Oxnard Hookup Charges May Soar

Times Staff Writer

Developers in Oxnard could soon be paying thousands of dollars more to hook up to the city's water system under a proposal being considered by the City Council.

The new fees, which would apply to all development, are intended to offset the increased cost of buying and treating water by the city, officials said. The one-time fees would be levied only on new projects and would vary depending on the diameter of each connecting pipe.

For example, the fee to install a 1-inch pipe would be about $6,200 -- an increase of more than $5,000 over the current $920 fee. A 4-inch connection would cost $53,257, up from $7,820.

A group of small-business owners turned out at the City Council's meeting Tuesday night to demand more time to study the proposal.

"We were not given ample notice to review a very complicated matter," said Jeffrey Littell, chief operating officer of Costa Mesa-based developer Sakioka Farms. "At this point, we don't know enough to even say whether the fees are unreasonable or not."

Sakioka Farms is developing 430 acres of farmland near the Ventura Freeway.

City officials defended the proposed increases, noting the current fee structure has been in place for more than a decade. Higher fees are needed to keep up with demand for water created by new development and the rising cost to purchase and treat it, said Ken Ortega, the city's water superintendent.

"It's all based on need," Ortega said.

During the last fiscal year, Oxnard collected $357,000 in water fees from developers. Under the new plan, the city would collect about $2 million, Ortega said.

Officials said the new fees are in line with what other cities charge. In smaller Santa Paula, for example, a 6-inch connection fee runs about $83,190, Ortega said. Oxnard, the largest city in the county, currently charges $15,580; the new fee would be about $103,000.

"We don't feel as if we're being outlandish," Ortega said.

But developers like Littell are concerned about the effect the fees will have on business.

"It raises the cost of doing business and we have to remain competitive," Littell said. "If you can buy or rent a building from someone else for less, you're going to go somewhere else."

The city will take up the issue next month.

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