Voter’s Guide to Detroit Proposals A, B

If you live in Detroit, you’ll see two measures on your ballot that look almost identical — Proposals A and B. They’re called “community benefits ordinances.”

The laws would require businesses looking for tax incentives to build in Detroit to meet with representatives from the neighborhoods around the proposed projects to hear their concerns and decide on which community benefits they’ll provide, before getting approval. 

But these proposals are competing and, in fact, very different. That’s what we’re talking about today.


How they’re different and why it’s important

Rise Together Detroit submitted Proposal A to City Council to be added to the ballot. Some members were not in favor of it, so they approved an alternative measure to be put on the ballot — Proposal B.  Here are some of the main differences.

Or you can read the stories behind them, first >>

 

A: The people’s proposal
B: The City’s proposal

 

WHAT SIZE PROJECTS THE LAW APPLIES TO

  • A: Applies to projects costing $15 million or more
  • B: Applies to projects costing $75 million or more

 

PROJECT SIZE Why it’s important:  The lower the threshold, the more projects that will be required to go through the community benefits process. Proponents of A think a low threshold is good because that means the community would get to voice it’s concerns more regularly. Rashida Tlaib of Rise Together Detroit, says the higher threshold in Proposal B “is not going to get [residents] to the table [enough.]” City Councilman Scott Benson says the low threshold in Proposal A would mean the city would be going through the community benefits process too often, and it would “push development away from the city of Detroit.” He says, with Proposal B, only one to two projects a year would be going through the process.

 

WHO SIGNS THE CONTRACT

  • A: Requires developers to sign a contract with the community representatives.
  • B: Does not require developers to sign a contract with the community representatives.

 

CONTRACT Why it’s important:  Proponents of A say a legally-binding agreement allows the community to hold the developers accountable. This is necessary, they say, because in the past, the city has not enforced development agreements like job hiring requirements. “No one has the courage to clawback those large tax-breaks,” says Rashida Tlaib. Proponents of B say community representatives may not be qualified to create these agreements, are unelected, and will convolute the process. Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Commerce says, “I know very few businesses that would allow that.”

 

THE CITY’S ROLE

  • A: Forbids city representatives from playing an “active role” in community / developer negotiations.
  • B: Requires city representatives to take part in community / developer negotiations.

 

CITY’S ROLE Why it’s important:  Proponents of A say they think the city has not advocated for their needs fairly in large development deals. Proposal A puts these negotiations in the hands of resident representatives. City Councilman Scott Benson say it’s important for the city to be part of these negotiations so it can do things like can seek financial support for the community and hold developers accountable once the project has begun.

 

HOW IT’S WRITTEN

  • A: Language is loose regarding how community representatives are chosen and what the negotiations process looks like.
  • B: Language is prescriptive regarding how community representatives are chosen and what the negotiations process looks like.

 

WRITING Why it’s important:  Proponents of B say the language in Proposal A is too vague and will allow for representatives to be chosen from outside the city of Detroit. They also say that articulating a specific timeline for negotiations is important in order to avoid the process being dragged out because of lack of consensus. Rashida Tlaib says, “It was the hope of the community that city council members would have had a hearing on this to discuss in detail.  However, the host community definition… allows equal engagement of all who may be impacted.”


What is the community benefits process? 

 

That refers to the developer having to meet with neighborhood representatives to hear their concerns about the proposed project and discuss amenities — like job training programs or environmental protections — the developer will provide in return for building in the area.


What is a Community Benefits Agreement? 

 

A Community Benefits Agreements (or CBA) is a contracts signed by developers and community groups that requires the developer to provide amenities or mitigations in exchange for developing in the neighborhood.


Read the proposals and the stories behind them


Third party opinions 

 

Sandy Baruah | CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber 

Sandy Baruah

Sandy Baruah | CEO, Detroit Regional Chamber

Detroit business leaders, like Sandy Baruah of the Detroit Regional Chamber, think that if either proposal passes it could pose a threat to the progress of development in the city. And ultimately could wind up costing Detroit the one thing it can’t afford to lose - jobs.

All across the nation, you’re seeing the streamlining of processes to allow businesses to flourish and develop so jobs can be created so tax revenue can be captured,” says Baruah. “These two proposals take Detroit going in a very contrary direction making it much more difficult for people to come in.”

Proposal A puts the steering wheel of development in the hands of unelected, unaccountable, very amorphous community groups that would have no parameters as far as what they could negotiate for, for how long they could negotiate … I know very few business that would allow that to happen. It introduces far too much uncertainty into the process.”


Armando Carbonell | Senior Fellow, Lincoln Institute for Land Policy

Armando Carbonell

Armando Carbonell | Senior Fellow and Chair, Department of Planning and Urban Form at Lincoln Institute for Land Policy

Armando Carbonell, a Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, says while other cities are trying out individual agreements, he hasn’t seen anything like what Detroit’s considering.

He says voluntary agreements between developers and neighborhood groups have been around since the 2001 Staples Center deal in Los Angeles.

The reason these have been done outside of any city ordinance is that they can be beneficial to the developer and the community, because they’re taken on voluntarily to smooth the development process,” he says.

I don’t think, per se, a city ordinance is going to discourage development,” says Carbonell. “I think it obviously depends on how such a program is implemented.”
  

 

Image credit: Shelby Jouppi

This post is a part of 2016 Elections: Issues & Candidates.

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About the Author

Shelby Jouppi

Multimedia Producer

Wielding media powers for good, Shelby produces stories for The Beginning of the End and CuriosiD.

shelby.jouppi@wdet.org   Follow @shelbyjouppi

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