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Coddingtown rail station plan triggers Santa Rosa tax lawsuit



Santa Rosa is being sued over the taxing structure underlying plans to intensify development around the future rail station near Coddingtown mall.

Coddingtown in Santa Rosa, Jan. 12, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Resident James Duncan filed suit against the city last month seeking to block the North Station Area Plan passed by the City Council in September.

Duncan, a 71-year-old retired paralegal, hopes to one day subdivide his northwest Santa Rosa property into four lots.

In his lawsuit, he claims the city continues to pursue a taxing scheme on new development that has been found unconstitutional. He said the city still effectively requires people who want to develop their properties to join a special taxing district to pay for the increased costs of providing police and fire service to the new homes.

He claims the city is doing so despite a 2010 court ruling that found unconstitutional the part of the law that required people to vote in favor of annexation to the special tax district in exchange for development rights.

The law was passed in late 2008 when the city was desperate to raise cash as tax revenues plunged from the accelerating recession. Some developers likened the law to extortion.

The Homebuilders Association of Northern California sued to overturn the special tax, and Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Mark Tansil sided with the group, finding that it “unfairly tampers with the elective process.”

In response, instead of requiring annexation to the special citywide tax district, the city now gives property owners several ways they can offset the increased cost of city services to their subdivisions.

They can voluntarily join the district, creating an annual tax on future homebuyers of about $430 for new homes and $310 for units in multi-family buildings.

Other options include paying a lump sum to offset future costs of police and fire service, or paying to provide private police, fire and ambulance service to future subdivisions.

Duncan said however the payments are structured, it’s unfair to require new residents to pay higher taxes than existing ones for the same services.

Duncan argues that is illegal for the city to “to create and exploit a disenfranchised class of citizens who pay more for the same citywide services than everyone else receives.”

City Attorney Caroline Fowler said the city is reviewing the suit and hasn’t had the chance to meet with Duncan.

Fowler notes that the environmental impact report for the project makes it clear that joining the special tax district is not a requirement. It is one of several options available to deal with the impacts of higher density development around the future Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Station.

The plan envisions sweeping changes to the 987-acre area that by 2035 would make it almost unrecognizable from its current automobile-centric suburban landscape.

By rezoning more than 1,300 parcels, the city hopes to support train ridership by encouraging higher density housing and spurring office and retail development around the Guerneville Road station.

It estimates 2,458 new housing units and 2,589 jobs could be created in the area around the mall, extending south to West College Avenue and east of Highway 101 to include Santa Rosa Junior College.

“I have faith the courts will rule correctly on the issues, just as Judge Tansil did in the building industry case,” Duncan said.

The city chose not to appeal the earlier ruling but is appealing Tansil’s award of $244,000 in legal fees to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm that represented the homebuilders.

Duncan is representing himself in the case and is not eligible for attorney’s fees, though he noted that attorneys have expressed interest in joining his effort.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater

4 Responses to “Coddingtown rail station plan triggers Santa Rosa tax lawsuit”

  1. bill me says:

    I think the more important question to Ms. Fowler is: why have you not changed the policy of unfair taxation for those that own land and may wish to develop the land in the future? Tansil has already slapped your hand that was reaching into that “cookie jar”.

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  2. Kirstin says:

    Uh, PD, what happened to my comment that I wrote yesterday just before noon and made sure was waiting for moderation before I left this page??

    So, now I’ll repeat it to the best of my ability since I did not keep an exact copy:

    The Santa Rosa City policies on density vs. environmnet are so contradictory. The city makes regulations, ordinances, and plans that restrict the rights of property owners and other residents in the name of “preventing” climate change (a very questionable theory), and at the same time it promotes added housing, particularly dense housing. Every time there is added housing, there must be water, electricity, other utilities, provision for more traffic, etc. which, of course is in direct opposition to the supposed climate change aims of the city. The city planners told the city council that the plan they (the planners) had concocted for the SMART train area near Coddingtown would in fact increase “greenhouse gases”, not decrease them. Yet, the city pursues these two goals simultaneously. Does that made any sense??

    By the way, the SMART train plan — as has been said before many times — is a backward plan. Putting in a mass transit system along a corridor that does not yet have the population to truly sustain it and then packing in population to “justify” the transit is bassackwards!!

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  3. 20/20 vision says:

    In case any of you don’t know, the true purpose of DUMB, er SMART is to build thousands of houses that we don’t need and don’t have the infrastructure for (including adequate drinking water supplies) around the train stations. Why do you think that the local non-union construction industry is DUMB’s biggest supporter? Where do you think all of the jobs DUMB says will create will come from? Not from the train itself.

    The train is actually secondary in importance to DUMB. The truth is out there if you look for it.

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  4. James Bennett says:

    “By rezoning more than 1300 parcels, the City hopes to bring the area into decline in favor of new Transit Village gulags”.

    Riddle: If the Constitution is molested on a weekly basis but few actively contest, is it still molested?

    Answer: YES

    You can screw a lot of the people a lot of the time, but you can’t screw all the people all the time.

    Wait ’till some of these well funded developers find out about OneBayArea and what it does to big projects they’re already financially committed to.

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