Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reactions to the Sonoma Mountain Village CBA

The Sonoma Mountain Village CBA, announced last week, has already garnered some negative reactions. Lisa Schaffner, the mayor of Healdsburg, California, and the executive director of the Sonoma County Alliance, a public interest group and political action committee, is one of the agreement's critics. She believes that CBAs should only be negotiated for projects receiving public subsidies, and that the CBA for the privately financed Sonoma Mountain Village sets a precedent that could harm the area's business and development climate.

On the other hand, the developer and CBA coalition members see the agreement as contributing to the project's sustainability goals. The developer, Codding Enterprises, has pointed out it's "not an average kind of developer," and that "there is no one-size-fits-all way of looking at development." I would add that the chances of the CBA becoming a precedent for all privately financed developments is limited, given that CBAs are voluntary agreements. If a developer chooses to emulate Sonoma Mountain Village and pursue a triple bottom line, or if a developer wants to obtain community support or quell community opposition, a CBA may be a good fit. But entering into a CBA is not a mandatory part of the land use approval process, and experience with CBAs has demonstrated that developers often resist negotiations.  

Moreover, I would ask whether it really matters if a project receives subsidies. Sure, the receipt of public funds strengthens the case for a CBA, but the impacts of the project on the community will be the same regardless of how it's financed. And I question whether Sonoma Mountain Village is completely financed by private sources; most billion dollar projects receive some form of subsidy, whether it takes the form of infrastructure, tax abatements, environmental remediation, below market property sales, affordable housing incentives, or outright cash grants.

And setting a precedent for CBAs won't necessarily scare developers off. CBAs offer a lot of benefits to developers: they help to achieve positive community relationships; they ward off costly litigation and development delays; they can help a developer to meet sustainability and social equity goals; and they're great for public relations. 

But I would agree that CBAs set precedents for community coalitions, which can use the clout of past victories to attract new members, gain public and political support, and increase their leverage in future CBA negotiations. The Accountable Development Coalition, which neogiated the Sonoma Mountain Village CBA, has done just that. It's currently in talks with the developer of the New Railroad Square Project.

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