The Transportation Commission’s proposal to charge new developments and businesses a fee to offset the impacts of additional car traffic they cause has raised red flags with Community Economic Development Coordinator Dave Fogarty.
Fogarty took his concerns to the Planning Commission Wednesday night, warning that the fee could thwart economic growth in the city.
And while the commission took no action on the fee, they did vote to direct the city staff to present a plan to allow car dealers to relocate along the Eastshore Freeway, singling out sites near the Gilman Street and Ashby Avenue freeway interchanges.
The commission also voted to set a Feb. 22 session where they and members of the Landmarks Preservation and Transportation commissions can hear a presentation from UC Berkeley officials on plans for massive new developments at and near the school’s Memorial Stadium.
That session will be at 6 p.m. in the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave.
They also voted to hold another hearing that same evening—this one just for themselves—to vote on continuing the city’s inclusionary ordinance, a measure a joint city task force is currently working to revise.
The city had a transportation fee—which is mandated in the general plan—between 1985 and 1997, when it was dropped because of a city attorney’s opinion that the ordinance was in violation of the state Mitigation Fee Act.
Similar fees are common throughout the state, though the amounts charged vary dramatically.
While Assistant Public Works Director Peter Hillier had proposed a Transportation Services Fee (TSF) of $4,687 for each new peak-hour car trip generated by a project or business, the Transportation Commission had voted to increase the amount by 25 percent—or $6,084 per trip—on Oct. 20.
However, the study Fogarty showed the commission Wednesday used Hillier’s original figure in analyzing development impacts.
Fogarty presented a table showing the impacts of assessments charged at the lower number on six Berkeley projects when added to the costs of other planning and development fees charged to developers.
For the 176-unit Library Gardens project—which includes 3,000 square feet of retail space—Fogarty estimated that the project would result in 45 new daily car trips, resulting in a TSF assessment of $219,015, added to planning and building fees of $1,296,167 for a total of $1,515,182, or a net increase of 17 percent.
Fogarty projected a 75 percent increase for the 35-unit condo and retail project at 2700 San Pablo, with a $131,149 TSF added to building and planning fees of $175,144.
The dramatic difference resulted from the nearby access to multiple transportation modes and services at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley, which would reduce the need for car trips, he said.
The largest increase among his examples was for Cafe Trieste at 2500 San Pablo Ave. Because the popular cafe was estimated to account for 10 daily peak hour trips—seven more than the number estimated for the previous retail use—the city would assess a $34,069 TSF on top of the $5,945 in building and planning fees—a 573 percent increase.
“The methodology is inherently unfair to retail in particular,” Fogarty told the commission.
The fees would be assessed all new multiple-unit residential projects and new business in buildings as well as changes of business types when tenants change in existing buildings.
Thus, a restaurant that replaces an existing restaurant wouldn’t be assessed the fee, but a restaurant that replaced a retail store—as in the case of Cafe Trieste—would be charged.
The fee is heavier for retail uses, especially those that draw a larger number of customers and hire more employees. Developers and business owners can reduce or eliminate the fees by providing mitigations that reduce or eliminate the need for new trips.
Fogarty said the fees could inhibit new businesses from locating in the city, and thus lead to a reduction in the sales taxes that are the cornerstone of his department’s development plans.
“Retail sales are leaking into surrounding jurisdictions and we are at risk of generating more trips by our own residents as they shop in surrounding communities if we don’t allow” an ordinance that is friendlier to new tenants, he said.
City staff presented the commission with a 78-page analysis of how the ordinance might be applied in each of the city’s planning districts—though without an evaluation of how the plan’s policies have actually fulfilled their development goals—which provoked amusement from Commissioner Gene Poschman.
“If you look at the plans, you want to see what the plans have accomplished in the years they’ve been active, and if nothing has been done, how can we say the Transportation Services Fee will hurt? I’m very dubious. It makes very little sense unless we know what the plans have actually done.”
Commissioner Helen Burke agreed, adding that she would also like to see how the fees have affected development in other cities.
David Stoloff said he thought the city ought to considering exempting retail from the fee, and other said they thought more emphasis should be directed toward looking how businesses might not generate new traffic as much as shift it away from another competitor.
Poschman said he’d wait until further discussion at the next commission meeting, and Chair Harry Pollack advised, “Let’s take it one step at a time.”
The commission did vote a qualified endorsement of planning staff’s recommendation that car dealers be allowed to relocate near the freeway, a move endorsed by Mayor Tom Bates.
The commission voted unanimously to direct staff to prepare an analysis of making zoning and plan changes to allow dealers to relocate to a manufacturing zone area near the Gilman Street interchange, and to an area zoned for manufacturing and light industrial uses south of the Ashby Avenue interchange.
The Feb. 22 hearing for UC Berkeley’s presentation on the Southeast Campus Integrated Plan will feature a packed meeting room, with as many as 27 commissioners as well as interested members of the public. The program will begin with a brief presentation by the university, followed by questions from the commissioners and, finally, by comments from the public—all scheduled to end by 7:30 p.m.
The commission also voted to hold a March 8 hearing on a revision of the traffic analysis for the Draft Environmental Impact Report on the proposed new Berkeley Bowl in West Berkeley. The original document failed to looked at the store’s impacts on weekend traffic, which is the subject of the new report.
Public comments will be limited to the traffic aspects of the report.?