Community Benefit Agreement Negotiations

Disrupting the knowledge and power imbalance in community benefit agreement negotiations

Urban theorists like Susan Fainstein and David Harvey suggest, based on significant public investments in support of private development, that planners intercede on the distribution of private economic benefits from new development to achieve social equity objectives. This ideal is at the center of social equity centered planning models which emerged early in the 21st century, and which often use Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) as the instrument to distribute economic benefits to communities impacted by a new development. Nevertheless, despite the interest in these normative planning models and CBAs the literature is sparse on how to identify and measure economic benefits, or to determine the portion of these economic benefits to share with a community. Compounding the lack of a common approach to implement social equity centered planning, several theories on knowledge and power suggest project proponents will purposefully withhold or distort economic information to retain for themselves otherwise shareable economic benefits.  This lack of a general framework to identify and measure shareable economic benefits, and the imbalance of knowledge sharing and power during the planning process leaves communities vulnerable to receiving less than equitable CBAs.

In this paper I suggest an approach to identify and operationalize shareable economic benefits which could be included in CBAs. To do so, I draw upon multiple disciplines to model direct and indirect economic benefits from new development and the portion of these benefits which can be shared with the local community. Using a case study approach, I then measure the amount of shareable economic benefits that are communicated to, or withheld from, the public prior to execution of a CBA, and the amount of shareable economic benefits included in the executed CBA. Finally, I create a simple metric which can be used by communities to estimate shareable economic benefits at the outset of a project planning process with a minimum amount of project data.

I selected a university-sponsored project in the City of Sacramento for the case study because of my familiarity with the city and the impacted neighborhood.  The project proponents in this case are the University of California, Davis and the City and the project is a multi-use development on the UCD medical campus in the Oak Park neighborhood. The project is particularly complex because it involves a mix of new and replacement facilities and uses public, private, and foundation funding – all developed on unsubordinated ground leases with UCD. In addition, as a state entity, UCD can exempt itself from most local planning requirements and regulatory schemes.  

The paper is organized in four sections. The first section provides a brief review of the literature on information sharing and CBAs. The second section on methods and analysis details how I operationalize shareable economic benefits and then applies the approach to the Aggie Square project. The third and fourth sections provides a summary of my findings and conclusions.