Foes in Growth Battle Agree on Fee Formula
In San Bernardino County, environmentalists and developers, who have been at each other’s throats elsewhere, have agreed on a countywide growth management plan that could lead to developer fees of $5,000 to $10,000 for each new housing unit.
The president of the local chapter of the Building Industry Assn. and a Sierra Club official were key members of a task force that met for several months and recommended that growth should be channeled into already urbanized areas and that developers should pay for new roads, sewers and other facilities needed by new residents.
“The meetings were incredible,” said Tom Irwin, a director of the Mojave Water District and a member of the task force. “Here was the Sierra Club sitting down with the building industry and discussing these problems in a remarkably congenial atmosphere.”
The task force proposals, which have been approved in principle by the county Board of Supervisors, include:
- New “regional fees” to be paid by builders and developers of new housing that would finance the construction of new roads, drainage canals, sewers, parks, libraries and all other facilities, except for schools, needed to accommodate increased population. The fee amount has yet to be set by the supervisors but discussions have been in the range of $5,000 to $10,000 per housing unit. In addition, developers would continue to help pay for new school construction.
- New services would be provided within established urban communities, reversing a county policy of allowing unrestrained development across the 20,000 square miles of San Bernardino County, largest in the country outside Alaska.
- Adoption of incentives to encourage “infill development,” which is planners’ jargon for building in settled areas that already have such facilities as roads and sewers, instead of allowing new development in open lands that have inadequate “infrastructure.”
- Offering financial incentives to companies to locate in San Bernardino County, with the goal of improving the jobs-housing balance and reducing the number of county workers who drive long distances to jobs in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Supervisor Barbara Cram Riordan, whose board resolution led to creation of the task force, said “what really began my thinking on this” was the slow-growth sentiment that led to ballot initiatives in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties in recent months.
“If these were successful, we were going to get a very disproportionate amount of growth in our county,” Riordan said. “We wanted to be ready for it.”
As it turned out, all of those initiatives lost, but Riordan and the four other supervisors believe there still is a need for growth management planning because of the expected deluge of new residents. The Southern California Assn. of Governments predicts that San Bernardino County’s population will increase from about 1 million in 1984 to 2.2 million in 2010.
“For the county, this was something of a golden opportunity,” said Bill Havert of the Sierra Club’s Riverside-San Bernardino chapter. “They were able to use the pressure of the slow-growth movement to do some things the county needed to do.”
Joseph DiIorio, president of the Baldy View chapter of the Building Industry Assn. and a member of the task force, said builders and developers agreed to the new fees and growth guidelines because “we’re interested in a stable atmosphere.”
“We’re willing to trade some possible speculative profits for a certain amount of stability,” DiIorio said. “Also, we’re kind of tired of being called the bad guys and we’d like to leave something behind in the way of careful planning.”
Nevertheless, many San Bernardino County political observers consider it a small miracle that DiIorio has been able to persuade most of his fellow developers to accept the task force recommendations.
Three weeks ago the Board of Supervisors approved all of the task force proposals except the regional fees, which must be studied in more detail to make sure they meet the requirements of a new state law that says such charges must be “fair and equitable.”
Getting some of the county’s cities to go along with the proposed regional developer fees will be a problem, according to Lauren Wasserman, the veteran city manager of Rancho Cucamonga.
“There’s concern in some cities that first-time buyers will just be totally taken out of the housing market” because the new fees will push prices too high, Wasserman said.
Distrust of County
Older cities like Montclair and Upland are not likely to adopt the fees, Wasserman predicted, because they largely are developed.
“Another part of the problem . . . is the longstanding distrust of the county,” he added. “If the county is for it, many cities are automatically against it.”
Mayor Nat Simon of fast-growing Fontana said the growth management plan “probably won’t be of much interest to us. We have 30,000 new homes on the drawing board. By the end of next year, we’ll have 9 million feet of new industrial space, employing 5,000 people. Scripto pens and lighters are moving here. Sears and Alexander Haagen are planning a regional shopping center. I don’t think the plan’s going to affect us.”
But County Supervisor Larry Walker replied: “The mayor of Fontana represents the past on the growth issue. There’s a growing awareness of growth problems in the county, as well as in all of Southern California. As a matter of fact, a lot of people who today think we should be handing a blank check to developers will be saying, five years down the line, ‘You didn’t do enough to control them.’ ”
DiIorio said that he did not expect much builder-developer opposition to fees for such essential services as local roads, sewers and water facilities but that some would object to paying for libraries, parks, and museums.
New Freeway Needed
“Probably the stickiest point of all is whether new growth should pay for regional transportation facilities,” such as a badly needed new east-west freeway paralleling heavily congested Interstate 10, he said. “We haven’t addressed that yet but eventually we’ll have to,” unless more money is forthcoming from the state or from an increase in the county sales tax.
The task force continues to meet and one of the next major questions to be tackled is whether county planning should accept the Southern California Assn. of Government’s growth projections or should reduce them to match available resources.
“Doubling the population (by 2010) would be devastating to the environment,” the Sierra Club’s Havert said. “Our planning focus should be on how to minimize the impact of each new person on our roads, air quality, water supply, endangered species and so on. That’s not the focus now.”
In the desert and mountain areas that make up 90% of the county, water is in dangerously short supply and cannot possibly support the projected population growth, said Tom Irwin of the Mojave Water District. “We have a water supply that can sustain a population of about 50,000 in the Mojave River Basin but we have over 200,000 people now. We just can’t continue that way.”
Theresa Kwappenberg, a Redlands slow-growth advocate who was narrowly defeated by Supervisor Riordan in last month’s elections, said the task force plan “would accommodate all the growth that comes their way--they’re not interested in metering it.”
Costly to Small Builders
Many “mom-and-pop” developers and small property owners think the plan favors large developers at their expense.
The plan is “tailor-made for large developers,” said Eric Lambdin, a landowner in the small town of Phelan and a leader in an organization called Property Owners Who Want Equitable Rights (POWWER). “It allows them to cripple a local economy until they decide the time is right to develop.”
DiIorio agreed that the recommendations will increase costs for “small builders who build on scattered lots up in the desert” but added, “you can’t please everybody.”
“How do you stop growth?” he asked. “The state of California has tried everything possible to stop growth. We’ve stopped building roads. Our housing prices are way too high. Our quality of life is declining. But people keep coming and they keep being born. We’ve got to plan for them.” SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY’S BOOM The Southern California Assn. of Governments projects much more dramatic increases in population, jobs and housing for San Bernardino County over the next two decades than for the five-county region (Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties).
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
Percentage 1984 2010 increase Population 1,014,500 2,179,300 115% Jobs 324,900 789,400 143% Housing 408,600 972,900 138%
Percentage 1984 2010 increase Population 12,382,800 18,256,200 47% Jobs 5,923,000 8,954,100 51% Housing 4,648,300 7,317,500 57%