The Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) concept reflects a major reason for first running in 2016. I became First Ward councilor that year with the mission to bring forward the voice of the community that would feel the greatest impact from development in the North End in conjunction with the Pell Bridge Ramp redesign. There are other communities who feel the impact, including the Tradesmen, the Swamp, and the Point, but I saw that the population in the North End north of Admiral Kalbfus was especially lacking a direct voice in civic affairs. Four years later we’re discussing incorporating a process that could ensure community engagement in large scale development, with benefits that could range from a minimum wage guarantee, paid the workers who are hired for operations, to funding of a community space.
My core issue is to support the planning process, and I credit the expertise of our consultants, NBBJ, and our Planning Department and Planning Board, and I look forward to seeing the final draft of the North End Urban Plan, probably later this month. This process, and this product are the rationale for supporting the moratorium last September. I’ll work to see that the Council adopts the North End Urban Plan (NEUP) even if it requires modification. If the NEUP is in conflict with any portion of our Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP, adopted in 2017) we should update the CLUP. I will push for that to proceed. The final step is to bring our zoning into compliance. This is where, I believe, the CBA process would be enshrined.
The concept of CBA is essential because the time has come to leave behind the systemic marginalization of our communities that are uniquely impacted by the structural nature of income inequality. The CBA delivers on its promise when a community organizes and present its needs and wishes to a developer. This offers a win-win and allows predictability for the developer. The challenge is organizing a coalition of community groups that can speak for their constituents, educating those constituents regarding the nature and impacts of the proposals, and securing legal representation for the coalition so the negotiations with the developer can be done on a more level playing field. I’m still exploring the mechanisms for how this could best be done; I think of approaching the RWU Law School for pro bono assistance as I’m familiar with the clinical model in which students take on representation under the supervision of a law professor. I believe it’s essential that the negotiations be done independent of the planning review and council approval process, so that they occur between two arm’s length parties. I’ve discovered in my study of CBA’s that government officials shouldn’t be deeply engaged in the negotiation process, to avoid legal challenges by the developer.
An alternative would be to build some baseline community benefits into our zoning scheme. We could also require as a baseline that the developer produce Community Impact Reports. All of these zoning tools, however, require intensive engagement with community organizations to be successful.