Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
Developers and neighborhoods are often at odds over development projects. Over the past decade, communities across the country have employed a new tactic, demanding signed agreements from developers to address concerns like local jobs, wages, and the environmental impact. We look at these Community Benefit Agreements, and how a local coalition is taking on the nation’s largest retailer before it even arrives in the District.
- Lydia DePillis Staff writer, Washington City Paper
- Marina Streznewski Executive Director, DC Jobs Council
- Greg LeRoy Founder and Executive Director, Good Jobs First
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Walmart plans to build four of its retail stores in the District. And while some are cheering of the prospect, the plan has met with protests from some community advocates. They've asked the big-box store to guarantee that they will hire residents from the neighborhood and pay a living wage, among other things.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhether it's a new convention center or a discount retailer, when a developer's vision for a neighborhood doesn't match up with that of the people living nearby, it can put communities and developers at odds. Despite the millions in tax dollars subsidizing many development projects, local residents usually have little say.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut over the past decade or so, communities have been honing a new tool, asking the developer to sign a legal agreement to give something back to the neighborhood, whether investment in local organizations or guaranteeing jobs and wages. Here to discuss these community benefit agreements is Greg LeRoy, founder and executive director of Good Jobs First, accountable development and smart growth for working families.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe Jobs First is a watchdog organization on state and local economic development projects. Greg LeRoy, thank you for joining us.
MR. GREG LEROYGlad to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Marina Streznewski. She is the coordinator for the D.C. Jobs Council, a coalition focused on jobs advocacy. That's part of the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition working on the Walmart community benefit agreement for the District. Marina, thank you for joining us.
MS. MARINA STREZNEWSKIGlad to be here.
NNAMDIAnd also with us in studio is Lydia DePillis, staff writer with the Washington City Paper. She writes Housing Complex, a blog on real estate development and urbanism. Lydia, good to see you.
MS. LYDIA DEPILLISThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe invited Walmart to join us for this discussion, but Walmart declined. But if you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Are you in favor of Walmart coming to D.C.? What do you think communities should be able to ask of developers coming into their neighborhoods? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question. Make a comment there.
NNAMDISend us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Marina, Walmart plans to bring four stores to the District by 2012. It's my understanding that they don't require any zoning changes or subsidies for those locations. Where will these stores be located?
STREZNEWSKIThe four that are planned are in Ward 5, Ward 6, Ward 7 and Ward 4.
NNAMDIWard 5, that would be 801 New Jersey Ave. N.W.
STREZNEWSKIThe 801 New Jersey Ave. N.W. one is the Ward 6 location.
NNAMDIThat's Ward 6. Georgia and Missouri is Ward 4.
STREZNEWSKIThere's Ward 4.
NNAMDICapitol Heights, East Capitol and 58th St. is Ward...
NNAMDI...7. And New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road.
STREZNEWSKINew York Avenue, right.
NNAMDIThat's Ward 5. Greg, developers pitching projects often make promises about what they'll do for a community. How often do those promises make it into project approval documents?
LEROYWell, it depends upon how well-organized the community is and how careful the local government is in crafting the redevelopment agreement. You know, press releases and ribbon-cutting statements are one thing. Fine print is quite another.
NNAMDILydia, economic development projects are often subsidized by taxpayer dollars, usually with the idea that the product -- project will improve neighborhoods and create jobs and tax revenue. But does that always benefit the current residents of that neighborhood?
DEPILLISIt really can. If you look at a lot of the developments around the city, many of them were built with various forms of tax incentives usually, rather than just straight cash. If you think of Columbia Heights, all of those buildings had multimillion-dollar investments from the city. If you think of the Washington Nationals ballpark, if you think of, you know, even stuff that hasn't come out of the ground yet.
DEPILLISAnd the question is whether those tax incentives are actually necessary to get the project built. And up until now, we haven't really had tools to ask developers, you know, could you -- you could build this without our money, right? And they say no, no, no. No, we couldn't. We need your money.
NNAMDIBut when they get our money, Greg, that is where the community benefits agreement or CBAs come in. Exactly what is a CBA? And how did this concept come about?
LEROYSure. Community benefits agreements were pioneered -- I think it's fair to say -- by a group in Los Angeles called the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. CBAs are private contracts between two private parties that is between the developer or the employer, in this case, Walmart, and a private coalition of groups in the community that were affected -- will be affected by the development.
LEROYThat is community, environmental, religious, civic, job training, labor, et cetera, who want to make sure that the redevelopment project benefits people who are most affected by the footprint of the project and any sort of environmental broadly cast ripple effects of the project and also who gain affirmatively most from the opportunities created by the project.
NNAMDIMarina, how does a CBA typically work? What's the process?
STREZNEWSKIThe process varies with the particular circumstances. In the District of Columbia, what has happened is that since we heard that Walmart was planning to come to the District of Columbia and open four stores all at once, various community groups have expressed certain kinds of concern. Yes, there is a lot of support for Walmart coming, but there are still concerns.
STREZNEWSKIEven the people who support Walmart coming are in favor of a community benefits agreement to address things like good jobs, to address things like environmental concerns, storm water runoff from parking lots, for example. Or in the case -- one really clear example in -- that affects probably the Ward 4 store location more than any is traffic. That's already a difficult intersection, and if you put a Walmart there, it's going to be quite a challenge.
NNAMDICan a CBA ensure that a developer's promises, the promises that may not be included in the fine print that Greg LeRoy referred to earlier -- can a CBA ensure that those kinds of promises regarding community benefits are legally enforceable?
STREZNEWSKIIf it isn't an enforceable community benefits agreement, sure, it can. It has to be a legally binding agreement. That is a contract.
NNAMDIOh, because there are community benefits agreements that are not necessarily legally binding, which would make them just what, promises?
STREZNEWSKIJust promises, exactly. And there have been agreements like that that Walmart has made in other jurisdictions. For example, in one very simple one in Prince George's County, where, essentially, they agreed to keep the parking lot clean and to meet with the community groups on a regular basis and to make sure that the store was safe. And they have not kept up with even those minimal promises.
LEROYSo in addition to the fact that it's a private contract, which would normally provide for mechanisms to resolve disputes and monitor compliance with the terms, a CBA -- again, a private contract -- can also be appended to the redevelopment agreement between the company and the local government and become, again, enforceable as part of the redevelopment agreement.
NNAMDIMarina, Walmart estimates it will bring 1,200 jobs to the District with its four stores. What are your concerns about those jobs?
STREZNEWSKIWe're concerned that those jobs, first of all, pay appropriately. Walmart has said that they will pay wages that are commensurate with average retail wages, but even that is a kind of squishy definition. For example, if you're looking at average wages for cashiers versus average wages for retail salespersons, the retail salesperson jobs, the average wage is a dollar higher. And that's for a 40-hour week job. That's a significant difference.
STREZNEWSKIWe are concerned that the jobs pay well enough that they give those holding the jobs a chance for a foothold on a career ladder, where they can eventually get to the point where they're paying -- they're paid family-sustaining wages. We're also concerned that benefits be available. Walmart offers insurance, but finding what that insurance covers has been a bit of a challenge.
STREZNEWSKIAnd we're also concerned that associates at Walmart have the chance to have a voice in the workplace, whether that is through a real live, honest to God, bona fide union or through something that has been started, a campaign called Our Walmart, which the -- in which the associates have formed an actual association.
NNAMDISalary, as you mentioned, is a big issue. Another one, it's my understanding, is hiring locally.
STREZNEWSKIYes. That is a big issue with any employer in the District of Columbia. We're familiar with the First Source Agreement, which basically says that the citizens of the District of Columbia will be the first source when an employer is looking for employees. And we want to make sure that Walmart abides by First Source Agreement and by the living wage agreement, even though -- because it is -- they are private undertakings -- that is that they're not using city land, for example -- they're technically not required.
STREZNEWSKIWe would like them to step up to the plate and say, yes, we're going to do this because this is a good idea. And we're going to respect our employees and pay them well.
NNAMDIIsn't there some city land involved in this deal also, though? Lydia, isn't there some city land involved in this?
DEPILLISThe Ward 7 site on East Capitol belongs to the Housing Authority. And I believe there's a long-term lease to a developer. So the developer decides who gets to come there, but it does have to be transferred.
NNAMDIGreg, you wanted to say?
LEROYI just want to say this issue of local hiring is a relevant issue in D.C. We did a big study several years ago looking at 13 big deals in the city, including low-cost tax refinancing under something called industrial revenue bonds. The District has a rule providing for local hiring, especially of construction workers and apprentices, training career ladders, if you will, for the construction jobs on IRB-financed projects.
LEROYAnd we couldn't find any evidence that the District was monitoring compliance or had any information about the rate of compliance, much less enforcing it.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number. We're discussing community benefit agreements and those who are seeking such an agreement with Walmart coming to four locations in the District of Columbia. You can also join us at our website, kojoshow.org, with your questions or comments about this. You can send us an email to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow. Do you think the city should require that developers sign community benefit agreements requiring those developers to meet certain standards?
NNAMDIWhat do you think? 800-433-8850. A few more specifics, Marina, because I went down this list of about 17 points in the CBA and picked a few that Walmart is likely to object to, in my humble opinion, one of them being that Walmart not ask job applicants about previous criminal convictions. Why?
STREZNEWSKIThat's part of a nationwide movement, a ban the box movement...
STREZNEWSKI...so that it gives people who had been incarcerated a fair shot at getting a job once they get out of jail because, otherwise you set up is incredibly a vicious cycle where people are -- they have been incarcerated. They have paid their debt to society, but they're still unable to find employment. And then so what do they do? They turn to illegal means of making a living. Actually, Walmart has stopped doing that.
NNAMDIWell, I was wondering because I know some employers try to narrow that...
NNAMDI...for instance, you would say if you have a conviction for embezzlement, you can't work in our accounting office or something like that.
STREZNEWSKIThat's right. To determine -- rather than simply having -- making the decision based on whether somebody checks a box or doesn't check a box, you look into the situation in a bit more detail and find out if the offense is relevant to the job for which you are applying.
NNAMDIAsking that the Walmart not sell firearms or ammunition, Walmart may go along with that. But I suspect some members of Congress, it will certainly draw their attention and go like, see, they're asking a company to violate District of Columbia law which allows the company to do that. So this would have to be entirely voluntary on Walmart's part?
STREZNEWSKIIt would have to be voluntary. I'm not as familiar with the nuances of the gun law, but...
DEPILLISOh, I would just say they came in and, from the outset, said they were not going to sell guns.
NNAMDIYeah, probably not.
DEPILLISSo that's not an issue.
NNAMDIEmploy no less than two off-duty D.C. police officers on its premises at all times. Why off-duty D.C. police officers? Aren't they in enough trouble as it is?
STREZNEWSKIThat's a good point. The point is to ensure that the premises are secure. And it was the belief of the people drafting this particular draft agreement -- and it is a draft agreement -- that the shoppers, employees, et cetera and the neighborhood would be safer with D.C. police officers, off-duty D.C. police officer there as opposed to private security guards.
NNAMDIAnd this one, make ongoing contributions to a fund managed by a counsel of community stakeholders that will provide incentives and support to local small businesses. How does one identify "community stakeholders?"
STREZNEWSKIThere's the rub. There is a great deal of debate as to how that will be accomplished. In general, Living Wage Healthy Communities Coalition believes that those -- we start with the people who are most closely and most directly affected by the store, that is, the people who live in the area, including members of civic associations, those who have been leaders and have contributed to the community over a period of time.
STREZNEWSKIClergy is one group. The AMCs in the District of Columbia offer another source of people who could be part of those community groups.
NNAMDINot just -- I was wanting to make sure you didn't mean the people who speak loudest in community meetings.
STREZNEWSKINot necessarily. No. And I take your point.
NNAMDIHave you gotten a response back from Walmart on the community benefits agreement you'd like Walmart to sign? Any responses yet from Walmart?
STREZNEWSKINone at all.
NNAMDILydia, are you aware of any retail store development being asked to meet requirements like those that are being asked of Walmart?
DEPILLISI'm not aware of a private retailer coming in to the District that's had to do that. I do know that, you know, the big relevant precedence in D.C. for CBAs are the ballpark, which was heavily underwritten by the city. And there was a community benefits fund set up. And the problem with that, obviously, is that it's able to be raided by subsequent administrations whenever they need money.
DEPILLISSo that community benefits fund, which was a promise made by the Williams administration, the Fenty Administration took out money to pay for operating costs. And the Gray Administration tried to do the same thing this year. So those kinds of promises, even if they're made with the government, are not always inviolate.
DEPILLISAnd other community benefits agreements, they tend to happen -- there is a opening for them to happen when development has to go through what's called a planned unit development process with -- and get approved by the zoning commission. So there is a community benefits package that goes along with the Skyland Shop -- Town Center planned unit development. And there could -- there is also a store-specific community benefits agreement that has been drafted with the developer of the Ward 7 site. So...
NNAMDIAnd we'll get to that in a second...
NNAMDI...because a distinction has to be made between the developer and the tenant. But we've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue. We've got a lot of calls. So if you have comments on this subject, you may want to go to our website, kojoshow.org and make your comment there. Or send us a tweet at kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on community benefits agreements, one such -- community benefit agreements, one such as being sought with Walmart which is bringing four stores to the District of Columbia. We're talking with Lydia DePillis, staff writer with the Washington City Paper. She writes Housing Complex, a blog on real estate development and urbanism. Maria (sic) Streznewski is the coordinator for the DC Jobs Council of Coalition focused on jobs advocacy.
NNAMDIAnd Greg LeRoy is the founder and Executive Director of Good Jobs First, accountable development and smart growth for working families. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We spoke with the Director of the Office of Planning, Harriet Tregoning, back in February of this year. She touched on several of the issues regarding Walmart coming to D.C. Here she is.
MS. HARRIET TREGONINGYou can only get this kind of information specifically from a retailer, but they say that, in the last year, $42 million in sales have been racked up by D.C. residents at their suburban locations. You know, when you go into a store, they sometimes ask you what your zip code is. And for those that have given zip codes -- you know, $42 million in sales. So it's not like there are -- that Washingtonians don't want to shop there. They already shop there.
NNAMDIAnd can you require big-box stores to meet standards for unionization healthcare?
TREGONINGI think the mayor has been really clear on this, that he has high expectations for a company like Walmart, the world's largest retailer, if they want to be welcomed into the District of Columbia. And that includes paying a living wage and benefits. It includes career letter opportunities for people who do get employed there. It includes workforce development opportunities and local district hiring.
TREGONINGSo, I think, all of those things are very important and that, you know, Walmart has said they want to be welcomed here. And that's what it's going to take.
NNAMDILydia DePillis, certainly, the mayor can want those things. But what leverage does he or the city have regarding a development like a retailer if that developer meets the zoning requirements and isn't asking for subsidies? Can that developer build anyway?
DEPILLISMy understanding is that they absolutely can. And Mayor Gray tried to pull a trick a few weeks ago in Las Vegas when he met with Walmart to say, if you don't build a store at Skyland near my home, you can't build any of the other stores you have planned. And he had some threat about withholding their building permits, so one might suspect that he could do that for a community benefits agreement, too.
DEPILLISBut I tend to think that is something that Walmart would win in court. So, basically, at this point it's sort of a game of chicken. And I know that the mayor has a community benefits agreement of his own that's been drafted. It's circulating among the administration and the council, but if Walmart wants to walk away, they basically can.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about this. Because, today, Mayor Gray was at a press conference that Walmart had, which they gave as one of the reasons that they wouldn't be able to make it to this broadcast, in which Walmart's charitable foundation has already given a lot of money to local communities. Today that press conference was about a gift of $25 million nationwide to support youth programs and $665,000 going to the District.
NNAMDISome people would say quid pro quo there.
DEPILLISIt's really interesting how they've targeted their giving over the last couple of years. They've -- it's -- they have been filling in holes where the District's own budget has been cut. So we couldn't fund as many summer youth employment positions as we wanted to. So they stepped in with money to help with that.
DEPILLISYou know, school breakfasts, they gave another couple million dollar -- or another $400,000 to the D.C. Hunger Solutions Group to help them expand their capacity for serving fresh school breakfasts, right, which is something that the District would fund if it had the money to do so. It's, you know, all of these groups, you know, helping the poor and disenfranchised in D.C. who are also their potential customers.
DEPILLISThey're not donating to the D.C. symphony orchestra here. I mean...
NNAMDIIf Walmart is indeed giving $665,000 to the District, do you think that there should be a community benefits agreement? Call us, 800-433-8850. Marina, what do you think? These efforts by Walmart could end up saying, well, we've already done this. We don't need to sign a community benefits agreement. Our community benefit is clear.
STREZNEWSKIThis is -- it's such a sticky area. On the one hand, I am grateful that there is money coming to, like, school breakfasts. That's really important. But on the other, what is required for sustainability, for sustainable communities, for people to get out of poverty is good wages, good jobs with good wages.
STREZNEWSKIAnd giving money, even to really outstanding organizations like D.C. Hunger Solutions, does not reduce the obligation of Walmart to pay good wages and to hire locally and to do the other things that are necessary to help D.C. residents get out of poverty. I keep asking myself the question, is a job that pays wages so low that people still need public benefits really a net gain for the District?
NNAMDIOkay. Time to go to the telephones, 800-433-8850. We will start with Mike in Vienna, Va. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi. It is my suggestion of what should be required from Walmart is not to interfere with efforts to unionize and including allowing communications inside the premises and providing complete employee lists to those who are trying to unionize.
NNAMDIWell, you should know that one of those 17 points that I pointed out in the community benefits agreement proposal have to do with precisely that, right, Marina?
STREZNEWSKIThat's exactly right. To...
NNAMDII'm looking for the exact wording here, but as usual, I lost it. Go ahead.
MIKEYeah, the way I understand it...
NNAMDIHere's the exact wording. That Walmart should abide by a code of conduct with regard to its employees' freedom to choose a voice on the job without interference. That implies union.
MIKEYeah, (unintelligible) but maybe better to how they better defined.
NNAMDIDo you like to see it more explicitly in a community benefits agreement? What would you like to see that community benefits agreement say, Mike?
MIKEWell, just on this point, that Walmart should not interfere with any activity related to unionizing and should allow that to happen inside premises. And to those that try to organize, to give a complete list of employees.
NNAMDII suspect that there's a thin line here, Marina, between the role of the community benefits agreement and the role of the union that would be attempting to organize the employees.
STREZNEWSKIThat's right. We have the -- the Living Wages Healthy Community's Coalition includes labor, but it also includes employers that are non-union. So we want to make sure that we are clear that we're not promoting unionization explicitly, but making sure that the choice to unionize rests with the employers and not -- or -- excuse me -- with the employees and not the employer.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We move on to Alejandro in Washington, D.C. Alejandro, your turn.
ALEJANDROYes. I've been doing research on Walmart for quite some time now on my own behalf. I've come down to several understandings that it seems that not always that people are quick to push the idea that Walmart will completely destroy a local community, which isn't entirely true. However, my main concern is that what I'm hearing is, is that Walmart will hire people under minimum wage and then tell their employees to seek public benefits that they'll be entitled to because they're making under minimum wage.
NNAMDIIs that what you were saying, Marina Streznewski?
STREZNEWSKIYes. There has, unfortunately -- there have been instances of that where there -- floating around for a while was actually a handbook for one store which said, call Ms. so-and-so for food stamps and that kind of thing, which it has to do with my question about whether a job that it pays so low that people still need public benefits is really a net gain.
LEROYSure. This whole issue of hidden taxpayer costs of poverty wages at Walmart and other big-box retailers is a live issue. In about half the states, state governments have disclosed those employers that have the greatest number of employees getting their healthcare either through Medicaid or through state children's health insurance programs. And among those 25 states, I think, Walmart tops the list on about 20 or 21 of those states.
LEROYOr they're at the top -- near the top of the rest of the states. We know from a federal report once that at the federal level the average Walmart stores estimated to generate about a quarter of a million dollars in hidden taxpayer costs for things like Section 8 housing and food stamps and earned income tax credits as a result. So it's a live issue.
NNAMDIAlejandro, thank you very much for your call. We move on to -- Marina. You want to say something, Marina?
STREZNEWSKITwo. Alejandro's first point that it's not necessarily that Walmart destroys the communities in which it operates...
STREZNEWSKII want to be clear that the Respect D.C. campaign is not about bashing Walmart. It is about challenging Walmart. You're coming in to a new environment. You're coming in to an urban environment for, basically, the first time in the company's history. This moving into urban stores is a very new thing for Walmart.
STREZNEWSKIWe're asking Walmart to step up their game because we believe that, by complying with the requests that we're making in the Respect D.C. agreement, that's going to benefit Walmart as much as it benefits their employees and as much as it benefits the citizens of the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIAlejandro, thank you very much for your call. I'm going to ask our other callers to stay on the line. I will get to your calls, but I'd like to pursue Alejandro's line of argument with an email from Brian who writes, "Classic job repellent panel you have this morning. As I listen to the benevolent panel espouse their admittedly laudable goals, I couldn't help but think that a prospective investor would look elsewhere to build a retail store.
NNAMDI"I'm a proud owner of property in D.C. And I'm often frustrated by my need to drive to Virginia to shop. If the do-gooders would get out of the way and if the market conditions allow, investors will come. No significant tax breaks should be given if the market conditions allow and business is estimated to be beneficial. Voila. There are the jobs. The poorest of the city would benefit the most by the low prices that Walmart's world class supply chain can provide." Care to respond to that, Greg, Marina?
LEROYThere's a lot of veering issues in that message. The issue of sales tax leakage is a real issue for the District per part of the discussion with Harriet Tregoning there. That is, because the district has been under-retailed, it loses a lot of sales tax revenue from D.C. residents going to Virginia or Maryland to shop.
LEROYSo it's a legitimate revenue objective of the District as part of its economic development strategy to solve the under-retailing problem and help capture more sales tax revenue, and maybe even capture sales tax revenue from Virginia and Maryland as well. My issue with that, if you look at the Columbia Heights project, is they're not doing a good job tracking the ripple effects of the enormous subsidies that went into the Target, et cetera project there.
LEROYThey can't track the affect that's had on incremental sales tax revenue from the surrounding footprint.
NNAMDIYou know, Lydia, Walmart estimates it will bring $10 million in new tax revenue to the city. A lot of development projects promise the city tax revenue. What have we seen in the past with developments like National's baseball stadium?
DEPILLISYou know, there hasn't really been a comprehensive study done to inform us about that. You know, you'd have to -- the city would have to commission one. It's not part of -- well, it actually is now finally part of the analysis that has to go into whether we give a developmental tax break. But you can go down there and look around and try to answer that for yourself, right. There's still big empty lots across from the ballpark.
DEPILLISIt was part of the plan that that should all develop into housing or office space or retail. And that's happened to some extent, but much slower than everyone anticipated. Of course, it has to do with an economic downturn. And would those things have happened without a ballpark? Probably not all of them. So it may have been slower than we anticipated, but, you know, there's no compulsory reason for the city to show us.
NNAMDIOn to Fran in Laurel, Md. Fran, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANHi. Good afternoon. I would like to answer the lady's question that she said -- having to do with should we have subsidies in order to have a decent wage in a community to, you know, get people off -- above the poverty level? And I would like to say, nowadays, you shouldn't have to have the government match the wage. And I agree with you with challenging Walmart. I'd like to say something, which is interesting.
FRANI shop at Walmart, and I also shop at Wegmans. And I've seen some things at Wegmans, which is a much higher scaled store, and their prices are lower than Walmart's on some items. So I think Walmart has some competition in that area looking at a much higher scaled store, that it's very affordable for pretty much almost everybody that goes there. And one final point...
NNAMDIWell, some people would say that's a good thing, but I know what you're -- I know you have a final point, Fran, so go ahead.
FRANYeah, my final point is this, and I'd like to backtrack on her question also. You know about the disappointing Supreme Court decision that the women lost at Walmart. Are we -- I think that we should have women -- which, again, it goes back to that poverty level that you're trying to challenge them with -- everybody should be paid the same across the board. And that's something that I would like to see happen in that company.
NNAMDIAnd you're saying that you would like to see that in a Community Benefits Agreement?
FRANIf that's what it takes to guarantee it.
NNAMDIHere's Marina Streznewski.
STREZNEWSKII think that's a great idea. The Duke's decision was very disappointing, but I want to be really clear here, that the Supreme Court did not rule on whether or not Walmart discriminates against women. That question is still open. They simply ruled that the plaintiffs' situations were too dissimilar for them to constitute a class. So I want to be clear that they did not say Walmart does not discriminate against women.
STREZNEWSKISo while it was a victory for Walmart, the question remains. And I do think a Community Benefit Agreement in the District of Columbia is one way to help ensure that women, people of color, people with disabilities do not face discrimination on the job, especially since the District of Columbia has one of the strongest human rights statutes in the country.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. And we had initially intended for the next segment to be a free-for-all Your Turn. But since there are so many people interested in this issue, we think we will stick with this one after the break. Our guests have kindly – call that enthusiastically agreed to remain with us for the next segment. So we're going to continue this conversation. 800-433-8850 is the number to call.
NNAMDIIf the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Do you think the city should require the developer sign Community Benefits Agreement – Community Benefit Agreements requiring them to meet certain standards? Are you in favor of Walmart coming to D.C. at all? 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet at kojoshow or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome to our conversation. Welcome back to our conversation on Community Benefit Agreements. We're talking with Marina Streznewski, coordinator for the D.C. Jobs Council, a coalition focused on jobs advocacy. Greg LeRoy is the Founder and Executive Director of Good Jobs First, accountable development and smart growth for working families. And Lydia DePillis is a staff writer with the Washington City Paper who writes the Housing Complex blog on real estate development and urbanism.
NNAMDIBefore I get back to the phones, Lydia, you mentioned the Ward 7 Walmart earlier. Two of the planned Walmarts – correct me if I'm wrong – are on publicly owned or formerly district-owned land. That means there is a process that does involve Community Benefits Agreements in Ward 6 and Ward 7, correct?
DEPILLISYeah, it's complicated. So in -- I'll try to boil it down.
NNAMDIThat's why we have you here.
DEPILLISIn Ward 6, there – the parcel was transferred to the developer, the Bennett Group back in 1990 because the city screwed up a partnership with them and gave the Bennett Group this piece of land to compensate. And as part of a zoning variance that the Bennett Group got, there was a CBA that was drafted with local churches and community groups that still exists today. And it would only kick in when something happened on that site.
DEPILLISSo, right now, the local churches are sitting pretty. They have 15 percent of the Bennett Group's profits go to them. They have a $2 million obligation for it to go towards an education fund. So they're taken care of pretty much. And it – but none of that pertains to Walmart itself.
NNAMDIYes. That's the developer in this case.
DEPILLISRight. And then the Ward 7 one, it's – the Community Benefits Agreement is because of the type of zoning process that the land will have to go through. So that doesn't have to do with the fact that it's formerly District-owned land.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Lee in Ward 4 in the District. Lee, your turn.
LEEYeah, thanks for addressing this issue. I'm curious about the process by which this – you know, we reached this state. And you've hosted a number of discussions on this issue on this show. But – and, I guess, maybe this topic is past. But horses are out of the barn. But how did we get here? I'm extremely disappointed that there wasn't more open discussion in the Wards. I live in Ward 4, and I – very congested – Missouri and Georgia.
LEESo I know what that's like. And I can't imagine what a big-box store in that intersection will do to that. And then there used to be quite a vibrant small merchant's market in that parking lot taking advantage of the empty parking lot that was there. There are a lot of shops that are opening up along Georgia Avenue and, frankly...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Lydia DePillis clarify again for you, Lee, because we may be giving the impression that there is a process involving a decision made by someone somewhere that would allow Walmart to locate in D.C. That's not quite how it works in the free enterprise system.
DEPILLISRight. And what's interesting about – all of these four sites have long trails of scrapped plans that didn't work out. And Walmart had its, probably, owners and developers not say anything until it wanted to announce that they were all happening all at once, in part, to avoid the ability for opponents to kind of gain traction. But at the Ward 4 site particularly, you know, they've been trying to get that developed for years now.
DEPILLISThe shop – no, Costco was interested in going there and then eventually passed it by. The local economic development people have tried retailer after retailer. And they all say, Georgia Avenue, is that near Pet Worth? Is that near Howard? Is that near Silver Spring? And they're like, no, not really. There was a mixed-use plan that the developer Foulger-Pratt wanted to do, and that fell through because of financing, also because the neighborhood voted against it on the ANC, at least.
DEPILLISAnd so this is like -- well, this is simple. Foulger-Pratt can't just build a box, and it balances well with what they've got going on in Silver Spring. And there are some serious traffic issues.
NNAMDIThere you go, Lee. That was, so to speak, the process.
LEEWell, the gentleman who called earlier saying, gosh, there's investors who would like to come in and the do-gooders get in the way -- but I see there's something organic happening in that space and along Georgia Avenue...
NNAMDILee, we just lost you. Are you still there?
LEE...be included in the process. And I've seen Walmart take hold on the eastern shore. My parents live in communities down there, and it's like a black hole for small businesses. You see a lot of empty stores up and down 13 on east...
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Lydia again. What was the name of the store that used to be there many years ago?
DEPILLISThe Curtis Chevrolet dealership.
NNAMDIWell, before then.
DEPILLISOh, gosh, Kojo. Your memory's longer than mine.
NNAMDIIt was part of a chain of do-it-yourself stores that used to be here. The owner, who – which died a few years ago. He was a...
NNAMDIHeckenger, Heckenger. Heckenger's used to be there many, many years ago.
DEPILLISOh, right. Well, so I just was talking to the guy who's in charge of the local business alliance there yesterday. And the problem that a lot of those businesses face is that people in the surrounding communities don't shop there. And they don't also market that well to them. So you have the council members saying, you know, look, small businesses, you haven't done a good job of serving the communities around you.
DEPILLISAnd so I can't tell my constituents that I'm going to oppose a Walmart, which will bring them, like, all kinds of things that they have to leave the District to get. And so the question of whether Walmart will hurt or help that business corridor, it kind of depends. If it brings a lot of foot traffic and other kinds of traffic to that area, I think it could help. It just depends on whether businesses will be able to market themselves to niches that Walmart doesn't (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIWell, here's an email we got from Shelly in Brightwood Park. "I'm a resident of Ward 4 and while I'm sympathetic to the concerns of those seeking the CDAs and other concessions, I feel that those activists do not speak for the majority of residents. The presence of Walmart would be a significant benefit to my elderly neighbors, most of whom want to see Walmart at Georgia and Missouri where it's easier for them to access by bus and offers them the opportunity to buy necessary items without arranging for travel to shopping centers in Silver Spring or Wheaton.
NNAMDI"In addition I believe that families with children, like me -- with children like mine would prefer to see what is now a vacant lot transformed into something that is useful, as opposed to a physical blight that can only provide safe haven from crime." And as you said at the very beginning of this discussion, Marina, what you are saying is you are not opposed to Walmart coming there. You'd just like to make sure Walmart brings with it certain benefits.
STREZNEWSKIThat's correct. I mean, I think the email writer raises a lot of very good points. But I also would like to point out Walmart has done polling that indicates that 75 percent of the people that they polled in the District of Columbia support their coming to this market. But we have done our own polling and our own canvassing that indicates that even those people who support Walmart coming also support a Community Benefits Agreement.
STREZNEWSKIIt's like, yes, we want them there. We want to be able to conveniently buy, as one resident of Ward 7 put it, panty hose and shower curtains in a convenient manner. But that does not mean that we do not support paying people fair wages, making sure the stores are secure, making sure that they adhere to certain environmental standards. There -- these are -- this is not a zero sum game.
NNAMDIAre men still wearing panty hose? I remember when Sammy Davis, Junior tried to popularize that. Is that still a happening thing?
NNAMDIShould I be getting some panty hose, is what I'm asking you here?
STREZNEWSKII am thinking about the gentleman who got on the U.S. Air flight...
NNAMDIOo, let's not even go there. Here is...
NNAMDIHere is Gail in Washington, D.C. Gail, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GAILWell, Mr. Nnamdi, this is the first time I've ever called a talk show because I feel so passionate about this issue. I have...
NNAMDIThank you for calling.
GAILThank you. I am a restaurant owner in Ward 5. And this sounds very similar to the voluntary agreements that restaurant owners have to adhere to in terms of getting an ADC license. And I can tell you I believe so strongly that this has diminished restaurants and other businesses from (word?) or opening in Washington because of all of the agreements and aspects of it that you have to adhere to.
GAILAs a business person, again, it's easy to talk when you have lots of business. But I can assure you, in my mind, the Walmart I think would be a great asset to the city. And for them to be handcuffed by a Community Benefits Agreement, I think, is going down a wrong road. And if Washington ever wants to have a vibrant retail experience, then we have to let the free market do what it's designed to do and let the consumer (unintelligible).
GAILMy last point. You know, there are lots of people who make disparaging remarks about Walmart. But, dog gone it, it seems as if people who are poor or people who have limited income, when you go into Walmart, those are the people that support that business.
NNAMDIWell, Gail, you are in Ward 5. How far away from you would be the Bladensburg and New York Avenue location?
GAILOh, my. Approximately, maybe, a couple of miles, and I'm a small business owner. And I welcome the Walmart because my -- I anticipate that it will bring more attention to the area and possibly more foot traffic.
GAILAnd that's essentially what we need.
NNAMDIHow does the current agreement that you have, the voluntary agreement with the city that restaurants have, how do you feel that is harming your business?
GAILWell, again, going through the licensing, through the ADC board -- in order to get an ADC license there are certain things you -- there's certain hours that you can and cannot operate. Now, that goes -- if it's counterintuitive to your business model, what will actually drive revenue for you, that's why (unintelligible) are there. Because the ANC and the community has weighed in, and they have decided how you will operate your business.
GAILAnd, again, there's a reason, there is a distinct reason when you go to Arlington, you go through Alexandria. There's a plethora. There's a lot of energy as relates to restaurants and activity and retail...
NNAMDIAnd you feel that overregulation in the District of Columbia is causing that not to happen here. Gail, I do have to move on. Thank you very much for your call. I would like to get to Dennis in Mexican Park, Md. Dennis, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DENNISHow you doing, Kojo? A really good discussion. First of all, I don't think Walmart got as big as it did just catering to the poor and to the needy. You know, I don't know anybody that hasn't at least once been into a Walmart in their lives and bought at least something. But in the regulation (unintelligible) just let that go and let them just, you know, have a business, you know.
DENNISAll the regulations in D.C. really do keep retailers from coming into D.C. You know, D.C. is notorious for having, you know, deserts of no stores at all, no shopping, nothing. But my main thing is there has to be some sort of regulations. And I've found that with the larger chains and with Walmart is them not working people, you know, enough hours, like, you know, they're notorious for working people 32 hours a week, not giving them full time, you know, employment where they can get full medical benefits.
DENNISAnd that was the main thing that I was concerned about. They come and would offer medical benefits and full-time employment, such as a 40-hour week. You know, if they were doing something like that, Walmart would be great for D.C.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Marina? I see you nodding in approval.
STREZNEWSKIThe Community Benefits Agreement does, in fact, stipulate that full-time employment means 40 hours a week because there's a lot of -- and this is not just Walmart. There's a lot of retailers that consider a full-time job to be 32 hours a week. And when you're being paid on an hourly -- at an hourly rate, the loss or the nonexistence of eight additional hours of work is a lot.
NNAMDILydia DePillis, how about transparency and accountability? Are the details of, for instance, the developer deal over in Ward 7 public?
DEPILLISAre they public? That one -- I mean, it depends on what you mean by details. If you mean a contract between the developer and, like, the lease, not necessarily, but if you're talking about -- a couple of the stores, the Ward 5 one and the Ward 4 one have to go through what's called a large tract review process.
DEPILLISSo anything over a certain number of square feet, and so that's pretty detailed plans of the -- what the store will look like, what their traffic management plan is. And that does have to go to the district, which means it's public.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, if there was a Community Benefit Agreement signed, that also would be made public.
NNAMDIYou get the last shot. You only got 10 seconds, Greg.
LEROYSure. We graded the states and District on their online transparency about economic development subsidies. The District, along with 13 states, are still completely in the dark.
NNAMDIGreg LeRoy is the Founder and Executive Director of Good Jobs First, accountable development and smart growth for working families. Greg, thank you for joining us. Marina Streznewski is the coordinator for the DC Jobs Council Coalition focused on jobs advocacy. Marina, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDILydia DePillis is a staff writer with the Washington City Paper. She writes Housing Complex, a blog on real estate development and urbanism. Lydia, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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