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How Community Benefit Programs Create Value-Added Growth and Protect Public Resources

With redevelopment funding no longer an option, South San Francisco and other cities increasingly are looking to a community benefits platform, according to Murtaza Baxamusa, a planner and urban planning professor.
April 28, 2015, 7am PDT | melaniecj
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The demise of redevelopment has forced cash-strapped cites statewide to come up with more innovative ways to fund projects, with one such strategy involves granting development rights to developers in exchange for providing or funding public benefits.

A fine example of this is South San Francisco, which went through a two-year planning process to come up with a 20-year development plan for downtown that propose 2,400 residential units and 800,000 square feet of commercial and retail space within walking distance of the CalTrain station, writes Murtaza Baxamusa, a planner who develops affordable housing for the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation and teaches urban planning at the University of Southern California.

Labor, environmental, health, transportation, social justice, and housing organizations in the community came together to give input in the plan, which the South San Francisco City Council adopted earlier this year. While the community benefits approach to planning can be a tough sell in some communities, it’s one that has tremendous value, according to Baxamusa.

”Public accountability for public resources seems like common sense, but is often under attack. This is because a community benefits approach threatens the dominant paradigm in many cities: that of value-free growth (i.e. any development is good). However, a conditional acceptance of growth is not anti-growth, but an affirmation of value-added growth (i.e. any development ought to be good). It expresses astute stewardship of public resources by an educated public that recognizes the economic trade-offs between growth and stagnation, externalization and internalization of costs and benefits, and rent-seeking landlords.”

Other cities are taking notice. Redwood City, San Diego, Menlo Park, and Berkeley all have a growing community benefits movement, he writes.

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Published on Friday, April 24, 2015 in UrbDeZine
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