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ROHNERT PARK – There has been a mixed reaction from people in the building industry regarding the signing of a Community Benefits Agreement between the developer of Sonoma Mountain Village and a coalition of labor, housing and environmental groups as to the labor standards, housing, regional impact of development and green building standards for the innovative project on the 200-acre former Agilent Technologies site.

Some have argued that this will set an unfair precedent for future development, while others say it is a good way to avoid what could become issues down the line for developers.

“I don’t want there to be an issue of binding nongovernmental contracts having to be signed every time a developer wants to build,” said Lisa Schaffner, executive director of Sonoma County Alliance, an organization whose members include business, labor and public safety.

In the works for more than two years, the Community Benefits Agreement is the first of its kind between a developer and the Accountable Development Coalition.

The agreement lays out a number of terms.

In addition to agreeing to comply with living wage ordinances and “union neutrality” on hiring, there will be 15 percent inclusionary housing onsite. The developer has agreed to meet with the cities of Cotati and Rohnert Park to discuss any community opportunities and concerns. The development will comply with Rohnert Park’s Green Building Ordinance.

There are other policies related to transportation, Environmental Impact Report review, land use, water use, open space protection, sewage and water treatment and commitment to the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit rail and trail project.

Additionally, Sonoma Mountain Village will pay the coalition a one-time $5,000 contribution upon ratification of the agreement and will contribute $6,000 “upon groundbreaking of the residential construction beginning on the development, and each January 15th thereafter during construction of the development.”

This unrestricted donation will go to administrative costs, said Marlene Dehlinger, director of the ADC. It is intended, she said, to defray the costs of staff time for the coalition.

Seeing as the development could take up to 15 years, according to Jack Buckhorn, who is on the executive team of that coalition, this could be close to $100,000 in total.

One of the issues raised is that the development is private. Typically when a CBA is reached, a main reason for a coalition like the ADC to get involved is that public money is used, and therefore it believes the developer should be held accountable to the community.

“Projects that are publicly funded are on a whole different level,” Ms. Schaffner said.

She said she is concerned that there will be a precedent set that anyone wanting to build in this area will be forced to go through this kind of agreement.

“I don’t want a sign that reads ‘closed for business’ on the county,” she added.

But, said Kirstie Moore, development manager of Codding Enterprises, “We are not an average kind of developer.

“I don’t think it is really appropriate to think of this as a blueprint that everyone should follow,” she said.

“I think other developers could look at what we are doing out here and take parts of that and bring it to their projects.”

She said there is no one-size-fits-all way of looking at development.

“When we originally came up with the concept of Sonoma Mountain Village, we wanted it to be something special and unique and be a mixed-use project and be green and sustainable. But we didn’t know what that meant specifically,” said Brad Baker, president and chief executive officer of Codding Enterprises.  ”By entering into these agreements, we are not just talking about it — we are doing it.”

Another development in negotiations with the coalition is the New Railroad Square Project. When Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit gave the developers the option to buy the land, part of the agreement was they enter into a CBA with the Accountable Development Coalition.

John Stewart, chairman of the John Stewart Co. and developer of the project, said in addition to the ADC, they have brought in the West End Neighborhood Association, the local merchants group, the bike coalition, the Cultural Heritage Community Group, the redevelopment agency, the housing authority, city proper and SMART.

He said this way everyone can sit down and come to an agreement that everyone is happy about.

William McDevitt, chief executive officer at McDevitt & McDevitt Construction Corp., said the time spent up front on the agreement likely will mean fewer legal or other challenges down the road.

“Sure, it may take time, but it is not like it has stopped them from moving forward,” he said.

Michael Allen, a labor attorney, Santa Rosa planning commissioner and the chair of the coalition, said he hopes this does become a template for developers.

“We believe over time there will be a series of 'smart-growth' developments along the entire rail line, and we want Sonoma Mountain Village to be a model,” he said.

Sonoma Mountain Village is a community being developed by Codding Enterprises on more than 200 acres in Rohnert Park and will be the first in North America, and the fourth in the world, to be endorsed by One Planet Communities, which enables the entire community to live within a sensitive ecological footprint. The $1 billion sustainable, mixed-use community calls for 1,900 homes and will be the largest development in Sonoma County.

Ms. Moore, who worked alongside Mr. Baker during the negotiation process, said despite concerns this process was interesting and worked out well.

“To have for-profit development, environmental groups and activists on the same page, there to give back to the community, is unprecedented,” she said.

She said the collaboration with the coalition was about more than green building. “It all touches on social equity,” she said.

The typically anti-growth Sonoma County Conservation Action, which is part of the coalition, has never before endorsed a development, she said, but were part of and signed the agreement.

“After two and a half years of negotiation and intense scrutiny, SCCA is proud of the community benefits that are included in the CBA at Sonoma Mountain Village,” said Dennis Rosatti, executive director of Sonoma County Conservation Action. “In addition to the One Planet Living agreement that Codding has struck with World Wildlife Fund International, the implementation of the Accountable Development Coalition’s CBA will result in a development that will be a model for environmental stewardship in the built environment.”

The groups that came together for this agreement are: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 551; Sonoma County Conservation Action; Sonoma County Asthma Coalition; Housing Advocacy Group; North Bay Labor Council; Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition; Sonoma County Young Democrats; Community Housing Sonoma County; Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake County Building Trades Council; and New Economy Working Solutions.