Developer fees

A BETTER PRICE? — The Mojave Unified School District is looking to work with California City officials to find means of lowering the fees charged for new construction in order to encourage housing development. The district charges developer impact fees to help pay for additional facilities, including schools such as Hacienda Elementary School built in 2007, needed to accommodate stu­dents brought into the district by new housing.

MOJAVE — Mojave Unified School District officials will meet with California City officials to dis­cuss possible means of reducing fees charged by both entities to de­vel­opers to offset costs created by their developments, in the hopes that lower fees will help encourage homebuilding.

The school district charges de­vel­oper impact fees to cover the costs of increased facilities and other infrastructure necessitated by additional students that may ar­rive with new development.

The state requires districts to adopt developer fees in order to re­ceive some forms of state fund­ing, officials said.

The fees must be justified through a study performed by out­side consultants, and every two years the State Allocation Board sets the maximum that may be charged, reflecting inflation costs.

The school district’s current fees were approved in 2018 and stand at $3.79 per square foot for res­i­dential housing and 61 cents per square foot for commercial con­struc­tion, the level allowed by the state.

Before making any changes to the district’s fees, Trustee Larry Adams suggested they work with Cal­if­ornia City officials to see wheth­er their fees could also be reduced.

“If we’re in a position to help the builders build houses, then the city should try to get in that same po­si­tion,” he said. “They should lower some of their fees, some of their buil­ding inspection fees, some of their water hookup fees at the same level that we’re willing to do it. It would help to give them an opportunity if we can get together and lower the overall process for the builders.”

Adams pointed out that a number of the fees im­posed on builders are not con­trolled by either the city or the school district, but other entities, such as the Antelope Valley-East Kern Water Agency.

The discussion was sup­­ported by developer D.J. Twohig, representing MyCalCity.org, who re­quest­ed help in making building in Cal City more economically feasible.

While the discussion fo­cused specifically on Cal­if­ornia City, the de­vel­oper im­pact fees are charged across the school district, which also includes the un­incorporated Kern County community of Mojave.

Assistant Su­per­in­ten­dent for Business Keith Gain­ey provided some in­for­mation tracking the total building permit fees on average in Cal City from 1994 to 2018, using data provided by Twohig. This showed an increase from $3,700 to $24,000, an aver­age increase of 7.94% an­nu­ally, or 575% increase over the 24-year span.

For comparison, Gainey calculated the cost of living increases over that same time span, using average teacher salaries in the state as a guideline. He found a 100% cost of living increase over the same years, an average of 2.78% per year.

In terms of developer fees from 1994 to 2018, the increase over the 24 years is an 120% increase.

“It’s a little higher than the (cost of living) increase, but it’s not the difference-maker. It’s keeping pace with cost of living,” he said.

There was some debate about how to calculate the im­pact in terms of ad­di­tion­al students based on the number of new houses built. Gainey quoted a rule of thumb of 1.71 stu­dents per home, but trus­tees disputed if that ade­quately represented the demographics for Cal City.

“At some point you’re going to build homes, and those homes are supposed to have children in them, and at some point, we’ll have to have buildings,” Gainey said.

California City Middle School and Hacienda Ele­men­tary School are at capacity, and the district is look­ing at the need to add port­able classroom buil­dings, which cost $250,000 each, he said.

For developer fees alone to pay for the costs of port­ables, they would need to be double the current rate, he said.

Twohig took note that the district has not relied on developer fees alone to pay for facilities, but has used voter-approved bonds to fund new construction.

“Developer impact fees are not the only option,” he said.

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