I rarely agree with some of the statements and decisions made by two councilmen, but this time I must agree with a recent point made by Councilman Dirk Starbuck and point out a bogus excuse by fellow Councilman Jim Mosby.
First, on Nov. 5, Starbuck requested an item be placed on an upcoming agenda to consider reimbursing three applicants who recently built assessory dwelling units (ADU) and paid development impact fees.
This came after a closed session decision to reimburse another citizen after she filed and was granted a claim for reimbursement.
Late this year, the state passed a law, which takes effect Jan. 1, that exempts ADUs from any development fees if they meet certain criterion.
Since the citizens couldn’t have known the law was about to change, their only problem was they built their units a couple of months too early. Considering that another citizen had their fees returned under the same circumstances, it was the right thing to do; the rest of the council agreed and after a short discussion unanimously approved the refunds.
Then, Mosby requested a consent calendar item relating to an annual compliance report concerning several impact fees that are collected from developers be discussed by the council. The reason, he said, was that the fees were based on out-of-date assumptions concerning growth and the methods used to resolve growth impacts.
He pointed out an outdated plan to put a third lane on the H Street bridge; apparently this project isn’t feasible, but the city is still charging an impact fee to accomplish the project.
Another was park impact fees based on an acreage calculation for Ken Adam Park; this calculation should have been reduced by half when the Allan Hancock College campus was built, but the impact fee remained the same.
The last time impact fees were studied was in 2003; the management services director agreed that many of the assumptions used 16 years ago to calculate fees were based on future growth that didn’t occur and stale information like Mosby was pointing out. He also said a new study was in progress and should be ready early next year.
The problem with Mosby’s analysis was that he kept mixing apples and oranges by referring to the long-range planning tool known as the Capital Improvement Plan, which doesn’t require council approval, and impact fees, which do require approval, as the same thing.
Both the management services director and city manager emphasized these are two different planning documents, and each would require several meetings to properly discuss.
The city manager said he would meet with staff to organize a series of meetings to discuss each of these fees and the projects they would support into bite-sized chunks for both the public and the council to begin in early spring next year.
If Mosby would have stopped by asking for updates, I would have agreed with him 100 percent, but as he frequently does, he just rambled on regurgitating old rumors. He said developers were reluctant to build anything in Lompoc because of street improvement and other development fees, claiming that fees in other jurisdictions are considerably lower.
He isn’t the first to propagate this theory; for several years, council members have made the same excuse for the lack of development in the city. To figure out the truth, I compared Lompoc to Santa Maria, which has a building boom going on.
Street improvement fees are supposed to be used to improve and maintain the street system to offset the impacts on traffic flow that would be caused by a proposed project.
We all witness what’s happened to the intersection of Central Avenue and H Street; the fees in question are supposed to be used to relieve traffic congestion, but nothing tangible has occurred in decades.
In Santa Maria, the city charges street-improvement fees based on the square footage of a project; so, if someone wanted to build a retail shop of up to 50,000 square feet, the developer would pay $12,102 per unit (1,000 square feet) and $9,289 per unit for larger projects up to 150,000 square feet.
In Lompoc, the city charges by the acre; the fee is $172,180 per acre and an acre equals 43,560 square feet. So, in Santa Maria you would pay $527,163 to develop 43,000 square feet and only $172,180 in Lompoc for the same size project.
Ask yourself if this fee is really hindering development.
To current and former council members — get over it! Blaming impact fees for the lack of development is and has always been a bogus excuse; it’s past time to start trying to figure out what’s wrong.
If developers are willing to build projects in other cities that have much higher development fees, why aren’t they building in Lompoc?
When the council lowers or waives development fees, it only result in more congestion, reduced services, a diminished quality of life and the continued deterioration of city infrastructure.
— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committees since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at email@example.com. Click here to read his previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.