Old Highway 80 is shown as it runs through Jacumba Hot Springs, March 9, 2021. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved the first steps towards establishing community benefit agreements in connection with development projects.

According to the county, CBAs allow developers to provide benefits in exchange for community support, public subsidies or both.

County staff will return to the Board of Supervisors within 180 days with guideline options, including:

  • the county facilitating mandatory community benefits agreements between developers and residents, which would include a prevailing wage, hiring local workers and job outreach to disadvantaged communities
  • the types of development projects subject to CBAs, including business parks, hospitals, large-scale housing projects, renewable energy projects and warehouses
  • the county negotiating and entering into CBAs with developers, including potential incentives in return for community benefits

Along with developers, agreements can involve community groups and public agencies. Benefits can include apprenticeships, childcare facilities, housing production and workforce development.

Within California, CBAs are increasingly used for renewable energy facilities, according to county officials. One example is in Merced County, where a solar project developer will contribute $25,000 annually for 20 years to the county government’s general fund.

In August, San Diego County supervisors voted to advance a 600-acre solar panel project called JVR Energy Park in Jacumba Hot Springs, despite opposition by numerous residents and the co-owner of a local resort.

Developer BayWa r.e. will have to build a buffer zone between the project and Jacumba Hot Springs, contribute $4 million toward community services and set aside a 435-acre habitat preserve.

Before voting Wednesday, Supervisor Jim Desmond expressed concern that requiring mandatory benefits might kill future projects. Nathan Fletcher, board chairman, said the county is focusing on projects that have significant impacts.

On Feb. 10, supervisors directed staff to provide more analysis on a zoning ordinance update for renewable energy projects and items, including CBAs.

During public meetings, representatives from business, community planning and environmental group said that flexibility was needed in the types of benefits and what projects would be considered.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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