreed to partner with Flintco Inc. and Turner Construction to rebuild the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, despite the fact that the company doesn't pay its workers a union-equivalent wage. The $26.8 million contract drew a protest from a carpenters union member Thursday night.
"You're gaining the advantage of labor from low-wage areas, but you're punishing local low-wage workers," Dave Collins, field representative at Carpenters Union, Local 405, said.
"There are lots of tradespeople in Redwood City, East Palo Alto and Sunnyvale whom you could hire, but you went for a contractor who is cheap because it subcontracts in Sacramento and further away where wages are lower," he said.
Palo Alto, as a charter city, is exempt from a state requirement
to pay workers a "prevailing wage" for public projects. Council members had previously considered adopting a new prevailing-wage requirement, but dropped the idea in March.
Community members also raised concerns about the more than 70 mature trees that have been slated for removal as a part of the library's construction, wondering if there be adequate time for public comment. The Mitchell Park Library is one of three libraries that slated for major improvements under a bond the city's voters passed in 2008. The Main Library and the Downtown Library will also undergo renovations.
The council on Thursday also awarded a contract for design work for the Main Library, which is scheduled to be renovated after the Mitchell Park Library reopens.
The trees scheduled for removal near the Mitchell Park Library will be posted so that the public can view them before they are enclosed in a construction fence, Public Works Director Glenn Roberts said.
The council also approved the feasibility and environmental-impact studies for a controversial waste-to-energy facility near the city's wastewater-treatment plant in the baylands. The studies would evaluate the financial and environmental impacts of a proposed anaerobic-digestion plant, which would convert local yard trimmings, food waste and sewage into energy.
Opponents of the proposed plant, including conservationist Emily Renzel and attorney Tom Jordan, have argued that the proposed site in Byxbee Park is not appropriate for a new waste operation.
Other local environmentalists, including Walt Hays and former Mayor Peter Drekmeier, have urged the council to conduct the study for the new facility, which they said would save the city money and enable it to take care of its own waste. They are also preparing to place a petition on the 2011 ballot that would allow the dedicated parkland at Byxbee Park to be used for the new facility.
Councilman Greg Schmid voted against the waste-to-energy studies Thursday because he said other local partnering opportunities and technical options had not been sufficiently addressed or included.
Mayor Pat Burt said a special task force had reviewed many different technologies before identifying anaerobic digestion as the best one for the city to pursue.