Monday, February 06, 2006

CBA: Carrion’s Benefit Agreement

As we’ve been mentioning, certain Bronx officials and editorial boards have not only been celebrating the recent approval of the Related’s Gateway Mall but touting the “community benefits agreement” (CBA) signed between the developer and public officials. El Diario thinks that this pact is praiseworthy, the Daily News concurs and as Councilman Joel Rivera remarks:
“We got more concessions than mostly any other CBA in the United States of America. It is never perfect, but it is pretty darn close to it.”
Let’s see just how correct Mr. Rivera and his supporters are.


The negotiation process for this CBA was incredibly, incredibly flawed:

• Normally CBAs are negotiated prior to the land use review process so that community coalitions can have leverage over developers. The opposite occurred with the Gateway CBA. Brainstorming for the document only began in November after City Planning Certification, Community Board approval, and the Borough President’s “Yes” vote. The agreement was finalized two days prior to the City Council’s approval.
• There was no independent community coalition. The community-based organizations involved in the initial brainstorming (“the taskforce”) were handpicked by BOEDC and Borough President Carrion. When certain group representatives said or did things that upset the Borough President they were kicked out of the negotiating group.
• None of the taskforce members had CBA negotiating experience
• The taskforce was not given legal representation
• Unknown to the participants, representatives from Related were in the room while the taskforce brainstormed
• The taskforce never negotiated directly with Related. Final negotiations occurred between Bronx elected officials and the developer. For this reason the final CBA is a very watered down version of what the community asked for.
• Most of the City Council never had the chance to read the CBA. The final copy was sent to the Council the morning of the project’s approval.
The Document

As one would expect, a highly problematic process resulted in a highly problematic agreement. Here are the major deficiencies:

• According to Related’s Jesse Masyr, the value of the benefits negotiated is a paltry $5 million (Related stands to make $4 billion in profit from this development). The developer was under little pressure to make major concessions and the final CBA demonstrates this clearly.

• $3 million of the money is going to BOEDC, an extension of the city and the Bronx Borough President.

• The CBA bars “injunctive relief” which means that a court cannot force Related to fulfill any part of the agreement. All a court/arbitrator can do is fine Related up to $600,000 in total. Every other CBA in the country has injunctive relief.

• The “community coalition” is in charge of monitoring Related’s compliance with the agreement. However, the BOEDC president is listed as the head of this coalition and again the coalition was picked by BOEDC. Again, BOEDC is also the main recipient of Related's money.

• So far, in addition to politicians, only 4 organizations have signed the CBA. Three of these – BOEDC, HOSTOS College and New Bronx Chamber of Commerce – are extensions of the government.

• The document is silent on the development’s tenants. Unlike other CBAs, it does not give the community leverage in choosing the anchors and does not guarantee that tenants will provide living wages or access to unions. The tenants also do not have to participate in the Bronx/minority hiring agreements Related agreed to for construction.

• According to the CBA, 18,000 sq. ft. is set aside for local small business. According to Related’s ULURP application 78,000 sq. ft. was to be set aside.

• The document does not address the relocation of the Bronx Terminal Market merchants.
It is important to add that at least seven community groups initially involved in the task force did not up end signing the document due to some or all of the above-mentioned issues. This underscores the broader point that this agreement had little real community input and has very little community benefit. Instead the pact is a weak and outrageous attempt by certain Bronx politicians to sugarcoat a sweetheart deal and make themselves look good. Therefore, for anyone to call this CBA “pretty darn close” to perfect is supremely mistaken. For more information about what these documents should look like check out Good Job First’s guide to community benefits agreements.