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Political Party with Adam Smith: Community Benefits Agreement proposal sparks controversy

Adam Smith

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This week’s Political Party with Adam Smith focuses on a controversial racial equity and economic development initiative to require publicly subsidized St Petersburg development projects to deliver specific benefits to the local community.

City Council members last week gave the Community Benefits Agreement proposal a chilly and skeptical reception, questioning whether it was rushed and too broad and would discourage development in the city. So we spoke to one of the most prominent advocates for the proposal, Gypsy Gallardo, CEO of One Community St. Pete, who has spent decades working to grow the economy and opportunity for African Americans in south St. Peterburg. She was taken aback by some of the feedback from council members, even as she welcomed the opportunity to answer their questions and concerns.

“There has been substantial and ongoing community engagement about this for two-plus years. First proposed six years ago. Seventeen sit-down meetings or one-on-one meetings with current city council members. Roughly 16 meetings with administration,” Gallardo said.

The Community Benefit Agreement concept started in the 1990s with Los Angeles public-private projects such as the Staples Center and is part of the growing racial equity movement. The idea is for governments to play a more active and strategic role ensuring subsidized developers not just include the public in their planning, but commit to delivering specific benefits such as minority hiring requirements or mixed-income housing.

The St. Petersburg proposal supported by Mayor Rick Kriseman – referred last week to a council budget committee for further review – would apply only to $2 million construction projects where the city is contributing at least 20 percent of the cost. St. Petersburg has had only a handful of projects like that over the past decade, but several are on the horizon, including redevelopment of Tropicana Field and redevelopment of the Municipal Services Center.

“You can do this looking backwards; you can do this looking forward – or both. Looking backwards is saying, ‘We as a people have acted against the economic interests of African Americans and we need to make this right.’ Or we can say, ‘Going forward what city do we want to be? Do we want to be a city where an African American male has far fewer opportunities and chances and pathways than a young, white male? Who do we want to be going forward?,’” Gallardo said.

“I personally would prefer that we look with a really clear and sober eye at what’s happened in the past, we acknowledge it, we come to terms with one another across the table, and we determine that we will be a city where African Americans are an integral, integrated, vital, accepted part of social networks and our economic fiber.”

Check out the full conversation by clicking on the video above.

Contact Adam Smith at asmith@mercuryllc.com.

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    John Langerton

    March 6, 2021at9:56 am

    If the premise of the Community Benefits Agreement is indeed (as Gallardo states) that “We as a people have acted against the economic interests of African Americans,” then the conclusion that quotas must be involved in city contracts is highly questionable. Nowhere in the world does a person have a better chance at economic success than in America, whether that be black, white, brown, etc.

    If one is responsible and willing to work hard, one will rise economically. I am involved in education and have been for 20 years, and one thing is consistent – African American males, on average, tend to be noticeably less ambitious and willing to work than their Hispanic and White counterparts. It is so pronounced that Saint Petersburg College has even implemented an African American male initiative. And where does this problem start? It starts in the home with how children are raised. With the values they are taught. It starts with mothers and fathers who emphasize educational and career achievement. Let’s stop pointing the finger at other races as the reason why people don’t “succeed” in America. Encouraging an entire race to view themselves as victims is damaging to all of society and to African Americans most of all.

    Additionally, we should stop applying White western European standards of “success” to all cultures that are a part of our great nation. Any American can go as high as he or she wants to go. Some are willing to work hard enough to reach the top. Some are not. And that’s ok. People and cultures are hugely different. Celebrate diversity. Stop forcing western standards on every other culture.

    Explicit racism (such as the Community Benefits Agreement that penalizes people of other races) to fight “unconscious” racism (which essentially means it’s nonexistent because it can’t even be measured) is a destructive path that will only lead to racial animosity.

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