As the City of San Luis Obispo prepares to take action tomorrow (April 3) on implementing new and revised fees paid by developers, the SLO Chamber is pushing for modifications and clarifications.

While it can seem that such changes are “inside baseball” — a matter of interest largely only to developers and the city — these fees tie directly to attaining community goals, be they more housing at prices the workforce can afford, better roads, improved city services and beyond.

While City staff has worked to reduce fees in some areas, under the current and proposed paradigm, the financing for long-needed infrastructure projects relies primarily on new development.

The cost of infrastructure improvements should be fair and broad based, the Chamber has long urged, and addressing pre-existing community needs shouldn’t rely on new development. If the fees make new development infeasible, the community won’t see the improvements that benefit everyone.

The Chamber’s recommendations are based on months of work by a dedicated task force, numerous hours of advocacy and in-depth review of reports, studies and other materials.

Among those recommendations:

Refine the transportation project list to reflect realistic needs and costs. The city is basing fees on a number of items including a list of transportation projects and their estimated costs.  The Chamber believes there are projects on the list that may be overestimated, as well as some that will never be built or required. Tradeoffs and hard choices by the community, staff and City Council on what our real project priorities are may be necessary to ensure that the most critical improvements are made.

Create incentives to build smaller units. When a fee is proportional to the project – a smaller fee for a smaller building – it incentivizes the building of those smaller, more affordable projects. If fees are not appropriately tied to the size of a unit, it disincentivizes building affordable homes and offices. The proposed fees for smaller units are still out of proportion with estimated sale prices and should be lowered so that the homes our community needs and is asking for can be built.

Fees should be uniform throughout the City. Project fees should not vary based on where the project will be built. The Chamber urges an “all in”, one city/one fee structure to because it considers our city as a whole community, not prioritizing or incentivizing one area over another.

Make fees predictable. At the start of a project, someone should be able to know what fees they will pay, not be surprised with unexpected costs in the middle or at the end. Such fee-creep makes the final project more expensive for the end consumer (a person buying a home or business leasing space) and is avoidable.

Ultimately, the update to the fees program should support the vision that the City and community have outlined in plans such as the Land Use and Circulation Element and the Housing Element planning documents.

To achieve those objectives, the City needs to adopt a fees program that supports its long-term evolution and does not create additional barriers to the type of infrastructure that we need.

Find more detail and additional recommendations in the Chamber’s letter to City Council here.

The Chamber urges its members and other interested parties to engage with this issue (read previous articles here and here), support the Chamber’s advocacy efforts and get their voice heard.