After more than three hours of listening to developers, businessmen and would-be homeowners slam a city proposal to increase developer fees, the Oxnard City Council put off a decision on whether to impose them.
The council instead instructed staff to come up with a thorough explanation of why the city needs to raise the fees, which are already the highest in the county.
The proposal to increase the fees, including a 126% increase in the assessment for mitigating increased traffic caused by development, has outraged developers. Many of them predicted at Tuesday night's council session that construction will come to a halt and that businesses will leave if the new schedule is approved.
"There's a trend toward making developers pay for everything, making developers seem like bad people who have all the money," said Trent Lyon, vice president of TOLD Corp., one of the city's largest commercial development firms. "But if you drive businesses out of Oxnard with the fee increases, you'll never see the revenue."
Several tenants at the Channel Islands Business Center owned by TOLD have threatened to leave the city if the increases are approved, Lyon said.
Industrial Tools Inc. recently purchased a nine-acre site at the center, but company officials said the firm may not move in if the fees are increased, Lyon said.
Industrial Tools was planning to build a 85,000-square-foot plant on the site, employ 200 workers and have a $6-million payroll, Lyon said.
The city is proposing increases in about 50 developer fees for such services as plan reviews, fire inspections, and water and sewer connections.
Depending on the size of a project, construction costs could increase from $8,000 to as much as $250,000, developers and city planners estimate.
City Manager Vern Hazen said the fees must be raised if the city is to recover the cost of allowing new development. But developers complained that the city has yet to justify the increases.
Business owners and prospective home buyers also took issue with Hazen's statements, complaining that the increases would be passed on to them.
"I've lived and worked in this county all my life and I feel these fees will be paid by me, because I'm looking for a house to buy," resident Bob Walsh said.
James Lougee, who owns an equipment-manufacturing business, said he was ready to start building a warehouse on a four-acre lot he recently purchased in Oxnard's industrial park. Under the present structure, he would have to pay $150,000 in fees to operate, he said. With the proposed increases, the cost would go up to $250,000, he said.
In Lancaster, he said, he would only have to pay $80,000.
If the new fees are approved, he said, he will move his business--along with its 200 employees and their dependents--to a more affordable location outside Oxnard.
Councilwoman Dorothy Maron said developers and business people are unfairly saying the increases would be responsible for future financial hardships. The true culprit is the recession, she said.
"Just like builders have to recover their costs, so do we," she said.
But Councilman Michael Plisky disagreed. City staff is unfairly trying to solve Oxnard's financial crisis by assessing developers, he said.