Developers looking to build in downtown San Diego are now facing a steep hike in the city’s so-called “impact” fees.
The money will help pay for badly needed fire stations, parks and other public facilities.
The 78-percent increase came Tuesday at City Hall in a 5-to-4 vote that split the Democratic super-majority on the Council.
The move addresses a renewed building boom downtown at a time when there's no more redevelopment money to help underwrite public facilities.
Urban growth forecasts say downtown's population will more than double, to 90,000, by 2030.
City planners are seeking financing for two new fire stations that need to be built -- one across Broadway from Police Headquarters, another on Pacific Highway across from the County Administration Center – along with the replacement of a third existing station in East Village, and expansion of two more downtown stations.
Total cost: $90 million.
There'll also be demands for more open space and recreational facilities.
"I think they need to have a lot more parks around, they need to have a lot more playgrounds around -- because there's more families downtown that I've noticed,” said East Village resident Christine Warner. "You need to have the personnel to support the numbers in that case. You can't have 100,000 people downtown with the resources we have now."
The new developer impact fees -- which won’t actually take effect until after a 10-month moratorium -- will rise to nearly $8,000 per new dwelling unit.
But downtown denizens say it's in the builders' own interests to pay more to make the neighborhoods sustainable.
"If the developer doesn't see the infrastructure, then why should he build that?” says East Village resident Gary Smith, who heads the Downtown San Diego Residents Group. “What's going to attract people if there are no parks? What's going to attract people if they don't feel safe because the fire station doesn't get built? These types of things are necessary and important."
Meantime, residents of communities beyond downtown wonder if the fee hikes will go far enough, so the rest of the city’s taxpayers don't get stuck with covering shortages.
"If the fees are kept high enough and it's pay-as-you-go, maybe we can address some of this,” said City Heights community activist John Stump. “But you add in a downtown football stadium – which is the big talk, it may be a very good idea -- and if you do all of those things, the impacts on everybody else may be too high, and this may not be the right plan."
Council President Todd Gloria and colleague Myrtle Cole, both Democrats, joined the three Council Republicans in approving the measure.
The four Democrats who opposed it suggested the developers should be charged even higher impact fees -- and start paying them right away.
According to city experts, there'll still be a funding gap for downtown facilities that developer fees at "total build-out" won't cover.
“If we had a silver bullet, it would already have been announced,” said Tom Tomlinson, deputy director of planning for the neighborhoods economic development. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work cobbling together different funding sources – which is how it usually works for large capital improvement projects.”