by Joseph Debro
The May 4 headline in the Chronicle, “Lennar gives Bayview Hunters Point $7.3 million,” could become the start of a very bad community yard sale. This was not a gift. The Chronicle knows it is not a gift. This is why the dailies are so irrelevant to communities of color. People who read this headline will think it is a gift. It is not a gift. For-profit corporations do not give away money. This money is an investment to help Lennar Corp. make more money at the Hunters Point site.
This investment is very modest. It should not exempt Lennar from any of its obligations to the community. This headline should make you angry. These are crumbs, when compared to the several billion dollars that Lennar will make on the development it plans at the Hunters Point Shipyard and beyond. The project labor agreement (PLA) that the unions will negotiate with Lennar through the city will yield the craft unions hundreds of millions of dollars. What is the community share of that?
Who controls the money? Making a check out to the San Francisco Foundation keeps that money under the control of Lennar, a company that has proven, by its failures, that it does not know how to empower communities of color. The check writer gains an income tax advantage. If this money is treated as a gift to a 501(c)(3) corporation, it will cost Lennar a fraction of the face value of the so-called gift.
This is not a first, in terms of community benefits. When the oil pipeline built almost 40 years ago in Alaska by oil companies that exploited the land controlled and owned by Alaska Natives, the oil companies tried to buy peace from the Natives by offering small amounts of cash.
The Natives recognized the cash for what it was. This money is like the beads used by the white man to buy New York from the Native Americans. Instead, Alaska Natives teamed up with Blacks and won much of the construction work building the pipeline, and today Native corporations are as significant an economic engine in Alaska as the oil companies.
Lennar should be thanked for their modest investment. The Bayview Hunters point community needs much more.
Lennar is trying to buy influence in Bayview Hunters Point. That influence could yield a return on the Lennar investment equal to 20 times the face value of the money. The total projected investment in “community benefits” is $37.5 million. The cost to Lennar will be about one half that amount when you factor in the tax-free calculation.
The projected return on that investment to Lennar is $650 million. Without knowing the facts, this writer would guess that the San Francisco Foundation was chosen because it has a 501(c)(3) designation, which gives Lennar a tax exemption for the funds it invests in Bayview Hunters Point.
This investment could be an opportunity for the people. The community could collectively decide to use the money, not consume it. By that I mean it could decide to consume only the income that these funds generate and the additional funds they can leverage. I would propose that the money be managed by a community-based for-profit company to produce income that the community – those who have been locked out of the economy – can use to develop other enterprises.
The community might consider investing in a scholarship fund, a community development group, in which the community can invest, and a credit union that can pool the funds with residents’ own deposits and loan them for such important purposes as higher education, buying or improving a home, and founding or expanding a business to residents who have long been redlined and betrayed by banks.
Whatever you do, please do not consume this money. USE IT. These funds, when used to attract more funds, could grow into $100 million in a short time. This is how a community gains power.
This investment could be an opportunity for the people. Whatever you do, please do not consume this money. USE IT. These funds, when used to attract more funds, could grow into $100 million in a short time. This is how a community gains power.
The infrastructure that will be built in this community should be owned by this community. Workers should be trained by funds other than the $37 million from Lennar. Jobs must be directed to those living in and trained by this community.
These are workforce development funds, which should be used to do what public money cannot do. These funds should be a supplement to government money. They should be used to pay trainees. They should be used to develop local small businesses who will hire local workers. They should be used to provide equity for small contractors who will train and employ local residents.
The people of Bayview Hunters Point, now the poorest, most oppressed and exploited part of the city, with the city’s highest rates of unemployment, incarceration and foreclosures, can use Lennar’s “community benefit” funds to truly benefit the community. Like the Natives did in Alaska, the people of Bayview Hunters Point can use corporate funds to become the economic engine of San Francisco.
Joseph Debro is president of Bay Area Black Builders and of Transbay Builders, a general engineering contractor, former director of the California state Office of Small Business, co-founder of the National Association of Minority Contractors and a bio-chemical engineer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.