New increase better than no increase

It took seven years and a new City Council to raise development impact fees for parks to almost where they should be. In the meantime, more than a million dollars that might have gone toward creating parks was lost. Despite that, the increase that passed this week falls short of the amount that an outside agency and city staff recommended.

The city’s Finance Committee worked hard to figure out how the city could fund development of existing neighborhood, community and linear parkland as well as purchase more acreage for future parks as the city grew.

The city currently has hundreds of acres of undeveloped parkland but no money to develop them. That is primarily because for the last 10 years a conservative-dominated council has kept developer impact fees artificially low, based on the assumption that increasing them only raises the already spiraling cost of buying a house. This is true, though the fees account for only a small fraction of the increased cost.

But the fees, which were raised in 1997 and then, incredibly, lowered in 2000, have for too long fallen well short of providing the developers’ fair share to the expanding demands on our park system. That they are passed onto the buyers doesn’t matter—it is the growth abetted by new homes that creates the increased use and demand.

The conservatives’ complaint that existing residents pay the increased fee when they purchase new homes doesn’t wash. The impact fee is aimed at new construction, not new people. And it’s a fair and reasonable way to pay for the new services these new houses are going to require. It’s a shame that so many of our council members still don’t understand this.