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Thursday, May 26, 2022 — Houston, TX

Ion Community Benefits Agreement shifts to City of Houston

Infographic by Dan Helmici

By Rynd Morgan     2/5/20 12:15am

The ongoing fight for a community benefits agreement between Houston community members and Rice Management Company for the Innovation District project continued on Monday, with a Student Association proposal to change language in their resolution supporting the CBA — the proposal was tabled after heated discussion. The SA Senate proposal, which would shift SA support from community members to the City of Houston, would be a potential blow to the community members who form the Houston Coalition for Equitable Development without Displacement.

The changes to Senate Resolution #8 are in response Mayor Sylvester Turner’s email to SA President Grace Wickerson on Jan. 29 stating that he has instructed the city’s chief development officer to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with Rice Management Company, according to a Houston Chronicle article.

A community benefits agreement, or CBA, is a legally binding, enforceable agreement that calls for a range of benefits to the local community to be produced by the development project.

The email from Turner follows Rice Management Company’s visit to the Jan. 27 SA Senate meeting, in which representatives from Rice Management Company stated that they did not support the SA Senate resolution urging them to enter into a CBA with the HCEDD. Since Turner made the announcement in support of a CBA with the City of Houston, President David Leebron has committed Rice to entering a CBA with the City of Houston, according to the new resolution.

A coalition such as HCEDD can propose additional stipulations to a CBA during the negotiation process, whereas the City of Houston would be restricted in the stipulations they can ask for, according to Assata Richards, a member of HCEDD.

“As an SA, saying that we support a CBA between Houston/[Rice Management Company] is saying that we support taking power away from HCEDD,” Jones College SA Senator Drew Carter said.

According to Wickerson, Rice Management Company does not recognize the HCEDD as a signatory party in the community benefits agreement.

Turner has appointed Andy Icken, chief development officer for the City of Houston, to enter negotiations with Rice Management Company. In a statement to the Thresher, Icken said that the city’s interest is focused on ensuring that the benefits of the Ion project are widely shared across our community. 

“For the past four years, the city has been engaged in an effort to enhance underserved communities across the city,” Icken wrote in the statement to the Thresher. “We will engage them and other citizen-led efforts as we proceed on this effort.”

At the SA Senate meeting on Feb. 3, Wickerson and resolution writer Mary Claire Neal discussed the changes to the resolution. One significant change is that while the resolution no longer recognizes the HCEDD as a signatory party, it does ask that the HCEDD is represented in the negotiation process.

“My goal is to preserve [the] legitimacy of HCEDD as a negotiating party,” Neal, a Jones College junior, said. “I feel super weird that we’re almost being forced to not recognize the  legitimacy of the [HCEDD], even though we as a student body, that’s what we care about.”

The changes to the resolution are also motivated by a desire to maintain a relationship with Rice Management Company and the administration so that the SA can create a task force to work with the company while advocating for the HCEDD, according to Wickerson.

“They could no longer work with us [if we supported the HCEDD as a signatory party] because we’ve chosen our side, per se, and that means the door is now closed to pursue future negotiation with a more open clause about who can be the signatory,” Wickerson said.

Duncan College SA Senator Divine Webber said that if the Rice administration wants feedback from students, they do not have a choice but to work with the SA, regardless of whether or not the SA supports the HCEDD as a signatory party.

“I feel like it says more about administration if us supporting the community causes them to not want to work with us anymore,” Webber, a sophomore, said. “We’re the group on campus that is made up of everyone from all the residential colleges, elected representatives, who are they going to work with if not with us? I feel like that is a very thin threat to place on us.” 

Neal said she has more confidence in the City of Houston than with Rice to accept the HCEDD as a legitimate coalition.

“Obviously Rice has kind of eliminated that, but I don’t think the city can eliminate that because of their responsibility to their constituents,” Neal said.

The SA will be hosting a town hall meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6 to continue discussing the resolution.

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