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She’s Ready To Fight For A “Renaissance”

by Thomas MacMillan | Dec 13, 2011 9:10 am

(13) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Business/ Economic Development, The Hill

Thomas MacMillan Photo After she was burned the last time, Helen Martin-Dawson said she’s prepared to work to make sure new developments in town come with an enforceable promise of good jobs for her neighbors in the Hill..

Martin-Dawson (at right in photo) said as much Tuesday evening as she helped officially release a new report from Connecticut Center For A New Economy (CCNE), a grassroots coalition of labor, clergy, and community activists.

The report, entitled “A Renaissance For All Of Us: Building an Inclusive Prosperity for New Haven,” comes just over a week after an “grassroots agenda”-setting CCNE meeting that laid out its main points. And it comes just three weeks before a raft of new union-backed aldermen are set to take office, many of whom are affiliated with CCNE and Yale’s unions.

The document, the result of years of community data collection by CCNE, presents a problem that faces New Haven, and points the way to possible solutions. Read it here.

The problem: While parts of New Haven have experienced a “renaissance” in recent years—downtown, medical and education sectors—the benefits have not been shared equally. Several parts of New Haven—mostly African-American and Latino neighborhoods—have still not recovered from the departure of manufacturing jobs, and the new investments in the city have not helped lift them up, the report argues.

The solution: “Connecting people to good jobs, and giving residents a voice in development.” Specifically, the report suggests that new development projects should feature Community Impact Reports and Community Benefits Agreements and help to create a “jobs pipeline program” linking neighbors to employment opportunities when new companies come to town.

Martin-Dawson said she pursued those goals when the Smilow cancer center opened at Yale-New Haven Hospital several years ago. At that time, she worked with an organization called Community Organized for Responsible Development (CORD) to have the hospital sign a 2006 agreement to hire local workers.

Martin-Dawson said while the hospital did live up to certain parts of the agreement, like putting money towards youth employment, other aspects never materialized. She said she belonged to a committee that never met as it was required to do under the agreement. Martin-Dawson held herself partially responsible for not being vigilant and not following up when promises weren’t met.

It won’t happen again, she said.

With the Rt. 34 re-do/ Downtown Crossing project in the works and an overhaul of Church Street South not far behind, the Hill has a couple of opportunities to ensure that new developments bring benefits to the neighborhood, Martin-Dawson said. “People have a right to have a say in that,” she said. “The community should have a say in what goes into their community.”

Jissette Chona (pictured), who said she’s lived in Church Street South for 15 years, said she and her neighbors aren’t opposed to redevelopment—they just want a piece of the “renaissance” too. She said she envisions a transformation of the development into a strong middle-class community.

It’s not enough to simply create jobs or job training programs, said Renae Reese, CCNE’s executive director. The jobs and training have to be connected to the neighborhood, she said.

“There needs to be a commitment to hire on the part of employers,” said Mandi Isaacs Jackson (pictured), the author of the report. The growing local company Higher One, for example, is getting over $30 million in public money, including $18.5 million fro “job creation,” Jackson said. “Between now and 2015, you can find, educate, and train people in Newhallville to do those jobs.”

“We have to be more vigilant,” said Martin-Dawson. She said that people have leverage when projects are funded with taxpayer dollars. “If they want the taxpayers’ money, they’re going to have to sign something,” she said. “We’ll hold up your money so you’ve got to deal with us.”

Any point where a development needs public permission in some way—like building permits or zoning variances—is a point where the community can apply pressure, said Jackson.

Rev. Scott Marks, a founder of CCNE, predicted that the new crop of aldermen will be on the same page as the organization. In order to get elected, they had to knock on the same doors CCNE did, he said. They’ve heard the same message from the community, he said.

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posted by: Cookie Monster on December 13, 2011  9:26am

While I agree with the intent behind this report (who doesn’t want stronger neighborhoods and more jobs?), some of the points here are legally flawed.

Zoning applications cannot be hijacked for political leverage. Either the zoning variance meets the legal standards, or it doesn’t. If it does, and the Board of Aldermen or the Board of Zoning Appeals rejects it because they want more community benefits (or as one alderwoman once put it to Carter Winstanley, “a slush fund”) the City is likely to end up in a costly lawsuit. 

Also, I think Helen Martin-Dawson’s comments regarding her own committee are telling. Groups like CCNE are all gung-ho during the public process, but once it gets to the actual daily work of improving neighborhoods and getting stuff done, no one shows up. What is Helen doing right now to make sure her committee is meeting its obligations to residents? You’re on the committee. It’s up to YOU to make it work.

posted by: Curious on December 13, 2011  9:44am

I see a lot of advocates calling for other peoples’ money to be used to find and train new workers…but where is the raw material?

Maybe start by making a database of local people who want to work - something you can present to developers and say, “Here - look at all these people who want a job.  This is their background, and this is what they are willing to do.”

Grubbing for handouts is really off-putting.  Make this real.

posted by: Curious on December 13, 2011  9:50am

The Higher One example is always touted, and it’s absurd.  Those are jobs for people with college degrees.

If people in Newhallville want to be educated for these jobs, Gateway jus built a beautiful new campus.  Go get an associate’s degree.  Then companies will take you seriously.

If you want local people to get these jobs, get them into school.  It’s not completely incumbent on the employer to train their workforce from the ground up.  It’s up to the people to get themselves ready for the job market, too. 

There’s no reason that can’t happen through Gateway.  Maybe make potential employers pay into a fund that helps expand Gateway, but don’t get all crazy with new initiatives and programs. 

All the building blocks are already in place.  Just use them better, and get people into school.

posted by: critical thinking on December 13, 2011  10:12am

The existing regulatory framework imposes a host of restrictions and requirements on the development of real estate with particularly large burdens placed on those who dare to try to develop in our cities.  There are zoning and site plan approvals, traffic approvals at the state and local levels, hiring requirements in connection with any stat or local benefits, to name just a few.  In cities, developers also have to navigate brownfield regulations, additional traffic regulations as a result of density, parking regulations, etc.  They also have to deal with the fact that organizations like CCNE appear to be focused on destroying New Haven while leaving Hayden and North Haven alone.  And the millions of dollars in taxpayer benefits described in the article already come with strings attached.  Those strings are codified in state statute, regulation and in the agreements entered into between the State and the companies and non-profits that accept taxpayer money.

There are all sorts of checks on these processes.  First off, there’s democracy.  If you don’t like the deal Malloy cut with Jackson Labs, don’t vote for him in three years.  If you don’t like the deal DeStefano cut with Becker for 360 State, don’t vote for him.  And then there’s the constitution.  Zoning and site plan approvals are subject to the strictures of the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, which has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to limit the scope of review that a Board of Zoning Appeals or City Plan Commission has over development approvals.  These limitations are routinely ignored as it is easier for a developer to agree to conditions on development than it is to challenge those conditions in Court.  And even more often, a developer will simply choose not to develop in a location where local governments and community organizations impose additional, often times unconstitutional, burdens.  Why build an office building in downtown New Haven when you can build an office park in Wallingford for a fraction of the cost and headache?  Why negotiate with CCNE in New Haven, when you can escape to East Haven or Milford, no youth program or job training program or cash handout necessary.

The resultant problem for society is the jobs in Wallingford are inaccessible to City residents, there’s no transportation infrastructure in Wallingford, everyone has to get in their cars and pay for gas to get there, the tax base in an overwhelmingly white suburb grows while the tax base in a poor urban center dies . . . but that’s what happens when developers and businesses can choose where to locate and we as a society make it really difficult to develop in cities.

The idea that come developers and businesses, like universities and hospitals, can’t choose where to locate so they are a captive audience for community benefits bargaining, is flawed.  Quinnipiac, in Hamden, is building a campus in North Haven.  Yale bought the Bayer site in West Haven/Orange.  And hospitals across the state are building clinics and walk-in centers in the ‘burbs. 

I, for one, don’t want another New Haven’er purporting to be the community and to speak for me when it comes to whether development should happen here in New Haven.  A “community benefits agreement” is an unelected group of people, purporting to be the “community,” wrangling goodies from a developer, goodies that are not subject to the checks of democracy or the Constitution.  I can’t unelect CCNE because I didn’t elect them in the first place.  And yet they purport to be the community while many of us are quite thrilled to have a first class cancer center in town and to have a fast-growing company build its offices here and to have a new 500 unit apartment building with a fantastic co-op supermarket on the first floor, regardless of how many youth programs were funded in the process.  Those programs might be quite valuable, but they have nothing to do with the development of a first class medical institution (or apartment building or office building) and the jobs created in the development of that institution.

The alternative is the utter destruction of our cities’ neighborhoods, Newhallville and East Rock alike.

posted by: JAK on December 13, 2011  10:38am

This is so misguided its hard to understand where to start.  Let’s just cut to the chase.  The imposition of Community Benefits Agreements will only result in LESS economic development in New Haven and ultimately less prosperity for its residents.

Exhibit A:  As a result of the two year delay of construction of the Smilow Cancer Center was there any improvement in the poverty rate in the Hill?  Or did the shakedown cost the community hundreds of millions of dollars in economic value, not to mention an undetermined number of lives lost to cancer?

Why don’t the CORD activists ever point their fingers at the system which is at the heart of the problem?  Could it be that exposing the school system’s historical disregard for black and latino children might hit too close to home? 

These people are very selective when it comes to picking their social justice battles.  If the cause is good for labor unions (btw - mostly made up of out of town workers)they’re on board. 

But if it involves demanding better education quality for low income minority families, CORD is no where to be seen.  Why not?  Could it be because one of the biggest impediments to better education is the teachers’ union? 

No question about it, in this town, the white middle class labor movement trumps the civil rights movement.

posted by: streever on December 13, 2011  10:50am

I appreciate and applaud the sentiment—New Haven does have to do more to attract businesses that will employ locals—but am concerned about some of the specific policies advocated for.

I don’t think it is appropriate—for instance—to challenge a business in Zoning Appeals on local hiring unless it is relevant (in a legal sense) to the application. Same goes for building permits.

I think as much as possible, we should all play by the rules. Zoning appeal is a specific process by which a land owner appeals for a variance or exception in how they make use of land they own, in areas where the city zoning code fails to make proper distinctions. Perhaps it is because the neighborhood’s character has steadily changed, but the ordinance has not. Perhaps it is because times have changed, but the ordinance has not.

Regardless, zoning relief should only be granted when necessary and when legally appropriate. It is not something that should be offered as a political carrot. If the business meets the legal definition of deserving relief, it should gain it.

The same goes for building permit fees. These should be realistic, practical, and transparent fees, not political bargaining chips.

Again—I appreciate and applaud the emotions and thoughts that led to this, but on the specific implementation, I think it is inappropriate and political.

Processes should be open, transparent, and equal—they should not disproportionately impact one property owner for an arbitrary reason.

I would support, however, a program that any business owner can apply to, which waives building permit fees if the final use would employ a certain percentage of local residents.

Essentially, I’d be happy to support this proposal if had a goal of producing a clear set of guidelines and rules that everyone had access to. If the final goal is to put political pressure on individuals, then I am uncomfortable with it.

posted by: question on December 13, 2011  10:58am

This is a funny statement from Scott Marks…

—-Rev. Scott Marks, a founder of CCNE, predicted that the new crop of aldermen will be on the same page as the organization.

Was that a divine prediction or isn’t that the whole reason him, Gwen Mills, and Bob Proto recruited all of their cronies to run?  To be on the same page with everything they put out, or they won’t get any help from the unions.  But then they said the Mayors office was a machine.  I want to see one of these alderman next year go against what these union people say.  I would like to see what happens…

posted by: cedarhillresident on December 13, 2011  11:11am

just be careful how you do it….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=slChilGsRiU

posted by: East rock independent on December 13, 2011  11:41am

I cannot believe that East Rock elected Jessica Holmes, the union lackey candidate, to represent us on the board of aldermen. Her organizations complete lack of perspective and reliance on attacking East Rock to score political points is embarrassing.  She will be a one term flake out if she stays in bed with these guys.

posted by: robn on December 13, 2011  1:57pm

ERI,

The Ward 9 primary results were..
Holmes 438
Smith 305
In purely statistical terms, a blow out, but in numerical terms, not so impressive give that the union coalition had a $200,000 war chest, hundreds of volunteers including many outsiders, and access to the GESO database so that they could pinpoint people who haven’t been around town long enough to recognize the relevance of such shenanigans. I don’t think that the graduate students who voted for Jessica will be very happy when they incur nosebleed rent increases to cover property tax increases….that is, unless the BOA can accomplish meaningful budget cuts and minimize tax increases (I’ve heard a lot about protecting city workers, but not a lot about protecting city taxpayers, so we’ll just see.)

posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 13, 2011  4:20pm

When people voted against the Mayor and perceived cronyism, I think they missed the big picture of what Union control of the BoA might mean.

Hopefully I am wrong, but I don’t foresee much future development happening if this is what the political climate will be like.

What a shame.

posted by: Develpmania on December 13, 2011  6:15pm

Great set of ideas: If you want to build in and profit from New Haven, give something back in the form of investment in the city’s people, a commitment to hire local residents, and a commitment to make that hiring for jobs that people can actually live on, not minimum wage, no benefit poverty jobs.

Comments on comments:

JAK “Why don’t the CORD activists ever point their fingers at the system which is at the heart of the problem?  Could it be that exposing the school system’s historical disregard for black and latino children might hit too close to home?”

Nope. Not too close to home. CCNE has been on that bandwagon for nine years: http://www.ctneweconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/schools_taxes_and_jobs.pdf

JAK on the Cancer Center. Hmm. Didn’t the community organizing around the Cancer Center in partnership with Yale Law School clinic litigation help cement the release of hundreds of liens and thousands of medical debts on people who were being crushed by a hospital that was sitting on millions of dollars in donated funds for the uninsured? I’ve read this same comment about the Cancer Center several times from you, and yet, the building got built and staffed with a commitment to local hire, and some of the hospital’s most brutally exploitive practices were stopped.

Curious: “The Higher One example is always touted, and it’s absurd.  Those are jobs for people with college degrees.”

The problem is that even for those jobs that don’t require a degree, there’s a lack of will to hire locally on the part of the developers and Higher One, who pulled a Lucy on 9 Newhallville Charlie Browns who went to Gateway based on Winstanley’s promise of jobs and got trained for the brownfield remediation work. But the contractor hired an out of state subcontractor. People in this town are sick of shoveling millions of tax dollars to developers who promise “jobs,” and then running up to the jobs football and landing on their backs. Please actually read the report before commenting.

Curious: good point about needing a database of willing workers. City needs to get that done,  but that’s only one slice of a real jobs pipeline. Without better intake and training programs and yes, getting a commitment to hire out of employers, a passive list of people won’t be enough.

posted by: anon on December 13, 2011  6:32pm

The solution here is for the State to give companies even larger tax credits for expanding in urban areas.  Job growth in the core helps everyone, because it prevents sprawl, and can eventually lead to more jobs access in surrounding areas. 

Job growth in urban areas needs to be combined with state and local investments in the surrounding neighborhoods’ physical assets, however, such as housing, parks, streets and schools. Otherwise the growth will seem like it is leaving people out.

Connecticut can either get with this picture, or it can doom itself to continuing sprawl, urban decay, and then eventual terminal decline relative to the rest of the world’s metro areas - which increasingly understand the value/necessity of financially, ecologically, and socially sustainable cities.

For these reasons, Governor Malloy’s strategy to give huge credits to inaccessible-except-to-the-rich, sprawl magnets such as Cigna, Jackson Labs, and ESPN is an epic policy failure - and the Unions and progressive elected officials within our state should call him out for it. 

His policies will further isolate urban centers, alienate our future workforce, and destroy this state’s economy.

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