Editorial: Marin’s higher building fees raise questions
Author: Marin IJ Editorial Board
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
Was Marin Supervisor Dennis Rodoni kidding when he commented that the overall 50% hike in county building fees he and his colleagues approved last week would be easier to swallow if it delivered improved customer service?
Rodoni, a general contractor, knows the drill of getting building plans, permits and sign-offs through the county’s bureaucracy. Neither he nor his fellow builders expect such a commensurate response from the county.
Supervisors approved the sizable increase after hearing a report from county staff that current fees are not sustainable. That equation, however, boils down to how you add up “sustainable.”
If the county wants the planning division to be self-sufficient, relying on building fees to cover its cost, it is a myopic strategy. The job of the county and other municipalities is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community. Those should be the primary targets for the taxes paid to keep county programs and services running.
The work of the county’s planning and building divisions meets that criteria. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors has adopted an approach, underscored by this mega increase, that’s likely going to make it even more expensive to build a home or a large addition in unincorporated areas.
For instance, the county’s fee for a 1,000-square-foot addition, due to the increase, would rise to $13,314. That’s more than twice the current charge — $5,288. It is also far more than San Mateo County charges — $1,912 — or the $938 a builder would pay in Sonoma County for the same project.
A lot of that is comprised of the add-on fees the county has adopted over the years, special charges for road maintenance and building affordable housing, for example.
The recent round of increases likely will hone Marin as a political target for those who have been holding up the county’s restrictive, costly and time-consuming policies as examples of why housing isn’t being built to meet California’s housing crisis.
As fees rise, so does compliance for getting county OKs for smaller, less-visible construction. They undermine the county’s job of making sure the work is being done in compliance with building safety and fire codes. County staff didn’t make many promises, but it did say it intends to re-open service at the planning department’s front counter on Fridays, a day on which the counter has been closed since 2012 budget cutbacks.
We’re not sure that’s worth the cost of the increases.
The Marin Builders Association opposed the fee increases, but did not appear to muster much political opposition to dissuade the supervisors, who voted 5-0. Maybe the increase would have been more palatable if the supervisors did a better job of spelling out exactly, if possible, what the increase is paying for — and why general tax dollars aren’t covering those costs.
We hope Rodoni wasn’t joking, but improvements in public service never seems to be commensurate with the steady increases in fees. Maybe the supervisors will make sure this increase changes that trend.