More communities are asking that development projects come with a “community-benefit agreement”, which oblige companies to provide perks or make concessions in order to obtain building permits. For example, a plan to construct apartment buildings may require the developer to offer some units to low- or middle-income tenants, or build a park inside the complex.
Since 2001, when a comprehensive community benefits agreement was struck for a hotel-and-entertainment project now being developed in Los Angeles next to the Staples Center sports arena, the trend has quickly spread to other cities, including Denver, Milwaukee, Chicago and Washington. Advocates of C.B.A.’s, as they are known, see them as an outgrowth of the Smart Growth movement — the idea that development decisions should address a broad range of social and economic issues like transportation, jobs and housing.
One organization, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, is careful to make sure that the agreements benefit the community, not any one side in the debate:
In California, leaders of the community benefits movement that are party to an agreement never accept money from the developer, said Madeline Janis-Aparicio, the executive director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), a nonprofit research group. “No donations of any kind,” she said. She also said it took six months to a year to pull together a coalition before negotiations could begin. “You can’t skip steps,” she said.
In Inglewood, California in 2005, Wal-Mart opponents demanded that the world’s largest retailer make a community-benefits agreement. Wal-Mart’s original 2004 proposal, which included no input from the government or Inglewood citizens, was shot down. When the company pursued its plans a year later the people made it clear that Wal-Mart’s development couldn’t be one-sided.
Mr. Scott has admitted publicly that Wal-Mart made a mistake in Inglewood. It’s time for Wal-Mart to correct that mistake by showing the people of Inglewood – and the American public – that the world’s largest company is truly committed to strong, healthy communities,” said California Assemblymember and Inglewood resident Jerome Horton, who led the delegation.
We believe that the hundreds of millions of dollars Wal-Mart is investing in public relations would be far better spent on addressing the problems Wal-Mart has created for America’s communities,” said Rev. Altagracia Perez, a delegation member who helped lead the campaign to defeat Wal-Mart’s ballot initiative. “We wanted to deliver a message personally to Mr. Scott that the time has come for action, not words.