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by Vachelle McFarland
Saturday, May. 17, 2003 at 9:52 PM
firstname.lastname@example.org Los Angeles, CA
A proposed new policy to put knowledge in the hands of communities and improve Los Angeles’ economic development process.
The ABCs of CBAs
by Vachelle McFarland
On Thursday, May 8, 2003, members of up to 23 community-based organizations, unions, and clergy united under the collective banner of The Growth With Justice Coalition to introduce a campaign that would allow community members to have a greater voice in making major development projects accountable to current residents.
These groups insist that developers of large projects have a particular social responsibility because they are moving into existing communities and because taxpayer dollars finance their projects.
Held within the confines of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) www.carecen-la.org near downtown Los Angeles the meeting was moderated by the lively and engaging Lizette Hernandez of the Los Angeles Alliance of a New Economy (LAANE) www.laane.org.
After a rousing roll call of such disparate groups as the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Coalition L.A., Livable Places, SEIU Locals 347 and 1877, Sweatshop Watch, UCLA Labor Center, UFCW Local 770, Gray Panthers, Environmental Defense, Jovenes Inc., Legal Aid, and others, Ms. Hernandez invited audience members to share problems and subsequent successes with local redevelopment forces. Their impromptu speeches were heartfelt and moving with harrowing accounts of protest, arrests, and growth in the movement.
Afterward, Roxana Tynan, Director of Accountable Development at LAANE, was introduced and she concentrated on the introduction of the Community Impact Report (CIR). This is a proposed new policy that would require developers to produce a short report detailing the community and economic impacts of their projects.
Because of the current “back to the city” movement Los Angeles and other large cities are experiencing population growth. This growth often manifests as hotels, office parks, and expensive residential projects. Such developments are occurring in already-inhabited areas. Unfortunately, as urban areas are rediscovered, there is no guarantee the projects will benefit the low- and moderate-income community residents who remained loyal to the cities during the darkest years.
The policy would cover large commercial and market rate housing projects in redevelopment areas, and projects involving the relocation of residents.
The process involves three simple steps:
1. The developer produces a brief report.
2. The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) staff accepts the report and adds comments as needed.
3. The CRA board holds a public hearing.
The Community Impact Report would encourage community input into the development process, and give stakeholders direction about how to improve the public benefits of projects that receive city funding.
According to Ms. Tynan, too often residents find out about a project in their neighborhood after it is too late to make a difference. A CIR would get information into their hands early—and give them an opportunity to suggest ways to improve a project.
Experience has shown that development can be more costly when community residents are not involved early enough in the process.
The hoped-for result would be that:
· Community members will have a forum in which to address their concerns about jobs, housing, and neighborhoods.
· Policymakers will be able to respond to community concerns in a more timely, efficient way.
· Developers will no longer have to deal in an offhanded way with community concerns.
· Taxpayers will be more confident that their money is being used to provide beneficial economic development.
The CIR is only the first step in making development in Los Angeles answerable to communities. The goal is to develop legally enforceable contracts known as Community Benefits Agreements, or “CBAs,” as safeguards to ensure that local residents share in the benefits of major developments.
CBAs promote the following values:
Inclusiveness. Low-income neighborhoods, non-English-speaking areas, and communities have historically been banned from the development process. Having a CBA negotiation process helps provide a voice for all parts of an affected community.
Enforceability. Developers “pitching” a project often make promises that are never written into the development agreement, or are never enforced even if they are included. CBAs commit developers in writing to promises they made and make enforcement much easier.
Transparency. CBAs help the public, community groups, government officials, and the news media keep an eye on a project’s outcome. Transparency is an undeniable good-government value.
Coalition-Building. Developers often use a “divide and conquer” strategy when dealing with community groups by giving a little accommodation to one group (such as a monetary payoff) while ignoring the concerns of others. By addressing many issues and encouraging broad coalitions, the CBA process helps oppose this divide-and–conquer ploy.
Efficiency. CBAs encourage early negotiation between developers and the community, avoiding delays in the approval process.
Through negotiations between the developer and leaders of community groups agreements are made to work toward mutually beneficial objectives.
Redevelopment projects always seek to benefit from financial support such as:
1. Land parceling through eminent domain
2. New streets and other infrastructure
3. Property tax reductions or abatements
4. Tax increment financing, and
5. Industrial bonds or other loans
while communities generally demand benefits such as:
1. No displacement
2. Affordable housing for low-income residents
3. Living wage jobs and job training
4. Help in building wealth and assets, and
5. Copious park space.
All development projects require governmental permit approvals such as building permits, re-zoning and environmental impact statements. For many projects, the degree of community support or opposition will determine whether the developer will receive the approvals or financial backing.
The developer will usually negotiate with community representatives to the extent he thinks he needs community support to move the project forward so there are basic questions community groups should always ask about virtually any development:
1. Are the development’s benefits substantial enough to justify the public subsidy?
2. Do the benefits outweigh the costs, such as dislocation of homes and businesses, increased vehicle traffic, and/or gentrification pressures?
3. Does the development cushion the blow to those who will suffer the direct negative impacts of the development?
4. Does the development have an appropriate character and scale for the surrounding neighborhood?
5. Are the promised benefits reasonably certain to materialize?
6. Will jobs created pay enough that the government won’t have to subsidize the employee’s wages and benefits?
If the answer to any of these questions is negative or unclear, community groups should use the CBA negotiation process as a tool to lead to a better project with stronger community support.
Successful negotiations demonstrate the power community coalitions possess when they work cooperatively and support each other’s agendas.
If groups organize well, stick together, and win a good CBA, they will greatly increase the quality and certainty of a project’s community benefits.
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