ON MONDAY MORNING, Resolutions Northwest, a mediation group contracted by the city, hosted a meeting with local business owners to draft a Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) over the proposed day laborer site on NE Martin Luther King Jr. and Everett Street. Many of the business owners directly adjacent to the site, however, expressed anger and frustration with a perceived lack of outreach by the city. Instead of negotiating "good neighbor" items like controlling litter, the business reps vented.
"I've been there for 32 years, half a block from the site," said Vince Powell of Powell Motors at the March 31 meeting. "There was no communication with me until this thing was slam dunked by the commissioners. They claimed they had all kinds of business communication with the stakeholders... but there was nothing."
The controversial project is set to open May 6, 2008 in an empty parking lot, with a trailer and tent setup beginning later this month. On March 5, city council approved the project unanimously, despite business owners' protests that they'd had little or no communication with the city. The process for writing the GNA started last week, two months after its planned start date.
"If we had met in January, as they said they would, to start working on this process, then maybe. But to bring us together two months after, with four weeks on the agenda to work out this amount of stuff, it doesn't seem reasonable," complained Powell. Jon Allred of Stark's Vacuums demanded to know if the hire site opening date could be pushed back, to allow negotiations over a GNA to continue "in good faith."
Both VOZ, the nonprofit labor group chosen to run the site, and the city have stated that the opening date is nonnegotiable, with a representative from Resolutions Northwest admitting that VOZ was actually getting pressure from the mayor's office to open the site even earlier. Other than a few police officers, the city didn't have a representative at the meeting.
Darrell Chasteen of Precision Motor Car says, "I'm maybe a block from the site, I knew nothing of [it], no one came to my shop, no one called me, no one sent me letters. I feel like it's too late for me to make a difference, it's already over."
While the project is supposed to prevent day labor abuses and alleviate many of the loitering and littering problems along NE MLK and E Burnside—where day laborers currently cluster on the sidewalks—many of the business owners near the new hire site have taken exception to the mayor moving a citywide problem into their section of the neighborhood. Many feel that business owners along E Burnside and SE Ankeny, including Bob Wentworth of Chevy, stand to benefit from removing the day laborers and placing them on NE Everett.
"It's a group of people that had a problem and decided to move it into someone else's backyard without involving the stakeholders," said Ken Beckman of Beckman's Detail.
The tentative deadline for the GNA is June, but Resolutions Northwest and local business owners will meet every week in an attempt to negotiate an agreement by the time the site opens.
With additional reporting by Amy J. Ruiz