The way forward for community proposals

Scott Benson

Two community benefits agreement proposals were approved last week by the Detroit Election Commission. With such a historic and critical vote ahead, it’s important to separate fact from fiction, particularly around three key issues: the levels of community representation, the threshold limits and the right to sue.

Despite some rhetoric that the Enhanced Community Benefits Agreement Ordinance, or Proposal B, is “anti-community,” it actually strengthens community representation with a Neighborhood Advisory Council , comprised of nine residents from the impact area (based on census tract data). NAC members are nominated by the residents of the impact area, then two members are selected by residents, three by City Council and four by the Planning Department.

In contrast, Proposal A by the Sugar Law Center does not clearly identify who will be representing the community during negotiations, which leaves it wide open to corruption or a handpicked community organization. That is exactly the type of weakness specifically warned against by experts such as the Partnership for Working Families’ Community Benefit Law Center’s guidebook for elected and appointed officials. Community representation must be clearly defined to ensure the integrity of the process.

Another area of confusion has been stringent enforcement versus the right to sue. Litigation is fraught with costs and time delays, but Proposal A does not state who will pay for any potentially expensive litigation, nor does it address the concern that having the right to sue can go both ways. I am leery when a legal organization proposes costly litigation — a great way to build their business — without discussing alternate options. That is why Proposal B implements a strong enforcement team for each project. That body is accountable to City Council, who has the authority to clawback development incentives, revoke land transfers and to levy penalties and fees.

Proposal B’s higher project threshold of $75 million is in step with national best practices. CBAs have been negotiated and approved for catalyst-type projects of $100 million or larger, such as arenas and stadiums, not small $15 million projects as advocated by Proposal A. That is because CBAs are a time and human capital intensive process. The low threshold of Proposal A has never been successfully implemented anywhere and it is irresponsible to turn Detroiters into guinea pigs for an untested model that threatens to derail our momentum.

Finally, a justifiable concern has been raised about trust between the community, elected officials and developers. However, I’m encouraged by the recent ECBA-derived deal with Flex-N-Gate in my district. That agreement, which included two months of community benefits negotiation, obligates Flex-N-Gate to staff 51 percent of the construction jobs with Detroit residents and 30 percent of construction contracts with Detroit-based businesses.

The process included community meetings, some of which were attended by Council President Brenda Jones and Mayor Mike Duggan. Community residents negotiated limits on truck traffic and other environmental protections and the Detroit Police Department is providing route enforcement. Community residents, city officials and developers each brought their skill sets to the process yielding jobs and other benefits to the community. This is the way forward.

I stand with my collaborators in supporting Proposal B as the smart choice for Detroit. I encourage all Detroiters to read both proposals and make an informed decision.

Scott Benson is the Detroit City Councilman for the 3rd District.