query: community benefit agreements

colist at comm-org.wisc.edu colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Tue Jan 9 08:51:37 CST 2007

[ed:  thanks to David and Richard for replying to Jacob's query.]

From: David Koppisch <DavidK at RHD.ORG>

Hi Jacob:

Interesting topic.  I can't cite specific articles critiquing CBA's but 
I know they are out there.  I started a campaign to win a CBA in a 
Philadelphia neighborhood from a developer looking to turn an abandoned 
factory into high priced condos in a still poor neighborhood. The goal 
is to get the developer to include affordable housing units in the 
building (or contribute dollars for affordable housing in the 
neighborhood), as well as jobs for neighborhood residents and some other 
things.  The campaign continues as of this date. I can put you in touch 
with folks still leading that campaing if you wish.

I think your research question ("are CBA's 'neoliberal') is interesting, 
although a little confusing.  From my perspective -- shaped by actual 
organizing experience -- a CBA, like all tactics is neutral and is good 
or bad (i.e. effective or not) based on context. I am a bit confused 
(dismayed) by the tendancy on the left to want to label, categorize and 
judge strategies and tactics in the abstract.

Anyway, if you'd like to talk to the Philly folks, I can help.

David Koppisch


From: Richard Layman <rlaymandc at yahoo.com>

In _Planning the Capitalist City_ lays out what Foglesong calls the 
"property" and the "democratic" contradictions in planning.  The first 
has to do with property rights vs. the social benefit of land, the 
second with public input into issues of private property.
The justification of zoning was to protect property values from the 
wanton acts of self-absorbed property owners.  Foglesong has a 
discussion of Fifth Avenue merchants fighting continued expansion of the 
Garment district.  And if you troll through the historical NY Times you 
can find the full page ads that the respective organizations ran in the 
newspaper.  Etc.
Justification for community benefits comes both from the social value of 
land as well as the fact that "variances," "exceptions," and "density 
bonuses" are "wealth grants" to private property owners that result from 
allowing for deviances from the regulations.
In DC, this system is ad-hoc, which I aver is deliberate in order to 
favor property owners ("capital") but then I am quite fond of the Growth 
Machine thesis of Molotch ("City as a Growth Machine", AJS, 1976)  and 
Logan and Molotch (_Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of 
Place_) to explain local elites and the dominant economic development 
agenda within communities.
Anyway, below is an extract of something I've written about this before, 
with regard to zoning-based amenities.
Richard Layman
Washington, DC
----From October 2006-----
While it is in fact the case that the DC economy rests upon real estate 
and development, it should not be forgotten that the PUD process is 
intended to provide developers more flexibility in return for 
proffers-public benefits.

Parenthetical Statement on Proffers/Community Benefits with implications 
broader than this specific matter

Variable treatment of communities, based either upon the extranormal 
market and political power of the applicant, or the power and resources 
(or lack thereof) able to be commanded by community organizations, 
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and other stakeholders given party 
status, is a matter of great distress to the Citizens Planning Coalition.

To the average citizen participant in such processes, it appears that 
the processes of defining benefits and negotiating the benefits are for 
the most part unstructured. And citizens do not have access to many of 
the meetings conducted by various DC Government agencies in relation to 
such matters.

CPC believes that this is a violation of the 14th Amendment of the 
Constitution of the United States, which provides to all citizens "equal 
protection under the law."

Note that the attorneys with whom we have communicated about this 
argument state that such cases are difficult to prove. However, there is 
no question that the process is easily gamed and for the most part, 
citizens and neighborhoods are the poorer for it.

See attachment A for an extended discussion of this issue, and a 
suggested framework for approaching negotiations. Note that the 
suggested typology of three types of benefits as laid out in the document:

a. City-wide
b. Neighborhood
c. Micro-area (the area immediately impacted by the project);

has since been modified but has not been recodified into a new document. 
The typology would now be:

a. National or broad policy objectives (such as green architecture, 
which the CPC believes should be considered basic good business 
practices undeserving of extra consideration during review within the 
Zoning regulatory process)
b. City-wide (such as DC resident employment targets)
c. Neighborhood (such as donations to public space and facilities, 
neighborhood organizations)
d. Micro-area (benefits proferred in the immediate area of the project).

CPC does not see public benefit in proffers to individuals, such as the 
"famed" Health Club memberships awarded to certain residents with regard 
to a PUD matter in Friendship Heights.
Today's blog entries seem to share a common theme: the interaction 
between government and similar institutions (like Gallaudet) and 
citizens; the appropriate role and power of both; and trust. Trust, 
trust, trust, trust, trust.

PUDs and community amenities are an example of where most of the time, 
neighborhoods get negotiated out of their underwear, without even 
knowing it.

And since there is no structured development of a list of neighborhood 
or city-wide priorities (well, the Comp Plan, but who looks at documents 
like that day-in, day-out--more about this in a future blog entry), 
other than affordable housing at the level of city-wide proffers. As a 
result, for the most part neighborhoods don't get anything of lasting 
value from Community Amenities Agreements.

This isn't always the case, here and there are companies that do the 
right thing. But they are exceptional (Rocky Gorge Development's Fort 
Totten development is one such example).

Other jurisdictions handle this process much differently, going into 
negotiations with a set of priorities.

You know my line--

When you ask for nothing, that's what you get. When you ask for the 
world, you don't get it, but you get a lot more than nothing!

In this case, here's another line--

When you don't know what you want or need, for the most part, you'll 
take anything.

For example, green architecture benefits the property owner. So why 
should that be considered a benefit to the community worthy of even $1 
worth of consideration?

Similarly, the law requires the hiring of DC residents. So developers 
should have to hire DC residents without patting themselves on the backs 
for it.

Getting neighborhood and/or city-wide benefits in perpetuity is 
something different altogether, and that's what should be sought, in 
each and every PUD matter.

Also see the handbook Community Benefits Agreements: Making Development 
Projects Accountable, published by Good Jobs First.

colist at comm-org.wisc.edu wrote:
> --------
> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
> --------
> [ed:  please feel welcomed to copy COMM-ORG with responses to Jacob's 
> question.  We have had some discussion about CBAs on the list in the 
> past, and I always it useful to return to good discussions.]
> From: Jacob and Sarah Lesniewski <jshm at uchicago.edu>
> I'm a grad student at University of Chicago, and I'm working
> on a lit review for a professor of mine, seeking to answer
> the question "are community benefit agreements neo-liberal."
> I'm having some challenge finding critiques of community
> benefit agreements as well as trying to gain a historical
> perspective of why this tactic or strategy has emerged.  Any
> help or direction would be fantastic.
> Peace
> Jacob Lesniewski
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