(April 4, 2007) -- At its April 3 meeting, the City Council voted effectively to exempt at least 17 pending developments from a Public Safety Impact fee, an action that will cost taxpayers an estimated $2.7 million in revenue that had been recommended to pay for police and fire infrastructure facilities.
The stunning turn of events means the fee (to cover the costs of additional public safety resources related to serve new developments) won't include major development projects currently "in the pipeline" (applications pending but permits not yet issued.)
The Council action came on a motion by Councilman Patrick O'Donnell...who reversed his position of just two weeks earlier. On March 20, Councilman O'Donnell (with Councilwoman Rae Gabelich) said he was ready to adopt the fee as proposed by city management following a unanimous September 12, 2006 Council vote directed preparation of an ordinance to implement the Public Safety Impact fee...including on projects "in the pipeline."
The September 12, 2006 Council action came after management presented a detailed "nexus" study, prepared by a specially hired firm at taxpayer expense, which offered fiscal facts and legal prerequisites necessary to justify the fee on new development to cover the costs of additional public safety resources.
But on March 20, Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal (who with Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal represents the downtown area where many of the proposed developments are located) objected to adopting the Public Safety impact fee as proposed, claiming City Hall's process hadn't included sufficient outreach to developers.
In September 2006, the Council -- including Councilwoman Lowenthal -- voted to direct preparation of an ordinance implementing the Public Safety Impact fee for proposed developments after a taxpayer-paid report (roughly a year in preparation) cited legal and fiscal justifications for the fee. The fee -- applicable to projects in the pipeline -- was strongly backed by the LB Police Officers Ass'n and the LB Firefighters Ass'ns on March 20.
However at that meeting, four Councilmembers -- Suja. Lowenthal, Gary DeLong, Gerrie Schipske and Val Lerch -- balked at adopting the fee as presented...and after several failed motions, a motion passed 6-2 (Gabelich and O'Donnell dissenting) directing management to hold a public meeting at which the public and "stakeholders" (development interests) could be heard.
At that meeting last week, development and business interests objected to various aspects of the fee...and sought changes including faster processing of projects backed by City Hall.
When the item returned to the Council on April 3, Mayor Bob Foster, Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal and Coucnilwoman Suja Lowenthal argued that applying the Public Safety Impact fee to "in the pipeline" pending developments was unfair and inequitable to developers, calling it "retroactive."
The LB Area Chamber of Commerce testified against adopting the fee, urging it be sent back for further Committee proceedings. Downtown LB Associates also cited reasons not to adopt the fee as originally proposed.
Absent at April 3 Council meeting: representatives of LB Police Officers and LB Firefighters unions who had backed the fee on March 20 as applied to pending developments.
In voting to exempt pending developments from the fee, several Councilmembers said their April 3 action supports public safety and the fee, variously noting that the fee will be applied on a "go forward" basis.
Councilman O'Donnell's reversal left Councilwoman Rae Gabelich the sole Councilmember to argue for adopting the Public Safety Impact fee as originally supported by the Council in September 2006. Councilwoman Gabelich did so at length, ultimately voting for the "go forward" version of the fee (the vote was 8-0) but only after a detailed presentation of years of Council actions (including by past Councils) that had left LB taxpayers with insufficient police and fire staffing and infrastructure.
Among the projects that could be affected by Council's April 3 vote to forego an estimated $2.7 million in revenue is a new East Long Beach Police substation that would serve Councilman O'Donnell's ELB constituents.
O'Donnell recently dropepd out of the 54th district Assembly race (claiming family reasons) and, as first reported by LBReport.com, Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal announced she would seek the Assembly seat on the Democrat side (pitting her against Councilwoman Reyes Uranga).
The fee is scheduled to return for a subsequent Council vote.