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When is growth too expensive?

September 11, 2015

by Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

SEPTEMBER 11, 2015 –The debate at the San Francisco Planning Commission this week left me wondering if anyone at City Hall is willing to stop worshiping at the Altar of Growth. No matter what the cost.

The issue, as lawyer Sue Hestor noted, was “very big legislation” – a proposal to overhaul the fees that the city charges developers to offset the transit impacts of their buildings.

The idea, Hestor testified, went back to the era right after Prop. 13 passed, when it was clear that, lacking property-tax revenue, Muni was going to completely fall apart.

So the city implemented a Transit-Impact Development Fee that charged the developers of office buildings for the costs of adding Muni buses and workers to serve the populations of their buildings.

At the time, studies showed it would cost about $10 a square foot to mitigate the impacts. The city went with half of that – the fee was set at $5. So the rest of us – Muni riders, drivers, taxpayers – subsidized the rest.

But at least we only paid half. The commission voted Thursday to recommend that future developers pay no more than a third of the cost they dump on the city…

But the biggest question is the price, and while several commissioners raised some important and valid questions, only Dennis Richards even mentioned the defining issue:

“In a world-class city, growth has to pay for growth.”…

Seriously: If growth should pay for growth, there may come a time where we as a city have to say that the costs are higher than the benefits, and we’ve grown too fast, and it’s time to slow down.

The commission voted unanimously to send the plan to the Board of Supes with the suggestion that the rate should be increased to as much as 33 percent of the actual cost (with the rest of us subsidizing 66 percent of the cost of Muni service for developers) and a few changes in the grandfathering.

But still: If growth costs the current residents of this city more than they are getting in return, why is that a good deal? What if we said to developers, hey – pay the full cost of the impact you create, or don’t build here, and they decided to go build somewhere else? Would that be so awful?

Just asking… (more)

Another issue is the nasty habit Planning has of coming up with “in lieu” fee projects that turn Muni Transportation fees into bulbouts, seating areas, and complete streets projects. If all the transportation fees were paid before the project inhabitants moved in and were spent on increased Muni operating costs directly effected by the increased population, (instead of going into non-Muni “property enhancements”) the amount of the fees would be less of an issue. As it is now, only a small portion of the fees are collected and most of that is collected after the properties are sold or leased out, so there is no time for Muni to add service to cover the needs of the new residents. The nexus studies are designed to impress anyone who isn’t paying attention to the lack of  follow-through.

One Comment leave one →
  1. holeshothunter permalink
    September 12, 2015 8:47 am

    “Growth has to pay for growth…” That’s the very definition of a ponzi scheme. when you consider limited resources, It’s impossible as well. The city is 7 miles by 7 miles.

    When? I’d say about 20 years ago. Everything since about 2001 has been sheer shit.
    It will continue to worsen as the POPULATION continues to BOMB, so we won’t even have time to get used to it. It doesn’t matter much, ’cause the Earth will “shake us off like a bad case of fleas” Even shooting the fools who are doing this won’t matter now. We’ve gone past 50 climate ‘tipping points” already… We’re IN the feedback loops; it’s happening 10,000 times faster than evolution can adapt us.
    Hundreds of thousands of humans are already dying worldwide, so…
    Embrace schadenfreude.
    Enjoy the show.
    Bye !


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