News - August 5, 2009

Atherton: Refunds look unlikely for town's road-impact fee

by Andrea Gemmet

Atherton has had a problem with some of its construction-related fees in recent years. Amid threats of litigation, the off-haul fee was dropped and a business license tax targeting subcontractors was re-worked. In both cases, the town issued refunds.

It doesn't look like that will be the case with the town's controversial road-impact fee, meant to cover the cost of repairing roads battered by construction trucks. The fee, 0.71 percent of the project's valuation, is charged to builders as part of the permitting process.

Amid complaints and threats of lawsuits, Atherton officials commissioned a consultant to do an update study of the road-impact fees, but the results have been delayed.

"They did a draft and we were not particularly happy with the amount of reduction of the fee," said Public Works Director Duncan Jones at a special Atherton City Council meeting held July 28.

So the consultant has been sent back to the drawing board, with revised study results now expected in September.

The problem, according to Mr. Jones, is that consultant Kimley-Horn used in its calculations a number from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission representing the theoretical degradation of the streets.

"I looked at it, and our pavement degradation is more than the MTC (number), because of all of the construction trucks on our residential streets," he said.

Mr. Jones said that when he ran the numbers himself, the revenue brought in by the road-impact fee is on par with what the town has been spending to maintain its streets over the past three years.

"My initial calculation is that we are pretty much dead-on," he said.

According to Mr. Jones, in Atherton, residential construction is similar in intensity to commercial construction, with residential streets bearing the brunt of construction impacts.

In other cities, commercial construction mainly impacts large arterial roads, he said in his report to the council. So other cities don't experience the kind of wear-and-tear on residential roads that Atherton does, making the MTC's number too low.

Kimley-Horn is going to re-evaluate the road fees based on the actual amount spent by the town to maintain its roads — about $500,000 a year for the past several years, said Mr. Jones. Once the roads are in better condition, they will be less prone to damage and less expensive to maintain, he said.

"We'll change the fee slightly for the next few years," Mr. Jones said. "But basically, I think we're in pretty good shape."

That didn't appease the two members of the public who showed up at the 9 a.m. meeting to talk to the council about the road-impact fee.

"There's no question that construction activity has some impact, but it's ludicrous to think that it has the only impact (on roads)," said Atherton resident Joe Comartin. "It's not fair that those who are building homes in Atherton bear the burden of the entire town's streets."

Atherton resident Carol Flaherty, who has built several homes in Atherton, said that the road-impact fee is clearly an illegal tax.

"The fundamental flaw is that you assumed that construction trucks go on every street in Atherton, and that is ludicrous. Do you know how many cul-de-sacs there are?" she asked the council. "To make this study valid you have to put a factor in that construction trucks are not on every street."

Council members Charles Marsala, Elizabeth Lewis and Kathy McKeithen also raised questions about whether the road-impact fee study took into consideration other sources of wear-and-tear on the roads — increased garbage and recycling truck traffic, delivery vehicles, and ground water or other geological conditions.

Mr. Marsala said that the amount of deterioration to the roads depends on the type of construction being done, particularly if it involves hauling dirt off-site.

City Attorney Wynne Furth said that the town can't take into account the precise scope of each and every project in determining its fees.

"It's not possible to set a fee exactly so that no one is paying any more than (his) impact," she said. "It's like an insurance pool; it's the most accurate that's practical."


Posted by disgusted, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 5, 2009 at 8:43 am

My ears are still ringing from hearing Carol Flaherty wail and moan about the fees she has to pay.

It is people like her crying all the way to the bank that give developers a bad name.

Posted by Confused, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

I'm confused by this story. How much of a reduction was the consultant recommending? Duncan Jones's method of calculating sounds reasonable, and Atherton's got an attorney advising about the legality of the fee (it's legal, and most if not all towns have a road-impact fee). Why was a consultant hired to do this study? Sounds like a waste. And developers who whine about having to pay a fee for damaging residential streets are hard to stomach.

Posted by Lilly, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 5, 2009 at 1:09 pm

the council always hires "consultants" because they are afaid to stand up to the develpers themseves-- Too scary--the problem with this ingenios display of leadership is that all-- and I do mean all- of the consultants have both long established ties and the future insentive to accomadate the developement community who are Very clear about what they want--the consultants will cash our check, and turn in some words but it's alaways going to be whatever the developers wanted to begin with and the coucil off the hook. Look at the artifact ordinace---the drainage study---the zoning ord--the housing element--the biz lisc tax..........
Could we at least not hire anymore consultants who have three initials for their name???
No more CSGs oe BKFs or PMGs.....this might help
Also-how about hiring a city planer who actually works for Just the town instead of an outside consultant with another boss somewhere else in the county ?

Posted by mad as hell, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 5, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I have also witnessed Ms. Flaherty's fire and brimstone speaches. I felt sick to my stomach at the sight of yet another greedy developer wanting something for nothing.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 7, 2009 at 11:38 am

Thankyou to Public Works for being the only ones to stand up to the residential developement cartel since the previous finance director was framed and crushed--could this explain the recent attempt to eliminate Troy Henderson???--Maybe he also tried to being brave--anyway-- if there is any sudden scandel that comes up here invoving Director Jones maybe the City manager or even the Almanac might be able to connect the dots................

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