Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Opposition to government-designated CBA coalition in Santa Rosa

The Accountable Development Coalition (ADC), which negotiated the recent Sonoma Mountain Village CBA, is coming under more fire. It seems that the SMART rail district, a quasi-public entity, is requiring developers of the New Railroad Square project to negotiate a CBA, specifically with the ADC. Attention has also been brought to the fact that the Sonoma Mountain Village CBA provides funding for the ADC: $5,000 upfront and $6,000 per year after that. 

This has some people upset. As an editorial in the Press Democrat explained: "The coalition represents many important interests, but we don't believe it speaks for the entire community and, as a private organization that potentially could stand to benefit financially from such an agreement, it should not be allowed to dictate terms on a public project like this."

Regarding the issue of who speaks for the community, ADC critics have a good point. No coalition is ever going to be able to represent the whole community, and even if this were possible, the government probably shouldn't be involved in deciding which coalitions get to make CBAs. 

Fortunately, the developers aren't being limited to negotiating with the ADC, and they've reached out to other community groups interested in being involved in the CBA. Kudos to them. The ADC would do well to open itself up as well.

Regarding the payment issue, CBA coalitions are regularly advised not to accept direct funding from developers. John Goldstein of the Partnership for Working Families has explained as much:   
As a matter of principle, groups in our network don’t take money from developers. We want to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.... We have advocated in CBAs that developers give to the communities they’re developing in.
So the ADC may want to revise its policies somewhat. But critics should also acknowledge that the ADC is a mostly volunteer organization and that $6,000 a year isn't all that much. In other words, this doesn't seem like the type of case where coalition groups are getting bought off. The Atlantic Yards project, in contrast, involves much larger grants to all of the organizations that signed the CBA. (See the Atlantic Yards Report for more on that.)

Finally, there has been more criticism that the ADC has too much political influence and that it will scare developers away from non-union contractors. This is a straw man argument. If non-union contractors are going to suffer because of precedents set by the Sonoma Mountain Village CBA, the problem is that the CBA provisions are appealing to developers and lawmakers, not that the ADC has somehow improperly influenced government decision makers.

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