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BIA pushing double suicide pact with city

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POSTED February 3, 2010 2:47 a.m.
If you are clinging to the side of a capsized boat in the middle of shark infested waters praying for rescuers to come to your aid, would you deliberately slash yourself to let blood flow into the water?

That’s what the Building Industry Association of the Delta is doing by pushing its agenda of having Manteca’s elected leaders cut growth-related fees for things such as parks, government facilities, and fire stations. That is on top of a much more reasonable request to suspend bonus bucks that range from $7,350 to $17,500 per home depending upon the deal a specific developer cut with the city in return for sewer allocation certainty.

Bonus bucks – the brainchild of developers and not the city – are not tied to a matrix and are fairly arbitrary. A rationale argument can be made to suspend those fees that drive up the cost of housing in Manteca for five years in exchange for positioning Manteca for growth to generate a ripple effect of retail, services, and health jobs from new residents as well as those associated with the building of the home.

Asking the City Council to cut growth fees is akin to asking them to commit political suicide and to be remembered by history as the elected leaders who shortchanged a generation of Manteca residents.

For starters, this city’s problem until recently has been undercharging growth fees. That is why the government facilities fee set at $350 per home in 1989 and stayed there until last year skyrocketed to almost $4,000. That means thousands of homes built in this city over the past 15 years or so did not pay their share of the government facilities need that they are helping create. State law is explicit. You can’t force future growth down the road to pay more because you under collected from those that came before them.

Developers can talk all they want about jobs they are creating and economic models but when all is said and done they aren’t the only ones that have to worry about staying afloat and being left whole. Manteca can’t shortchange itself on an outside chance a non-local builder might hire a contractor who might hire a subcontractor who actually employs someone who resides in Manteca. Most local contractors do hire local but – surprise, surprise – most local home builders aren’t building right now save Atherton Homes.

Only a myopic fool would be against growth and home building in the midst of The Great Recession due to the local jobs it will generate with a growing population.  It is another thing entirely, though, to go into Chicken Little mode.

Manteca last year built 304 new single family homes. That’s almost 20 times more than many other cities in this county. When you have six out of 10 homes in the county being built in Manteca it must mean the cost of the homes aren’t too high and that Manteca has something that new home buyers want.

Yes, something needs to be done to keep home building going and to encourage new development to start so Manteca can ride the up escalator when it hits.

The market is too precarious not to try to make sure Manteca has advantages needed to hack away at its 15 percent unemployment rate and to avoid further erosions in city services. Committing hara-kiri with growth fees isn’t the way to go.

Just ask people who were around in the 1980s when Manteca failed to recover enough in fees to accommodate growth. The city’s reserve went down to $1,000. The Louise Avenue fire station was built but couldn’t be opened because the city couldn’t afford to man it. Police, when they needed a new vehicle, were supplied with a used CHP patrol unit with 90,000 miles on it because that’s all the city could afford.

That is why we have the 3.9 percent growth cap in place today.

Even without Manteca’s history, there are a number of angry homeowners out there who bought newer homes in the past five years who saw their values plunge and neighbors lose theirs to foreclosure.

They draw a correlation between new home building and the fact their homes are dropping in value. It can be proven ultimately it will have the opposite effect. It’s pretty tough to get someone to see things a bit differently, though, when they bought something for $500,000 and two years later find out its worth only $240,000. Developers of all people should understand that.

Instead of trying to go for the whole hog and not only plant the seeds of animosity in the community but also heavily fertilize it, the developers should be happy if the council adopts three reasonable strategies.

•Suspend bonus fees for five years.

•Consider dropping the requirement that new homes have to be 15 percent higher than state standards although that is a tad foolish when the bottom line for buying a home is how much a buyer can afford to pay each month. Energy is a big cost factor.

•Postponing the payment of growth fees until an occupancy permit request is made.

Yes, the BIA probably is using someone with a doctorate in economics to advise them but ignoring the reality of politics and what is really going on in Manteca they might as well as retained Dr. Kevorkian and just cut to the chase.
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