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Alarming shortfall for fire needs
Developers push to discount growth fees on homes
Some developers want the city to slash development growth fees such as those collected for fire services in order to stimulate new home sales. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Thousands of homes have been built in Manteca during the last 20 years that are outside a 5-minute response time of a fire station.

That includes 3,000 homes in northwest Manteca around East Union High and another 1,000 in southwest Manteca near Woodward Park. The fire stations to serve those two areas will cost $4 million apiece due to new stringent state construction standards that require them to withstand a major earthquake. Despite 4,000 homes being built that had fire fees assessed against them, Manteca barely has anything set aside to pay for their construction. The roughly $180,000 in growth fees for fire services paid on the 304 homes started last year in Manteca is just enough to cover the $170,000 debt payment on the $1 million 100-foot aerial platform fire engine.

The reason for the shortfall was the city’s failure to readjust charges assessed growth that were supposed to make sure they paid their own way. The initial fee put in place in 1994 was $250 per single family. It proved woefully inadequate as the city had to spend almost $400,000 in bonus bucks to complete the Union Road station that cost just over $1.2 million to build a decade ago.

The fee was adjusted upward in 2000 to 30 cents a square foot meaning a typical house of 2,000 square feet would be charged $600 for fire fees. That adjustment 10 years ago went forward without an annual adjustment for inflation as developers argued at the time “it would hurt the housing market.”  

It is against that background that some developers are now pushing for the city to “discount” growth fees collected to pay for everything from fire protection needs and parks to major streets in a bid to stimulate housing growth to create jobs.

The council subcommittee on housing is recommending that the city drop the requirement of bonus bucks for sewer certainty to be paid whenever a housing permit is issued through June 30, 2015. The Building Industry Association of the Delta will make a pitch at Tuesday’s 7 p.m. meeting at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St., to do away with bonus bucks in their entirety instead of just holding them in abeyance.

Bonus bucks are different from growth fees. Bonus bucks have no restrictions placed on them. Growth fees – in order to be legally adopted under state law – must have a matrix that determines growth’s share of amenities and how it is justified through estimated construction and financing costs.

Growth fees also are identified mitigations for problems growth is creating for Manteca in terms of services. As such, discounting growth fees could have legal ramifications for the city as well as individual council members and certain city employees according to municipal attorney Don Lupul.

This isn’t the first showdown between developers and the city council over growth fees.

Manteca hadn’t adjusted its government facilities fee even for inflation since it was adopted in 1989 at the rate of $350 per house.

Then two years ago, the city completed a matrix that showed the public facilities the council identified should be paid in part for through the fees that showed they were coming up tens of millions of dollars short of the actual cost.

That is when the council adjusted the fees for government facilities up from $350 to $4,702 per home. Developers responded by suing. Ultimately the Third Appellate Court sided with The City of Manteca.

Why more fire stations are needed
Manteca’s  general plan  that established policies that the city shoots for in terms of service level targets an average response time of five minutes or less.

The five-minute response time is a mantra for those who make a living putting out fires and responding to heart attacks.

Having firefighters and equipment on the scene of a fire or medical emergency within five minutes is essential for two reasons:

• The chance of surviving a heart attack or major trauma starts dropping off rapidly after five minutes.

• “Flash over” when fires literally erupt occur within five minutes of the first visible flame.

It sounds like a lot of time, but it really isn’t. A call being placed, equipment dispatching and the engine actually rolling out of a fire station consume the first two and a half minutes.

That leaves 180 seconds for firefighters to reach a structure fire or a major medical emergency.