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Would Atlantic Yards CBA be part of the emerging template? More doubts emerge

Does the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) negotiated by Forest City Ratner and eight community groups stand as a template for good development? Not if you look at the CBAs negotiated in Los Angeles, where signatories didn't accept funds from a developer, unlike several of the groups in Brooklyn.
(At right, image from Forest City Ratner brochure.)

I went to the Black Brooklyn Empowerment Convention (BBEC) on Saturday at the Concord Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant to see whether the CBA issue would come up. It did, though glancingly. In a discussion of housing and economic development issues, Lois Blades-Rosado, executive director of the Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center, said activists should be "holding elected officials and community boards accountable for the creation of Community Benefits Agreements."

While Blades-Rosado spoke generally, with no reference to the Atlantic Yards CBA, her formulation presents another alternative. Elected officials were not involved in the negotiation of the Atlantic Yards CBA, and not only were the three affected community boards shut out of the discussion, they have protested Forest City Ratner's public relations statement that the CBs participated in "crafting" the agreement.

That's not to say that participation by community boards and elected officials always legitimizes a CBA, since the process, in New York at least, can be highly political. Critics of the Yankees CBA on a Bronx community board have not been reappointed, as the New York Times reported yesterday. Lobbyist (and Forest City Ratner supporter) Richard Lipsky observed:
The community boards are representative of nothing but the elected officials who appoint them and, as the furor over Board 4 in the Bronx demonstrates, if they go off the political reservation they are quickly shown the door.

As the New York Times reported last week, there's increasing dismay in New York about CBAs, with "signs that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's administration is rethinking its position" about them and Council Member Melinda Katz, chair of the City Council's land use committee, "saying that New York 'can probably learn a lot from other jurisdictions.'"

Redefining Economic Development

One plank in the action plan distributed at the BBEC called for support of efforts by RED New York (Redefining Economic Development New York, which "has begun to draft a set of principles to which a publicly supported development project should comply." The BBEC, said the action plan, should seek to ensure that:
--New York's poor and working poor have support and the first opportunity at available jobs
--housing units for low and moderate income families and individuals are included in all publicly assisted housing development projects
--contracting and procurement opportunities are made available to minority- and women-owned businesses
--job prequisites are limited to only those requirements that are necessary for success in the job
--environmental burdens on the poor and communities of color are mitigated and environmental benefits are equitably distributed regardless of race and class.

Those goals are part of a larger discussion being held by several groups, with the goal a blueprint "for future progressive economic development campaigns in New York City."

Earlier this year, in a Gotham Gazette article about RED's fledgling efforts, Mark Winston Griffith cited Michelle de la Uz of the Fifth Avenue Committee, who criticized the deals made with Forest City Ratner on the Atlantic Yards project:
What de la Uz envisions is a set of standards for job creation, environmental impact, buy-in from the surrounding area, etc. that the city or a private developer could be held to whenever they planned to use public resources. In her opinion such a standard would have set a much higher bar for Ratner to clear before he was able to pursue the Nets Arena project.

In other words, this discussion, while valuable, may be a little late. Forest City Ratner can call the Atlantic Yards CBA historic, but there's increasing evidence that it's not a model.


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