A CBA is a legally enforceable contract between a coalition of community-based organizations and the developer of a proposed project. In exchange for the coalition’s public support of the project in the approval process, the developer agrees to contribute benefits to the local community if the project moves forward. In this way, the coalition has a hand in shaping the project, while the developer builds community support and strengthens local partnerships. The result is a smoother approvals process for the developer and a better project for the community.
Coalitions of community-based organizations and other stakeholders build sufficient political leverage to shape terms of development in their communities; they then negotiate a CBA directly with project developers, providing public support to projects that will deliver a strong slate of community benefits.
Developers directly negotiate a CBA with community coalitions, gaining support for their project and building local partnerships that will benefit the project over time.
Elected officials and city staff keep lines of communication open to ensure consistency with the city’s policy goals.
Strong Coalitions. The CBAs that deliver the strongest slate of community benefits are negotiated by a credible, unified coalition of grassroots community organizations that can leverage a sophisticated campaign, including organizing capacity, media engagement, policy research, and legal capacity. Community/labor coalitions have been particularly effective.
Role of Government. CBAs supplement the existing processes by which a public entity shapes a large urban development project. City staff and elected officials can show inclusive leadership by (i) ensuring transparency around project development, (ii) indicating to developers the importance of broad community support during the project approval phase, and (iii) allowing space for CBA negotiations, without trying to control them.
Resistance to concept. City staff and elected officials may be resistant to CBAs, because they are either unaware of how CBAs operate, or are threatened by what they perceive to be a release of control over project development.
Misuse of CBAs. Developers, and city staff that are in strong support of a proposed project, may misuse the CBA concept:
- They may characterize the Development Agreement or a portion of it as a CBA – even though it is not negotiated by, and will not be enforceable by, community representatives.
- They may arrange for and release to the public a “CBA” between the developer and a friendly local body, such as the local chamber of commerce, that will not actually press the developer for changes to the project.
Each of these methods is an attempt to occupy space that might otherwise be filled by a robust, community-drivenCBA effort.
Importance of sufficient community leverage. Without demonstrable public pressure and legal leverage, sufficient to shape dynamics of project approvals, developers may lack incentive to negotiate.
No CBA can involve all stakeholders. Certain segments of a community may be unable or unwilling to participate in a CBA negotiation process; no one should take a CBA effort as channeling or capturing every community opinion or priority.
Enforcement. Projects can take a decade or more to come to fruition. Community coalitions may lack long-term capacity to monitor CBAs and enforce CBA terms against successors to the developer.