The Coast News Group

Council OKs some fee increases

ENCINITAS — A unanimous City Council approved a series of modest increases to the fees developers would pay for certain city functions, and delayed the approval of several other fee-increase proposals.

The council, returning from its month-long recess, approved the fee increase for planning and zoning, engineering and fire prevention services associated with processing a development application. These fees encompass activities such as applying for building permits, sprinkler inspections and engineering activities such as GIS mapping and permits for demolition and trenching.

It is the first time the council has increased fees since 2005. The council rejected two previous proposals for fee hikes in 2009 and 2011, when the city — and the nation — was in the midst of the Great Recession.

“These aren’t just arbitrary fees and we aren’t trying to … harass businesses,” Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said. “These are real costs that have to be paid somehow.”

According to a consultant study of the city’s fees, Encinitas currently subsidizes nearly half of the cost to provide these services, collecting about $1.74 million in fees. The increases bring the amount collected to about $1.9 million and would lower that subsidy to about 42 percent. Ultimately, the study stated, the city should move to recover at least 70 percent of the costs to provide the services, but do so incrementally so as to not hit developers with the increases all at once.

This was the case in 2005, when the city approved a series of large fee increases after a study showed it was recovering less than 30 percent of the costs. Developers and residents protested the increases at the time, arguing that they were exorbitant.

Only one person — a representative of the Building Industry Association’s San Diego chapter — spoke at Wednesday’s meeting, raising only minor questions about the fee increases.

The council did, however, vote to delay approval of about 20 or so new fees, which they said needed further analysis. One that the council targeted in particular was a $750 fee for someone to apply to erect a large tent or canopy, the type seen at large weddings or events.

“I think we would just like a better explanation of the new fees,” Councilman Tony Kranz said.

The council also voted to keep the cost of an appeal at $250, arguing that residents’ access to due process would be restricted by any increases to the fee.

In a separate agenda item, the council voted to delay the passage of proposed increases to the fee that developers pay to the city, which the city uses to acquire parkland, open space and trail development, requesting that staff offer greater detail on what the proceeds would be used for and how the city has previously used the impact fee.