SANTA ROSA -- At a lively Sonoma County Alliance meeting Wednesday, representatives from Codding Enterprises, the Accountable Development Coalition and a building industry representative discussed the hotly debated Community Benefits Agreement signed by Codding and the coalition on affordable housing, sustainable building practices and wage and benefit packages for the project.

Community Benefits Agreements, private contracts between developers and community groups, have been on the rise in the last decade starting in California with the Staples center and becoming a nationwide phenomenon.

Kirstie Moore, the development manager of Codding's Sonoma Mountain Village in Rohnert Park and Michael Allen, the chair of the Accountable Development Coalition, talked about the agreement and the potential benefits.

Also presenting was Richard Markuson of Pacific Advocacy Group who talked about CBAs and their potential to impact non-union builders and to circumvent the normal public vetting process.

At one point, the Codding agreement with the coalition included a project labor agreement that would have required the use of union contractors. Many in the building industry oppose PLAs, including Mr. Markuson.

The final agreement states that the "Developer agrees to require that any Contractor that employs construction workers to perform labor at the Site in conjunction with the original construction of the permanent structures at the Development and where said labor is within the jurisdiction of any of the following craft unions: Carpenters Local 751, Operative Plasters & Cement Masons Local 300, Area #355, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 551, Operating Engineers Local 3, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 and International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 8 (hereinafter referred to as “Covered Work”) will maintain area labor standards by paying the construction workers for any commercial construction work at least the wage and benefit package in the master labor agreement for the applicable craft union.”

Mr. Markuson said that while he is pleased a project labor agreement was not signed, the fact that there was one in place at all demonstrates the core objectives for why the organized labor is part of the agreement.

“They are trying to make it difficult for open shop contractors to compete,” he said. He also said the agreements could be used to pressure developers. “The CBA will become an incentive for inducement and presented as pro forma. There is an implicit threat that if developers do not comply there will be legal ramifications.”

Ms. Moore said the original plan was to sign the CBA with the PLA in place, but there was disagreement among union leaders and they dropped that part of the agreement.

“Which means,” said Ms. Moore, “Union and non-union shops will be side by side on an even platform to bid on our jobs.”

“If you are a non union shop and you are bidding on a prevailing wage city project, it is the same thing,” she added.

Some of the attendees voiced concerns about the equivalent wage and benefit package being nothing more than a PLA under a different guise.

And others were concerned that there are already CEQA laws and EIRs and project design reviews and planning commissions and city councils for developers to deal with and that this is just another layer of bureaucracy to get through.

Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange, asked how a coalition of just 10 groups can claim to represent the broad community made up of hundreds of organizations.

“Who the hell do you people think you are?” he said to Mr. Allen. “You have created a shadow government. Where is the planning commission and city council in all this? I don’t remember electing you people.”

Mr. Allen responded that the agreement was reached voluntarily and without coercion.

“This is the essence of the American free enterprise system,” he said.

Ms. Moore said “Nobody has ever forced or extorted Codding into anything.”

“It is a large agreement,” she said. “We are proud of it and stand behind it. In a forum like that you get to see what people really think and what people are understanding about what we are doing.”

She said “We certainly know the ADC doesn’t represent the whole community but we feel it is a start of reaching the entire community.”

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.