The City signed a Community Benefits Agreement, but will they enforce it?
The Aggie Square saga and what's in it for the community? #InvestmentWithoutDisplacement
Heavily influenced by Sacramento Investment Without Displacement Coalition (SIWD) a proposed agreement between the City, UC Davis and Wexford Science and Technology was reached after months of negotiating between Chancellor Gary May, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Councilmembers Jay Schenirer and Eric Guerra.
The proposed agreement, as announced by Mayor Steinberg, includes many things that will win the hearts and minds of Sacramento’s residents such as inclusive economic development measures that “reflect community priorities” including:
creation of an affordable housing fund with a minimum of $50 million for the Stockton Boulevard corridor (so not for the project’s impacted neighborhood);
prioritizing local residents for entry-level and higher-wage jobs and providing training pathways to those jobs;
and improving biking, walking and transit access around the UC Davis Sacramento campus on Stockton Boulevard.
But, the truth is in the details and we’re waiting to see the actual contract language.
Other good feeling benefits beyond these commitments--an ongoing Aggie Square community partnership for members such as neighborhood associations and a fund will also be established, creating additional opportunities for community participation and partner accountability. At least this was the City’s narrative published on the Mayor’s personal online news outlet engagesac.org.
But, SJPC is here to inform the people of Sacramento about social justice happenings. And Aggie Square and the “Community Benefits Partnership Agreement” is a social justice issue that requires us to rewind back to the fall of 2020.
On November 18, 2020, UC Board of Regents’ Finance and Capital Strategies Committee discussed Aggie Square’s Phase 1 development plan for approval. Our Mayor, Darrell Steinberg, presented on behalf of the City of Sacramento and strangely, also on behalf of the millions of people who live in the northern part of the central valley. The interpersonal dynamics - err let us just call them friendships - between him and members of the UC Board of Regents were on full display.
Before the presentation began current Chair of UC Board of Regents, John A. Perez, jokingly says to Mayor Steinberg, “And I’ll note that you have a cartoon that includes you and me over your shoulder.” Mayor Steinberg points to the picture behind his shoulder and says, “I do! Right there. Look what Sutter found. One of our great moments, ‘member?” This appeared to be an inside joke between the two, however as a member of the public it raises troubling questions and concerns about potential conflicts of interests. As the meeting continues more Regents make note of their friendship with our Mayor. One wonders if this is a testament to how the ‘good ole boys club’ works?
Mayor Steinberg has long been one of Aggie Square’s more vocal supporters, claiming it the “single biggest economic development opportunity” the city has seen in a generation. To truly grasp his claim and give the public historical context, we include Mayor Steinberg’s statement to the UC Board of Regent’s on November 18 about the City’s business related to Aggie Square.
He stated, “The signature economic development project and opportunity, not just in the city of Sacramento but in the greater Sacramento region. For many years, the city of Sacramento and the Sacramento region have had an idea and a vision of having a much closer relationship, and I mean an economic, an entrepreneurial, a research, an education relationship with the engine known as the University of California at Davis. It was really only when my friend, Chancellor Gary May was appointed as the Regent that this aspiration which had been fledgling in prior eras came to reality.
This vision of Aggie Square is incredibly important not just to the University but also to the people I represent and the millions of people who live in the northern part of the central valley because this is an opportunity to show the rest of the state that when we combine the power of the University of California with the entrepreneurial spirit of a changing and growing city like the City of Sacramento that is trying to shed its old image as just a government town… that we can achieve something that will be remarkable for both the University and our community.”
And just like that folx our futures have been decided for us and without us.
It is undeniable that the Aggie Square project will have a direct effect on housing demand in surrounding neighborhoods and that this increased housing demand will contribute to displacement and exacerbate gentrification, which will have tangible environmental impacts. The University acknowledged in their Environmental Impact Report that some level of gentrification and displacement of low-income residents will occur. However, they did not propose any mitigations.
In response, SIWD Coalition included multiple displacement measures in its Community Benefits Agreement such as:
requiring the University to commit to Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing,
agreeing to a no net loss policy to discourage demolition of existing homes near the impact area
setting aside separate funds annually to support low-income renters and owners with rehabilitation of substandard homes, first time homebuyer assistance, and rental assistance.
Unfortunately, the University has stood firm on its verbal statement to SIWD Coalition members during a virtual meeting last fall that it is not obligated to the affected communities and will only work with the City. Also disappointing was the role Mayor Steinberg played in supporting the University’s unwillingness to work with SIWD Coalition by acting as their spokesperson when news media outlets asked the University to comment on the lawsuit and during meetings with SIWD Coalition where he reiterated that the University wouldn’t do a CBA with the coalition and it strongly believed it was only accountable to the City.
Despite the crucial contextual importance of governmental control over approval of the proposed project, CBAs remain private contracts that are voluntary for the developer. Yet, the legal status of CBAs as private contracts frees them from the range of limitations on governmental action, such as the takings clause and various other constitutional and statutory restrictions.
At this point, a private CBA between SIWD Coalition, UC and the project’s developer, Wexford Science and Technology is unattainable due to factors well beyond the Coalition’s control.
In such settings, a public CBA such as the City’s CBPA, constitutes a huge win. However, failure of the City to enforce its negotiated commitments is a real possibility. Several factors contribute to this danger. As City staff move on to subsequent projects, monitoring and enforcement of community benefits commitments may receive inadequate attention.
In addition, elected officials and staff members who negotiated the community benefits may leave local government by the time those commitments need to be enforced. It’s always a possibility amendments are made due to changed conditions. For this reason, community groups interested in seeing strong implementation will need to closely monitor developer and city performance. SIWD Coalition members understand this, thus are imploring the Mayor and City Councilmembers to ensure the CBPA has detailed enforcement measures.
It is essential that the CBPA contain clear language delineating which responsibilities flow to which entities, and what contractual steps are necessary on the part of the original developer to ensure all relevant parties take on their obligations in an enforceable manner. This is particularly crucial for Aggie Square project because there is an opportunity for a new developer to join during Phase 2. Other enforcement mechanisms include creating an oversight committee that meets quarterly with the city and developers to ensure commitments are being met.
We end with one request from readers and social justice warriors… demand that any future public CBA is equity centered by using existing conditions of racial disparities data to establish race and equity baselines from which a CBA will be developed.