WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa council OKs hike in building permit fees


The Santa Rosa City Council narrowly approved steep increases to permit and development fees Tuesday over the objections of industry leaders who warned doing so could jeopardize a fragile economic recovery.

Mayor Scott Bartley cast the deciding vote in the 4-3 decision to approve the higher fees, which cover everything from constructing an office building to replacing a water heater.

As an architect, Bartley said he never likes to see permit fees increase, but as mayor he said he couldn’t justify spending $2.4 million per year effectively subsidizing private development projects when city parks and roads have such pressing needs.

“It’s a painful vote, but I think it’s the right thing for us to do,” Bartley said.

Three council members and several members of the building community disagreed.

Ernesto Olivares and Erin Carlstrom said they wanted to take the industry up on its offer of forming a task force to find ways to raise fees without harming the economy.

“We need to work together in our economic recovery efforts,” Olivares said.

Carlstrom noted that because the increases will be phased in over five years, there was ample time to work with the industry, which had proposed a six-week study group to examine the fees more closely.

“The last thing I think we want to be doing is to be seen as attempting to stifle our economic recovery, either intentionally or unintentionally,” she said.

Councilman Gary Wysocky also voted against the measure, expressing concern that the city’s figures weren’t detailed enough to truly compare the new fees to those in other cities.

But the balance of the council felt it was time for the building industry to start paying a greater share of the costs of reviewing, approving and inspecting their development projects.

“In my opinion, it’s not going to be stifling to economic development at all,” Councilman Jake Ours said. “It’s a cost of doing business.”

Ours and others noted that the city had gone to great lengths in recent years to streamline city permit processes, in many cases eliminating the need for some permits entirely.

Currently, the city spends just over $5 million annually on development activities but collects $2.6 million in fees, effectively subsidizing private development activities to the tune of $2.4 million a year. The new fee structure is estimated to generate an additional $1.4 million after five years, a 54 percent increase.

Several council members noted that even after five years, the city will still be recovering only 80 percent of its costs while numerous other communities seek to recover 100 percent of such costs.

“From my perspective … Santa Rosa is on sale – 20 percent off!” Councilwoman Julie Combs said.

But many industry leaders didn’t see it that way. Some took issue with the use of the term “subsidy,” arguing instead that the costs should be seen as an “investment.” Some worried the city’s approach would burden projects with even higher development costs, making them untenable.

The new fees need to be considered in the context of a variety of other land-use and impact fees that already can add up to over $60,000 for a 1,800-square-foot home, said Curtis Nichols, vice president of development firm Carlile Macy.

“We’re still at a very tentative stage of recovery for our industry, and it’s still difficult for new projects to be deemed feasible enough to proceed beyond the conceptual stage,” Nichols said.

Others noted that the higher development costs would simply be passed on to the homeowners, making it even harder for young families to live here.

Community Development Director Chuck Regalia said he would work with the industry officials on a task force if the council wanted him to, but he didn’t see the point. He noted that he had met with officials on numerous occasions over several months.

“Mostly, I’m unsure of what we would be spending our time on,” Regalia said.

In the final analysis, council members seemed more swayed by the need to make the city’s budget — not developers’ budgets — pencil out.

“We’re in tough times, and our city needs to get the most community benefit bang for our general fund buck,” Combs said.

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

7 Responses to “Santa Rosa council OKs hike in building permit fees”

  1. Jim Fain says:

    Mayor Bartley is misinformed it is not the City of Santa Rosa that is subsidizing the building industry but rather the building industry subsidizing a over bloated inefficient City Government only this can explain the 50-60K building fees for a single family home.

    Like most bussiness that experience a decrease in revenue, The City should cut its overhead rather than increase costs to the few number of builders-bussiness who can afford to subsidize the City and is over inflated fees.

    If you had a business that was not profitable is your only solution to raise prices? No, unless you are the City

  2. bear says:

    I’m surprised that they didn’t have detailed comparisons with other cities – how much for a !0K commercial building. How much for a single family home.

    I suspect we are relatively low. But because we are not San Jose, investors will continue to come here.

    You folks should know that construction without permits for any kind of building will hang you up with the financing people. If I told you what the fees were to legalize construction without permits, you would choke.

  3. Steveguy says:

    They toss out a number of $5 Million to ‘process’ the applications. The Press Democrat and the public should be asking ” Why $5 Million ? ” Not how much the fees can match the waste and graft.

    All budgets should be PUBLIC !! The Govt controls and can know EWVERYTHING about us, but we can’t get simple audits from the City, the County, the Water Agency, SMART.. nobody.

    Why the double-standard ? It is because they are corrupt in the ways they spend taxpayer money ? If they have nothing to hide, show us the books.

    I demand the books, I want audits. No new park, just accountability of which they are afraid of.

  4. R.B. Fish says:

    If the general public only knew how other than basic administration of building codes how useless and over bloated with beaucracy the building department is it would more depressing than the unfunded liabilities issue.

  5. James Bennett says:

    Creating/portraying lack, shortages and scarcity to shake us down for more money.

    Until we demand audits/transparency, this is how they will roll.

    Especially with respect to private property ownership.

    We are about to witness the biggest assault on property rights this Country has ever seen, as this is an important part of the Agenda.

    Takeovers/oppression always include the erosion of private property.

    Because it is essential to independence, freedom and financial abundance.

    This is a propaganda piece.

    Here in Sonoma County, we lead the way in globalist oppression. We are the Petri dish for forthcoming policy and manipulation aimed at reducing us to serfs.

    There are private companies that will perform plan checks at reasonable relatively reasonable rates. I’m told about $500. for a single family home.

    Here in Sonoma County it’s $50.-60.K to build a modest home. IF you can get a building permit to do so. That’s just the beginning, you’ll get yanked around like a Toy Poodle from there, often without the bureaucrats ever quantifying what it will take to open your business or build your home. They’ll just have chasing back and forth, extracting your money.

    However, if you are a Smart Growth developer in the fold, that’s very different in so many ways.

    The ramifications of this are so far reaching, but then again, that’s the whole idea. That’s their handler’s want.

    I was there last night, spoke out, hardly any other citizens were.

    Forgive me, but sometimes I think we deserve what’s coming for not defending ourselves.

    Council meetings are hearings. A chance to listen, and be heard.

  6. Bill me says:

    It isn’t the builders who will suffer from this decision, it is the City and the end user from businesses who will get the fees passed on to them. I say the City will lose because many more “projects” will get done “on the sly” without the permit getting pulled. Bad move by the 4 who are way, way too cozy with the staff that presented the “ask”. And new businesses will look at the costs and choose elsewhere to hang their “Open For Business” signs.

  7. Geoff Johnson says:

    “We’re in tough times, and our city needs to get the most community benefit bang for our general fund buck,” Combs said.” Damn right! And not just now, but all the time.

    It’s always a shock when our Council does something the builders don’t like — but this time, they got it right.