On a cold rainy January evening, I trudged over to Concord City Hall for a briefing on proposed revisions for the city’s OffSite Street Improvement Program (OSIP). In layman’s terms, this means the fees developers pay prior to building new construction to cover road improvements and maintenance.
This was such an exciting event that the only people present were a curious developer, Mayor Dan Helix, Planning Commission member Carlyn Obringer, and myself. The OSIP program has been in existence since 1983 and has been widely credited for Concord’s success in improving roads to keep up with commercial and residential expansion. This is especially important today as there is not much loose change around in an era of tight city budgets.
Case in point is Antioch. A couple of decades ago when the building boom was at its height, contractors there were putting up homes faster than rabbits. Road construction and street improvements were paid for by Mello Roos, where developers fronted these costs to be paid back over time with payments tied into property tax bills.
Mello Roos proved to be a terrible idea because mortgage and tax bills were increased for home owners. When the housing boom collapsed, these Mello Roos obligations ended up contributing to the epidemic of home foreclosures that have plagued Antioch in recent years. Making matters worse, the city of Antioch has to contribute funds for widening Highway 4.
Not so in Concord. Since the last time OSIP fees were adjusted back in 2005, some of the rates have actually declined (see tables below). The City has little choice in this matter as the maximum fees that can be charged are determined by the State of California. This is yet another example of the State, which wants to regulate the activities of municipalities, while at the same time cannot balance its own budget.
City of Concord CA Developer Fees (OSIP) from City of Concord
Fortunately, as the tables compiled for the City by the consulting firm of Kinley-Horn shows, Concord, along with its neighbors Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill, have among the lowest OSIP fees in Central County. It is important to note that these fees apply to developed area and not to future growth anticipated at the Concord Naval Weapons site.
The major criteria for determining these rates is the number of trips (cars and other forms of transportation) generated by visitors going to and from these new developments. As a result, retail construction is charged a higher rate than residential. Using this logic, a shopping mall would have the highest rate while a mini-storage business would be at the bottom of the trip multiplier.
While the option of what the proposed (OSIP) user fees might be have been expertly presented to Concord’s Planning Commission and City Council under the guidance of city staffer Ray Kuzbari, it is up to the elected officials to determine how much is to be charged for these services. This process should provide a glimpse of of which direction the City Council is headed in dealing with future commercial and residential growth.
This is not a simple question; there are compelling forces in the community that want to be heard when future development is concerned. Among the most powerful are:
1. Developers If they are charged higher fees by OSIP and other city agencies for the right to build their projects, then there will ultimately be less construction done. This can lead to a lower property tax base and hasten the dreaded specter of urban decay.
2. The environment lobby which concerns itself with the effects of new construction on traffic congestion, green house gasses (GHGs), carbon foot prints, global warming, bicycle trails, open space, and a myriad of other ecological considerations. Unfortunately, these groups focus on their own world at the expense of the big picture of what is best for the community.
3. Federal and Sate Agencies, who are conceded not only with what shape development projects take, but who participates. Of particular concern is the affordability of housing to lower-income groups. By insisting that new projects fit their guidelines, local interests are often ignored in the name of politically correct urban planning, and unfounded assumptions about economic equity. A good example of the results of this type of thinking is the troubled mixed use project at the Pleasant Hill Bart Station, which has struggled since its completion to find suitable tenants.
4. The permit process With the absence of redevelopment funds from the State of California, it will be up to the local governments to create a “builder friendly” environment to attract new construction and businesses to their areas. Concord and other cities in the Diablo Valley should be mindful to reduce “red tape” if they want to attract worthy projects to their area.
5. What people want. This might sound odd, but in constructing new commercial and residential developments local governments should be mindful of the “where families come first” motto. Ordinary citizens should have a voice in what their neighborhoods will look like 30 years hence. While it is agreed that in-fill projects will surround BART stations and transit hubs, it is assumed that the rest of what is constructed ought to be up to the residents who live in there.
It must be asked, do we want our city to be a collection apartments, tri-plex’s, condo projects, and strip malls? Or do we prefer to preserve the sanctity of the single family home that is the foundation of what Concord was built on? While it is agreed that the days of 120 x 80 lots is over, most families still want a small piece of land to call their own.
As it turns out, OSIP is only a small piece of the puzzle. While this thoughtful process being taken up by Mr. Kuzbani and his staff is most helpful, it will be up to Concord and other communities in the Diablo Valley to determine what direction their future expansions will take. Are cities going to surrender their sovereignty to central planners from regional agencies like ABAG and MTC or will they stand up to build communities in their own image?
Only time will tell.