Somerville citizens group seeks say in Union Square development, Somerville Journal
State Orders 2 Construction Firms To Stop Work At Amazon Warehouse Site In Windsor, The Hartford Courant
By Dan Atkinson
May 15, 2014
With city officials weighing four final developers for Union Square, a coalition of local activists is looking to get more citizen involvement in approving development. The coalition, called Union United, is looking to create a Community Benefits Agreement between citizens, city officials and the chosen developer in order to secure promises for affordable housing, green space, local jobs and other concerns.
The city’s redevelopment authority is currently considering the four developers recommended by the Union Square Civic Advisory Committee, the city-created citizens group tasked with interviewing developers, and will ultimately choose one of the four to oversee the billion-dollar urban renewal of Union Square
About 50 people attended a Union United meeting at The Union on May 10 to learn about the organization and CBAs, which, if signed by all parties, create a legal obligation for developers to honor citizen demands if the CBA becomes part of the master agreement between the developer and the city. The more citizens who are involved in creating a CBA, the more power they have, according to Somerville Community Corporation member Van Hardy. The SCC is the main organizer of Union United.
"We have to create solidarity amongst ourselves because the developer is going to try to split us," Hardy told the crowd. "We want to slow the process down, they want to do it quickly." And tying a CBA to the land under development, instead of the developer, would prevent a change in developer from rendering agreements obsolete, Hardy said. At Assembly Square, previous agreements with IKEA became moot when that company dropped out of developing a store at that site.
However, city officials seemed cool to the idea of a CBA. A letter from city Economic Development Director Ed O’Donnell to the SCC did not support an agreement with community groups, saying city officials "fully expect that agreements will be executed between SRA and the Master Developer that will speak to" issues raised by the SCC. Mayoral spokeswoman Jackie Rossetti also downplayed having an agreement with residents. "We’d maintain that the optimal way to be sure concerns, questions, suggestions and other feedback is included in the process is through the CAC," Rossetti wrote in an e-mail to the Journal.
SCC community planner Mashael Majid said the group thought it was still important to reach out to city officials, and said the SCC would accept not having a full CBA if the master agreement between the city and the developer addressed Union United’s priorities. "As long as there are clear guidelines or provisions to speak to coalition priorities in the master agreement, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t support the master agreement," she said.
Maintaining local jobs was a big issue for several people at the May 10 meeting. Members of the Welcome Project said employment was a particular concern for the immigrant community, which was echoed by Luis Avila of the Union Square Small Business Alliance. Avila’s business, SCOM Services, lets immigrants send money to their home countries, and he was concerned that the square’s gentrification would harm his business.
"I’m worried about the increase in housing prices, a lot of people are moving out," Avila said through an interpreter. "If the population changes the business changes too. If I move, I lose clients. "I really want to stay but my lease is for three years, I’m concerned I won’t be able to renew the lease."
The Welcome Project and the SBA are two of about a dozen organizations involved in Union United, which also includes Groundwork Somerville, the Somerville Labor Coalition and Community Action Agency of Somerville. Majid said 36 people at the meeting pledged to support Union United’s equitable outcomes, including affordable housing and transparent planning processes. A "small working group" within Union United is creating a governing structure, Majid said.
West Atlantic Avenue redevelopment being done with resident input
By Marisa Gottesman
May 15, 2014
Residents of West Atlantic Avenue know what they want to see in their backyard, so they are working closely with a developer to make their vision of being connected to the rest of downtown Delray Beach a reality. In Delray, as in many cities, new developments are often met with complaints, criticisms and concerns by the toughest critics — those who live and work in the area.
But right off the bat, it was developer Equity Enterprises USA that suggested drafting a "community benefits agreement," a contract that vows to provide what residents want — in writing. With Equity's plans to turn six acres between Southwest Sixth and Ninth avenues into townhomes, shops and offices, folks were overjoyed their side of town was receiving attention, and that they were getting their say, too.
The news got better when Equity representatives said they would work to add tenants that people feel are missing, such as a grocery store. "We are committed to doing everything we promised," said architect Bob Currie.
Giving the area a makeover has been a long time coming and resident Alfred Straghn recounted that history to about 100 residents in a community forum Wednesday night. He said before downtown Delray became the booming success it is today, east of Swinton Avenue was sleepy. When developers started sprucing up the city's main core about 25 years ago, West Atlantic residents were told their time would come as action took place on the eastern front.
The time for the revitalization of Delray's main entrance from Interstate 95 has finally come and residents say it's a chance to get what they were already promised. To make sure the pledge is kept, community stakeholders and neighborhood watchdog group the West Atlantic Redevelopment Coalition immersed themselves in the development process to keep a close eye on future plans.
Folks got a sneak peak of the proposed community benefits agreement from Equity Enterprises at the forum, and it got plenty of support. The proposal includes items such as hiring local residents for both construction and permanent jobs; providing those workers 'livable wages' and reporting what those amounts are; keeping existing businesses in the new development with manageable, locked-in rent prices for five years; recruiting additional locally owned businesses to the area and dedicating 20 percent of homes built to workforce housing.
The group is also asking developers to partner with cultural institution Spady Museum by committing to make yearly $50,000 donations for several years.
Equity is reviewing the proposal and is scheduled to respond on Monday. "It's our job to make sure these aren't idle promises," said resident Chuck Ridley. "This developer has been more willing to work with us than any one before."
Equity is also slated to sign a contract with Delray's Community Redevelopment Agency board on Thursday night, which will officially hand over the land the agency owns to developers for $1 million.
The Hartford Courant
May 08, 2014
By Dan Haar
Two construction contractors were fined and ordered to stop working on the $50 million Amazon warehouse job in Windsor this week after the state Department of Labor determined that they lacked proper workers' compensation coverage, a state official said.
Both firms — a steel erector and a roofer — returned to the job after they had proper documentation on Thursday, three days after the state issued the stop-work orders, said Gary Pechie, director of the department's wage and workplace standards division.
Acting on a tip, the division found that Pinnacle Steel of Nolensville, Tenn., did not have workers' compensation for the 20 people it had on the job, and was not registered with the Connecticut Secretary of the State. The firm, a subcontractor to a subcontractor, was fined $12,000, or $300 per worker per day of violations, Pechie said. Its workers on the job earn between $12 and $18 an hour.
Kehrer Brothers Roofing of Albers, Ill, lacked workers' compensation coverage for its 12 crew members and was fined $3,600, Pechie said.
All of the Kehrer workers and 16 of the 20 Pinnacle workers were Mexican citizens with valid permanent residency cards to work in the United States, Pechie said.
A woman who answered the phone at Pinnacle referred questions to the general contractor, R.C. Andersen LLC of East Rutherford, N.J., where no one could be reached for comment late Thursday. A woman at Kehrer said no one who could respond was available.
The Department of Labor often checks job sites for violations for lack of injury or unemployment coverage, or failure to pay payroll taxes. Those violations often arise from misclassification of workers — when a firm improperly considers an employee to be a private contractor.
The department has issued about 1,200 such orders since the beginning of 2008. But the Amazon job is being closely watched because it's so large — 1.5 million square feet — and high profile.
The project, on Day Hill Road in Windsor, was the result of an agreement between Amazon and the state, under which Amazon agreed to collect sales taxes for items bought online by Connecticut residents and the state agreed not to seek back taxes. It is expected to employ about 300 permanent workers.
The town of Windsor late last year gave the developer a package of tax and fee abatements worth $3.9 million over five years. Some town officials wanted to impose requirements for local hiring, or union hiring, but that did not happen.
At an October meeting with the town council's finance committee, Amazon officials who were questioned about the company's reluctance to sign a project labor agreement calling for a minimum number of union construction jobs said the company had a long track record of hiring locally and being a good corporate neighbor.
"I am very confident that we will find lots of talent in Windsor," said Mike Grella, Amazon's economic development director.
Labor violations rankle unions such as Hartford-based Ironworkers Local 15. "It's a disadvantage for Connecticut contractors that tried to bid the work in their own back yard," said Joe Toner, business agent for the union, who said several local steel firms lost out on the job.
By Daniel Dale
May 13 2014
Mayoral candidate Olivia Chow says she would combat youth unemployment by requiring companies involved in government infrastructure projects to hire Toronto residents under the age of 24.
All capital projects that cost $50 million or more would include “community benefits” provisions that would guarantee apprenticeships and jobs for young people who live within city limits, Chow said at an announcement Tuesday near the desolate former Kodak lands in low-income Weston-Mount Dennis.
“When elected as a new mayor, I plan to create 5,000 jobs and apprenticeships through the community benefits agreements,” Chow said. “It’s a win-win situation,” she said. “For the private sector, it helps them rejuvenate their workforce. It creates hope for young people. It creates better neighbourhoods, better economy.”
The unemployment rate for residents between the ages of 16 and 24 was 22.5 per cent as of February. Incumbent Rob Ford told the CBC in March that the 22.5 per cent figure is “fictitious.”
The city has previously used “social procurement” for specific projects, and a council policy adopted last year advocates local-employment provisions. But Chow’s proposal would represent a substantial change: the government has never before made local hiring a standard part of its infrastructure tenders.
Toronto Community Housing required the winning vendor for the redevelopment of Regent Park to hire qualified neighbourhood residents; more than 500 locals have been employed through the initiative. The aborted Woodbine Live project in Rexdale, which Ford strongly supported, also included a plan for “priority hiring of local residents.”
Chow argued that her 5,000 figure is “very modest” given the Regent Park experience and the city’s $18.6 billion 10-year capital plan.
Canada’s internal trade agreement generally discourages geographic preferences, and it prohibits city governments from requiring contractors to use “workers, materials or suppliers of materials” from their own province. But such discrimination is permitted when it is aimed at a “legitimate objective.” The Regent Park policy did not face a legal challenge.
“An assessment of whether the proposed measure would violate the city’s trade treaty obligations would require a detailed review and analysis of the precise language of the proposed policy and the context in which it is intended to operate,” said Marilyn Brown, senior legal counsel at the Procurement Law Office.
Candidate John Tory is making a youth unemployment announcement on Wednesday. Chow mocked Tory last week and again on Tuesday for saying he will create opportunities for young people by tapping into his own business network. She said last week: “He’s just going to make some phone calls and it’s going to happen?”
Her Tuesday plan said she will “approach our city’s business community” to ask them to “match the city’s efforts.” Chow said her proposed interactions with business would be different than Tory’s because they are attached to a “very specific proposal” while his are not. Tory’s campaign suggested Chow is proposing the same thing he did.
“We're happy to see Olivia Chow is finally acknowledging the validity of John's plan to work with the business community by including it in her announcement today. However, I am curious how Olivia Chow plans to reach out to businesses, as she's made it abundantly clear she won’t use the phone. Perhaps she'll try smoke signals or carrier pigeons?" said campaign spokeswoman Amanda Galbraith.
Bryan P. Sears
May 2, 2014
An alliance of Prince George’s County ministers and businesses say a bill meant to ensure local hiring and business participation will actually make it more difficult to hold MGM Resorts International accountable as it builds a nearly $1 billion casino at National Harbor. The Prince George’s County Council could vote as early as Tuesday on a bill opponents say does nothing to ensure the casino operator will meet goals for minority and local business involvement as well as setting aside money for other potential impacts to the community.
“The bill, in its current form, has no teeth in terms of benefiting Prince George’s County residents,” said Lisa Ellis, a spokeswoman for the Business and Clergy Partnership. “What’s the point?” Ellis asked. “How do we hold MGM accountable?”
The Business and Clergy Partnership claims about 300 members around the Washington area.
Joe Gaskins, a co-chair of the organization, is the former chairman of the Prince George’s County Contractors Association and has been a longtime opponent of the proposed MGM project.
The bill, in its current form, requires the council to approve a community benefit agreement between the county and MGM before occupancy permits are issued. An earlier version of the legislation called for those agreements to be approved before building permits are issued.
In their presentations, MGM officials have said the project could bring as many as 2,000 construction jobs and 4,000 resort-related jobs to National Harbor.
Ellis said the organization also wants stronger language guaranteeing minority and local hiring goals as well as money for road improvements, vocational training to help local residents seek jobs at the casino and additional funding for gambling addiction programs. Additionally, the group wants an independent compliance officer established to ensure MGM meets the goals in a benefit agreement.
The county council has been holding a series of hearings regarding community benefits since February.
“The Office of the County Executive is currently negotiating a community benefit agreement with MGM that will cover hiring and opportunities for local contractors,” Scott L. Peterson, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, said in an emailed statement. “This is an important responsibility, and we are putting the best interests of our residents first and foremost during these negotiations. However, since we are currently in negotiations, we are not commenting on the details of those discussions.”
Gordon Absher, vice president of public affairs for MGM Resorts International, said in an emailed statement that the company “has a peerless record on minority hiring, as well as MBE participation in our construction and operations.” “We committed to continue that practice here in Prince George’s County when we submitted to the State of Maryland last year a binding document that certified we would achieve significant goals in hiring, construction and procurement,” Absher wrote. “We are confident once our discussions with the county executive’s office are finalized, we will produce an agreement many will acknowledge as one of the most generous ever negotiated by the county, delivering significant financial contributions, aggressive commitments to MBE and local hiring and other tangible benefits.”
County Council Chairman Jamel R. “Mel” Patterson did not respond to a request for an interview.
The company and Baker have been negotiating a community benefit agreement for months. The agreement would be similar to those negotiated with casinos in Baltimore city and Anne Arundel County. The agreement is expected to be completed before the end of June, when MGM Resorts International hopes to break ground on the project.
In March, a lawyer representing MGM Resorts International in Maryland sent a letter opposing the original council legislation, citing “potentially irreconcilable conflicts between state and county law.”
“Those inconsistencies and contradictions, if left unchanged, will cause conflicting interpretations going forward in a number of important regards,” wrote Philip M. Andrews, an attorney at Kramon & Graham P.A., of Baltimore. “The bill is not a necessary predicate for an enforceable [community benefit agreement],” Andrews concluded in his letter. “All of these conflicts and accompanying issues can be avoided by the bill’s withdrawal.”
MGM Resorts International was awarded the state’s sixth and final casino license in December. The company plans to build a $925 million gaming facility that includes a 300-room hotel, 3,600 slot machines and 140 table games. By law, the casino cannot open earlier than July 2016, or 30 months after the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino opens.