As housing construction returns to Los Banos, so do old disagreements about developer fees and whether it is legal for the city to deny projects based on their potential to exacerbate school overcrowding.
From 2008 to 2013, home developers pulled no permits in Los Banos. At Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, the city reviewed its first housing project in years that had the Los Banos Unified School District at odds with a developer as to how much will be paid for school construction.
The scenario was common during Los Banos’ housing boom about a decade ago.
Commissioners were asked to subdivide 11.4 acres so 57 houses could be built at the northeast corner of Willmott Road and North Street.
The developer, Santa Clarita-based AMG & Associates, has agreed to pay the school district $8,000 per home, however school official said even with state matching funds they will need $19,900 per home to build schools for the children in thedevelopment.
In 2004, the school district was sued by the California Building Industry Association for getting developers to sign agreements for school impact fees that were above what state law requires through Senate Bill 50. The district prevailed in defending itself.
“SB 50 is a floor, not a ceiling. We have agreements with nine developers, ” Los Banos Unified Superintendent Steve Tietjen said of the impact fees.
One of the agreements was made in 2006 with AMG & Associates.
“There is a history of this developer cooperating. Unfortunately, this time he’s not,” Tietjen said.
School board members are concerned that allowing the developer to skirt the agreement will set a precedent.
“We have great need at the elementary, particularly the junior-high level right now,” said Andree Soares, school board president. “The process we’ve put in place has really helped us. I would hate for this process to be at a point in this community where it’s all set back.”
Julian Chapa, a consultant for AMG & Associates, said his client intends to comply with SB 50.
“We agreed to pay fees determined through staff analysis of residential usage. We’d like to get this behind us,” Chapa said.
School board Trustee Dennis Areias said prominent developers have agreements with the school district they are abiding by for the good of the community, but AMG & Associates is only interested in taking money from Los Banos.
“We’re going to have to pass a bond five or 10 years down the road because we do not have adequate schools for our kids. This is Los Banos. It is our school district, our community. We cannot allow people to come in our community, leave us short and leave town,” Areias said.
City Attorney William Vaughn said SB 50 prohibits cities from considering additional school impact fees when deciding to approve a development.
“The city is not part of that agreement or involved in negotiating that agreement. Payment in excess of SB 50 is not illegal. That’s true. What is a violation of SB 50 is conditioning approval on payment in excess of those fees,” Vaughn said.
In addition to reiterating Vaughn’s statements, City Manager Steve Carrigan, in an email, said he will advise the City Council that it is also illegal to slow down a project to give the school district more time to negotiate impact fees with a developer. The council will have the final say on whether the homes are built.
Some members of the Planning Commission objected to the impact fee offer made to the school district.
The Commission voted 4-2 in favor of the subdivision. Commissioners Tom Mello and Todd Baker voted no.
“You can’t charge what you charged for houses in 2004 in 2014. Developers have a right to make a profit, but the cost of educating a child has not gone down,” Mello said. “I would hope that both sides can come to a better agreement than $8,000.”