WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa to appeal ruling over development fees


Santa Rosa will appeal a court ruling ordering the city to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees to a homebuilders group that sued it over a controversial tax on new subdivisions.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler, disclosed Tuesday afternoon that the council had met behind closed doors and voted 5-0 to pursue the appeal. Mayor Ernesto Olivares and Councilwoman Susan Gorin were absent.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Mark Tansil in May awarded more than $244,000 to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm in Sacramento that represented the Home Builders Association of Northern California, Inc. in its two-year suit against the city.

The lawsuit challenged the city’s 2008 tax surcharge on most new home construction contending it required property owners to give up their voting rights on annexation in exchange for the right to develop their properties.

Tansil concluded the law “unfairly tampers with the elective process” and that the case “vindicated important constitutional rights that affect the public interest.” He awarded the three attorneys $350 to $450 per hour.

14 Responses to “Santa Rosa to appeal ruling over development fees”

  1. brown act jack says:

    You ever notice that you are not told how much the city paid the attorneys to defend the case.

    In some of these cases the CA will hire outside counsel without ever disclosing to the public the costs of the additional attorney fees.

    Must not tell the public the cost of the legal actions.

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  2. Fiscal Conservative says:

    Bear, In my opinion you have overlooked that we the people will not have our rights under the Constitution Of The United States infriged upon my a municipality.(or anyone else)

    Like-’just me’ I have paid assinine fees that had nothing to do with my building permits. Every new building pays an outlandish fee for sewer and water. Then the bills come monthly. You also completely overlooked property taxes as municipal income.

    May I suggest,before you begin your low road rambling of ‘you folks really just don’t get this’, mabie you should humble yourself and understand there are plenty of folks on this forum that understand decades of municipal politics first hand.

    I also suggest taking an interest when any group takes illegal measures for financial gain, or when government infringes upon your individual Constitutional rights.

    I agree with our Superior Court Judge that it is not acceptable. I just wish there was a prison term(s) associated with the verdict.

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  3. Just Me says:

    Ok, let’s talk long term Bear. I wanted to add on to a home that I plan to have long term. Because of the intended square foot extension to the home, I had to pay extra fees because the addition would impact the schools.

    Hello? Did I mention I was planning to be here long term? By the way, my children left this worthless education system 10 and 15 years ago. I’m NOT going to have any more children living in this home that will impact the school system so why do I have to pay?

    I am also capable of dealing with any emergency services without the aid of the City services. Remember, when seconds count Police, Fire and Medics are only minutes away.

    The addition also did not increase the added need for sewer and water services. (remember, no additional people). SO, again, why do I have to pay for it?

    Developers are charging you because the City is raping them! The City is saying to them “You do this or you won’t get to build. Play the game our way – which is the only way or else.” So they do it whether they think it is right or not because it is their only choice.

    If all the Gov’t agencies weren’t so busy covering their behinds and paying for their pet projects because of the campaign promises they made, then we would all have more money in our pockets to spend on the economy!

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  4. Lily says:

    Well said Bear. Developers have been costing us a fortune over the years. They come, they conquer and we get stuck with the bill…in this case a law suit too! What a waste of money and resources.

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  5. Rosa Koire says:

    City Attorney Caroline Fowler should be fired. In a clear violation of the Constitution, the City of Santa Rosa imposed a tax on future owners of property without their vote.

    Here’s how it works:
    The developer, in order to get permits to subdivide the land and build the houses, has to agree that the buyers (AS YET UNIDENTIFIED) will pay a higher property tax for services. These unknown and unknowing buyers of these unbuilt houses will now have to pay more every year in property tax than other property owners do. It is a special assessment, but you’re supposed to be able to VOTE for a special assessment.
    In Caroline Fowler’s world, one guy, the developer, can ‘vote’ to have 20 or 30 or 100 property owners, forever, pay higher property taxes. If he doesn’t do that he can’t get building permits.

    The Court found this, rightly, to be unconstitutional. But the city council voted to allow Caroline Fowler to go ahead try to get an unconstitutional ruling next time around. The council should either get a remedial course in the Constitution, or be recalled.

    Ms. Fowler should be fired. She is an embarrassment to the citizens of Santa Rosa.

    For more see Santa Rosa Neighborhood Coalition dot com

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  6. bear says:

    You folks really don’t get this.

    When a developer builds a subdivision, it requires additional sewer and water capacity. It requires additional seats in schools. It requires more police and fire services. It requires road maintenance.

    In a climate of fiscal disaster, are we going to let developers impose long term costs on the city without compensation?

    Development impact fees are intended to cover the capital costs of new development. This sounds great? But in reality the fees do NOT cover the long-term costs of public utilities, police, fire or schools.

    Impact fees might cover the cost of a new school, but NOT the costs of maintenance, paying teachers, books, or anything beyond a school site and construction costs.

    YOU are paying the long-term costs, and this developer is suing YOU to get more bucks for him/her. Developers ompletely IGNORE the long-term costs.

    They take their profits and run.

    Good luck with this.

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  7. John says:

    I remember when the tax surcharde was first proposed. All sides including the city acknowledged it was very unfair to single out such a small group of people but the prevailing attitude was “so what”. They went ahead for the same reason a dog licks his you-know-what. Now the courts have ruled that is is also illegal the city persists. Such arrogance of the part of government is a major reason so many people have lost faith in the credibility of the institution.

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  8. Sharky says:

    According to sources close to this case, early on the judge sent strong signals to the City that they would loose. But no, they continued on, pissing away our tax dollars, when they could have settled. Now they want to waste even more in an attempt to justify violating citizen’s rights.

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  9. Fiscal Conservative says:

    This Superior Court ruling is substanitial. This is likely going to have an effect on all of us.

    Our municipal governments have been using fees to take the place of proper taxes for decades. Anyone who runs a business in Sonoma County is familliar with the multiple outragous fees and occasional penalities on fees. It is not uncommon for a micro business to pay over $100,000.00 in municipal fees.

    The city had no choise but to appeal the dicision, but again they will loose.

    If you or anyone you know has bought a subdivison home in Santa Rosa the past decade, the City owes them about $20,000.00 plus mortgage based interest.

    Now that the Constitutional validity of the fees has been challenged and proven unfair, all of the fees that are charged by our municipal government are subject to the same scrutny.

    In my opinion, The fees should be repayed to each citizen with the same penalty charged by the municipality for late payment.

    In our community, the largest employer is the County, follwed by the Cities. To sustain this large government, taxes alone are not enough, it takes uncontionable measures.

    In this news, an experienced Superior Court Judge Rules against the City Of Santa Rosa and states: “(The City has) Unfairly tampered with the elective process.” (THIS IS YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE.) and (The City has) vindicated inportant Constitutional rights that effect the public interest. (THIS IS YOUR RIGHTS UNDER THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES).

    The citizen’s of Santa Rosa should be mad as hell!

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  10. Dan Delgado says:

    An appeal is generally based on the premise that the judge committed an error in the trial proceedings, not the mere fact that one party is unhappy with the outcome. Only about 20% of appeals result in a reversal of the trial court decision and the appellant generally has a tough burden of proving the trial judge erred. I hope Ms. Fowler has done her research and correctly concluded such an error occurred before wasting our money in this pursuit.

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  11. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Hammer – Are you saying the City should NEVER appeal a court decision? If someone sues the City saying they tripped on a sidewalk and are given a million bucks? The City should just accept that!?

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  12. Carlos H. says:

    Government is so corrupt.

    Everything they do and everything they say is so self serving that its disgusting. We live in a dictatorship controlled by greedy bureaucrats.

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  13. Another Outrage says:

    Santa Rosa wasting more of our tax money. So what else is new? A quarter of a million here and there and soon it adds up to being really stupid.

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  14. The Hammer says:

    The City loses in court and now they are going to use more of our money to appeal the court decision. Thank you Santa Rosa for spending our money wisely.

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