Living Wage Coalition Leads Successful Campaign for Community Impact Report

November 18, 2008 -- Partnership for Working Families

By Ben Boyce, Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County Coordinator

The City of Petaluma’s long legacy as an originator of progressive policy measures continued with the passage of the Fiscal and Economic Impact Assessment (FEIA) at the October 6th city council meeting. Just as Petaluma was the first city in Sonoma County to pass an Urban Growth Boundary back in the 1970’s, it is the pioneer for the county’s first Community Impact Report (CIR), the source code from which the FEIA was drafted. The inspiration and template for the FEIA legislation were drawn from the work of Partnership for Working Families affiliates Center on Policy Initiatives in San Diego and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy in Los Angeles.

The Petaluma FEIA will cover large commercial projects (25,000+ sq. ft.) within the city UGB (Urban Growth Boundary).The FEIA, as drafted, contains most of the metrics of the original CIR proposal such as measuring impacts on existing local businesses, net sales tax revenues, job quality, and wage and benefit levels. The data gathered in the preparation of the FEIA reports will serve as a baseline for the Petaluma City Council’s proposed new economic development plan. We believe that the FEIA is good public policy that will help maintain the unique character and quality of life in the city, and guide political leaders to use solid data to make informed decisions that serve the common good.

The Living Wage Coalition collaborated in the formation of the Petaluma Community Coalition (PCC), which also includes the Petaluma Neighborhood Association, Petaluma Tomorrow, Petaluma Independent Business Association (PIBA), the North Bay Labor Council, and Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA). The PCC engaged in a two year campaign which featured several large public forums, numerous letters to the editor, several op-ed features, an extensive signature gathering campaign, extensive and on-going consultation with council allies and city staff, and city-wide screenings of an original documentary by neighborhood activist and graphic artist, Paul Francis.

The Living Wage Coalition, in concert with its political and community allies around Sonoma County, plans to make CIR’s a standard feature in the land-use and development approvals process.Setting the discussion of development issues in the accountable development framework of a CIR will address social equity issues as well as the physical and fiscal impacts of proposed development projects. The CIR encourages community participation early in the development process which ensures that projects will address the needs of working families such as good jobs, affordable housing, and local hire. By ensuring that the benefits from development projects are broadly shared, the CIR will help the entire community move towards a new vision for responsible development, and strengthen consensus on new development.

Too often we find out about a development project in our neighborhood after it is too late.In some cases, these development projects drastically impact surrounding neighborhoods in the form of gentrification, increased traffic, creation of poverty wage jobs, stresses on public health systems, increased demand for social services, and challenges to the survival of local small businesses.A CIR would get information into the hands of stakeholders early in the development process and provide an opportunity to suggest ways to improve a project.The result will be better projects and healthier neighborhoods by factoring the impacts of proposed development projects on small businesses, public health and welfare services, job quality, and affordable housing. The CIR serves as a corollary to the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) by analyzing social and economic effects as well as physical infra-structure impacts.

The CIR serves as a balance sheet for the city in determining how to make sure that the city and the taxpayers get the best value on its investment of redevelopment dollars and best use of scarce developable land. Developers undertaking major projects would be required to produce a short report detailing the community and economic impacts of their projects. Factors the CIR would analyze include:

  • What type of jobs will be created and who will have access to them
  • Affordability levels of new housing created or impacts on existing housing
  • Community needs such as parks, child care, and neighborhood-serving retail
  • Access to transit and community orientation for pedestrians and bicycles
  • Fiscal impact of the project to the public health and social services agencies

CIR policies are already in effect in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Jose, with a marked improvement in the quality of projects being proposed in those cities.

As the economy is reshaped following the collapse of the inadequately regulated financial sector, we predict that performing CIR’s will become standard operating procedure for businesses locating in the North Bay. CIR’s will guide our political leaders to use solid data to make informed decisions that serve the interests of business, government, and working families.Community memberswill have a forum in which to address their concerns about jobs, housing and neighborhood needs.Policymakerswill be able to respond to community concerns in a more timely and efficient way.Developers will no longer have to deal with community concerns in an ad hoc manner.Petaluma’s Community Impact Report policy sets the groundwork for responsible development and a local economy that values the needs of working families.

In the words of Paul Francis, co-founder of the Petaluma Neighborhood Association, “We, the residents, want only the best possible opportunities for our community and its future. A responsible economic plan takes us past the short-term payoff of initial lump-sum development fees and perceived tax revenue and brings us closer to building a sustainable local economy that continues to fund the city for generations to come.”

CIR’s provide a win-win solution for everyone involved and we look forward to the upcoming task of implementing this hard-earned policy!

For more information on the City of Petaluma Community Impact Report, visit the Living Wage Coalition website or contact Ben Boyce at

To view the legislation passed by the Petaluma City Council on October 6, 2008click here.

To view the original legislation introduced by the PCC on January 28, 2008 click here.