New: Amendments for Berkeley's Community Benefits Definition

Thomas Lord
Monday January 15, 2018 - 09:01:00 PM

Please amend and pass item 35, titled "Strengthening Provisions of Significant Community Benefits in the Downtown". I have offered two amendments below.

As you know, the proposed resolution provides for a more robust and deterministic implementation of the process for negotiating what community benefits will be provided in exchange for the privilege of building one of the few tall structures envisioned downtown.

The vagueness of the earlier resolution on this topic has created a climate of mistrust and contention among many residents who are interested in downtown land use. It has created substantial uncertainty for potential developers. Councilmember Harrison and Mayor Arreguín have laid the foundation for a less chaotic project review process that will, at the same time, do a better job of maximizing public benefits within the constraints of enriching investors.

I ask for these two amendments: 

1. In the section titled "Base Benefits", strike item b. 

This subsection defines, as a possible community benefit, "that no less than 20% of the project’s construction workers be Berkeley or Green Corridor/Alameda County residents, with priority in that order."  

Organized labor is an essential way for workers to resist a relentless drive to increase profits by lowering wages and worsening working conditions. It is excellent that the resolution does what it can to encourage Project Labor Agreements.  

However, labor *protectionism*--the prioritizing of the right to work based on arbitrary criteria such as place of residence--has no principled foundation. Indeed, labor protectionism in the US has an essentially perfect historic record of supporting white supremacy. By placing Berkeley workers ahead of all others, this resolution would perpetuate that ugly legacy. No workers' movement or organization is truly worthy of the name unless it finds solidarity with all workers, everywhere, without regard to political boundaries and borders. No deservedly self-respecting union could endorse the divide-and-conquer nature of subsection b of "Base Benefits".  

2. In Section C ("Significant Community Benefit Options"), subsection 4, replace the phrase "units on site for tenants with qualifying incomes" with "units on site for tenants with qualifying incomes or for use by the City of Berkeley or its designated agent acting as master tenant for the equivalent rent, at the City's discretion."  

In application, this would allow the City of Berkeley or its agent to assume a master tenancy of an inclusionary unit at the discounted rent. The City would have the right to sublease the unit below, at, or above that permissible rent.  

The current system of income-qualified units where both the income qualifications and allowable rents are tied to area median income is a disaster. It leaves tenants of such units highly vulnerable to a growing wage gap and rising median income. It does nothing meaningful to promote community stability. As Berkeley has discovered, policing the program is burdensome and expensive, at best. An option for master tenancy would at least slightly mitigate this disaster, affording the City some greater flexibility in how these units are used for community benefit.  

The amendments proposed would not change these critical provisions: 

  • the requirement of a public hearing on benefits at ZAB,
  • the timely issuance of benefits payments,
  • the early declaration of what benefits the developer intends,
  • the disclosure of financial information necessary to evaluate the appropriateness of proposed benefits,
  • incentive for the developer to recognize organized labor