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Community Benefit Agreements

Cities often extend huge subsidies to developers in the hope of new jobs and an increased tax base. In practice, though, most of these developments return little to the community beyond low-wage jobs, traffic congestion, displacement of homes and businesses, and gentrification.

To change this, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) developed “community benefits agreements”—legally enforceable documents signed by developers that specify benefits to be provided to neighborhoods affected by a particular development. In exchange, developers get community support for the project and avoid the lengthy delays that can result from local opposition. The strategy's success relies on effective community organizing and powerful, cross-issue alliances capable of negotiating with developers.

Here's one example. In 2003, the mayor of Los Angeles proposed a 10–year plan to expand and modernize the L.A. airport. Airport expansions put a tremendous burden on nearby neighborhoods, which, in the case of LAX, are predominantly low-income African-American and Latino communities. A LAANE-led alliance of environmental groups, labor, school systems, churches, community organizations, and service agencies negotiated with LAX administrators over nine months, resulting in the nation's largest community benefit agreement. The agreement includes hundreds of millions of dollars for noise and air pollution abatement, $15 million for job training for local residents, a local hiring preference, and community-based environmental health programs.

“This agreement shows that by working with the surrounding communities from the beginning, large-scale development projects can result in economic benefits, social benefits, and environmental benefits,” said Jerilyn López Mendoza, policy director of the Los Angeles Office of Environmental Defense, one of the lead organizations involved in the negotiations.

For more information, go to www.californiapartnership.org or www.laane.org. Laura Joseph is director of operations for LAANE. Email Signup
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