Looking for Leaders: The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy

Heather Joy Rosenberg
In order to better understand the potential for building projects to support social equity goals, I have been looking for the leaders who are already doing it. The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy is one such leader, and the green building movement has a lot to learn from their work creating good jobs, thriving communities and healthy environments.

The lives of over 350,000 people in Los Angeles are better because of the work of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). LAANE, a non-profit advocacy group founded in 1993, is a leader in creating the “New Economy,” which is essentially a triple bottom line approach to making real and impactful social change. LAANE’s success stems from its development of systemic solutions. All of their efforts focus on creating good jobs, thriving communities and healthy environments.

LAANE’s approach to leveraging the built environment provides many lessons for the green building community as we explore how to better address social equity issues in the context of our projects. Rather than focusing on single issues, LAANE identifies opportunities for change within a particular community and place, finds leverage points and builds strong coalitions who can work together for the benefit of all. And equally importantly, they develop, implement and document specific metrics and benchmarks that we can look to as we begin to create new social equity tools and processes for green buildings.

“LAANE identifies opportunities for change within a particular community and place, finds leverage points and builds strong coalitions who can work together for the benefit of all.”

For example, through their Construction Careers initiative, LAANE has worked with local authorities, developers, contractors, unions and community groups to pass a series of construction careers and green jobs policies to link green building, living wages and career development for projects that receive significant amounts of public investment. Agreements have been developed with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Department of Public Works and the Port of Los Angeles. Specifically, these policies require that all qualified projects:

  • Provide health care and middle-class wages to all construction workers
  • Hire at least 30% of workers from the communities most impacted by the project
  • Reserve 50% of all apprentice hours for workers from the local community
  • Include disadvantaged workers with high barriers to employment in at least 10% of the workforce

Beyond more traditional labor agreements, the goal of these requirements is to ensure that not only are one-time construction jobs created through a project, but that the project is leveraged to provide a long term career path in the construction industry. This is a critical distinction—many construction projects promote their benefit by touting the number of jobs that will be created, even though the associated construction jobs are typically one-time propositions that dry up with a project’s completion. With Construction Careers, LAANE is helping to leverage the opportunities created around building projects to provide meaningful career development and a potential pathway out of poverty for local residents. More information on these programs, including the actual policy documents, can be found here.

LAANE has also been a pioneer in the area of Community Benefits Agreements (CBSs). CBAs are agreements between developers and community groups that provide legal requirements for projects to provide living wages, jobs training, long term employment, affordable housing, open space, environmental clean up, and other public benefits. LAANE helped negotiate the nation’s first CBA at the Hollywood and Highland Center, a major redevelopment project in historic Hollywood that includes the landmark Chinese Theater and sparked a renewal of the neighborhood. The project has largely been seen as a success. Since that time, it has helped organize community and labor groups and supported CBAs at Hollywood and Vine, at the LAX Airport Expansion, and other projects throughout the city.

Each of these agreements reflects the specific needs of the local communities and the types of impacts of each of the projects. For example, the Hollywood and Vine project includes requirements for living wages and benefits for all long term employees (including hotel, security and parking employees), a first source hiring program to hire local residents in both construction and on-going operations, funding for a culinary arts job training program, funding for arts training at the local high school, and outreach for affordable healthcare programs for local residents. The LAX Airport expansion CBA includes soundproofing of schools, public buildings and houses of worship; funding for on-going studies on air quality and community health; electrification of airport gates to prevent engine idling; and other environmental, health and labor measures.

Along with other LAANE campaigns (including programs focused on city recycling, shipping and the ports, hotel workers and grocery stores), these programs provide great examples of the types of metrics that can be used to measure and implement social equity initiatives in building projects. They also underscore the importance of process and the need for community outreach and participation. LAANE’s leadership has helped communities throughout the city effectively navigate the complex political landscape to ensure their needs are addressed by projects that receive public funds and resources. And they have set an example that is being replicated by partner organizations throughout the country.

Heather Joy Rosenberg
Heather Rosenberg was awarded the USGBC Ginsberg Sustainability Fellowship for 2014-2015 to provide thought leadership on issues of social equity and resilience in the built environment. She was appointed by Mayor Garcetti to serve on the City of Los Angeles Innovation and Performance Commission. She currently serves as the Director of USGBC-LA’s Los Angeles Resilience Initiative, and is leading the development the Building Resilience-LA rating system to enable building owners and managers to incorporate resilience into operations of existing facilities. Trained in both ecology and community development, Ms. Rosenberg has worked on the leading edge of sustainability for more than fifteen years. She has helped shape policy at the city, state and national level, including work on strategic plans, Climate Action Plans, and the analytical framework for LEED. As a Principal at CTG Energetics, Ms. Rosenberg led dozens of green building projects and established that company's community and land use practice. In particular, she focused on urban agriculture, affordable housing, transit-oriented development, brownfield redevelopment, and community outreach, as well as implementation of an integrated design process. In addition, she worked on the development of multiple analytic tools, including the CTG Sustainable Communities Model, the USGBC’s Green Building Information Gateway, and the GSA’s Sustainable Facilities Tool. She is co-author of the USGBC report "Social Equity in the Built Environment," co-authored the core curriculum for USGBC's Green Building and LEED Core Concepts Guide, and writes and blogs extensively on issues of social equity and resilience. Ms. Rosenberg is a trained facilitator and a certified permaculture designer and serves on the USGBC Working Group on Social Equity.