Earlier this week, developer interests proved once again that they still wield influence with the Stockton City Council.
For months, council members have debated different proposals to reduce permit fees to spur home-building. The process has involved numerous meetings and at least two comprehensive reports by city staff on differing versions of the officially titled “Stockton Economic Stimulus Plan.”
At the Nov. 17 City Council meeting, the council was set to discuss several options related to a revised fee reduction scheme brought forward on Nov. 3 by Councilman Moses Zapien. His iteration included larger fee reductions for units built in disadvantaged areas of the city and set aside reduced permit fees specifically for multifamily housing development — departures from a previous plan by the Building Industry Alliance.
But, called by Mayor Anthony Silva as the agenda item’s first speaker on Nov. 17, a representative of the BIA introduced a new fee reduction proposal. About an hour later, the City Council approved that plan, even though staff had not seen this proposal prior to the meeting and could not judge with certainty its overall impacts before the council vote.
The move contrasted with how the council has handled the introductions of previous plans. Before Nov. 17, the council had discussed two previous measures at great length, and twice decided to have staff conduct comprehensive reviews before considering their final approval.
The general outlines of the adopted proposal will reduce Public Facility Fees (PFFs) — charges levied on developers to pay for the roads, utility lines, police stations, fire stations, libraries, and parks that will serve their developments — by $12,459 per unit from their current level. BIA representatives said that is large enough to spark the construction of homes, while city staff estimated it is small enough to save the cash-strapped General Fund from being impacted. Builders will have three years to take out the reduced-fee permits for as many as 1,300 single-family homes.
Developers made a few concessions: As many as 500 multifamily units will be eligible for fee reductions throughout the city, there will be no limits on the number of reduced-fee permits that can be pulled for construction in areas designated as “disadvantaged communities” by Senate Bill 535, and the requested level of fee reduction was dropped from $17,000 to $12.459.
A suggestion to reduce PFFs for units in disadvantaged communities to an effective rate of zero, while reducing PFFs for housing units in other areas by a more modest figure, was defeated.
In the end, developers largely got what they wanted. And they didn’t bother with subtlety.
Months ago, BIA spokesman John Beckman flatly told the council in a public meeting that he had written the original staff report for a fee-reduction plan that would benefit the market-rate builders he represents. That plan — which asked for a $17,000-per unit fee reduction for as many as 1,300 single-family units — was temporarily set aside for Zapien’s competing proposal, which set the maximum fee reduction level of $12,459 to avoid hurting the General Fund. Zapien’s plan set aside up to 500 reduced-fee permits for single-family units and another 500 for multifamily units, and envisioned a shortened time frame of one year. Staff developed several alternatives to that framework at the request of the council and presented them Nov. 17.
When BIA floated its newest idea, Mayor Silva pounced on the opportunity to motion for a vote following public comment but before other council members could weigh in. Council members debated the BIA proposal following Silva’s motion, and the plan ultimately passed, 5-2, with Zapien dissenting along with Councilwoman Susan Lofthus.
If the Nov. 17 meeting is a bellwether for future decisions regarding Stockton’s growth, it looks like developers will have one of the loudest voices in the process.