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Confronting the Procedural Fix: How Community Coalitions for Economic Justice Utilize City Planning Expertise to Support Community Benefits Campaigns

Abstract

This paper investigates the use of planning expertise by two community benefits campaigns to advance their equity agendas. Due to criticism over the way in which redevelopment planning has been undertaken, a series of reforms aimed at controlling the development approval and permitting process has been enacted over the past thirty-five years. These reforms – which I refer to as the procedural fix – are aimed at controlling debate and making the process more predictable for developers. The Community Benefits Agreement is a tool community activists use to extract redistributive benefits directly from capital. City planning expertise is helpful, if not necessary, for negotiating the procedural fix. Because the procedural fix is composed of reforms with legal consequences, the type of strategy a particular campaign chooses to use has consequences for how the planning expertise is used to negotiate the fix. The story of these two campaigns demonstrates that the type of strategy a particular campaign employs has consequences for how the planning expertise is used to negotiate the procedural fix. In cases where a campaign chooses a political strategy, planning expertise is useful in helping the campaign to articulate an alternative development plan that builds political support externally (with decision-makers) and internally (with coalition partners and their bases). In cases where a campaign chooses a legal strategy, planning expertise is useful in helping the campaign to build a legal case against the developer, the city, or the redevelopment agency in order to pressure the opposition to concede community benefits rather than face expensive and time-consuming litigation.

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