The month-old "war" between home builders and the Saddleback Valley Unified School District over how much developers should pay toward the cost of new schools ended in a truce Wednesday.
The agreement, contained in a motion by the county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, provides for a temporary increase in building fees for single-family homes to $6,300 from $1,200.
But the action does allow construction under permits issued previously to be completed for the former fee. Builders taking out permits in the future will be charged the $6,300 fee. However, the board motion called for a yearlong study of the overall housing growth-school fee problem.
Both sides said they were pleased by the supervisors' action.
"We have reached detente," said John Erskine, executive director of the Building Industry Assn. of Orange County, after the supervisors' action.
"At a minimum we have reached detente," said Saddleback Valley school board member R. Kent Hann. " Detente almost sounds negative--and I would say we have reached a positive point where we're all going forward together."
The dispute between builders and the school board centered on the amount charged in developers' fees. The school board, saying it could no longer tolerate portable classrooms, trailers and other temporary facilities for students, voted unanimously Jan. 27 to allow fee increases of 500% or more to be imposed on home builders. The increased revenue would be used to build permanent schools, not temporary classrooms, the board said.
The board's action also halted approval of pending building permits in the sprawling south Orange County school district, which includes thousands of acres of undeveloped land in the Mission Viejo area.
In response to those actions, a number of dismayed builders angrily accused the school board of being anti-growth. "Battle lines have been formed," one developer declared Jan. 27.
But the battle lines dissolved Wednesday, both sides said, after Supervisor Bruce Nestande introduced, and the full board quickly approved, a motion for what Nestande called "a framework for more comprehensive solutions to the problem."
Master Plan Ordered
Nestande's motion called for a master plan, to be completed within a year, of the development to take place in the school district and what school facilities will be needed. In addition, the motion called for a definitive study of the dollar amount per home that should be charged in order to pay for permanent school buildings.
Hann said the Nestande action assures the school board that permanent solutions to the problem will be forthcoming. As a result, Hann said, the school district will no longer hold up "old" building permits--i.e., those for buildings in the last stages of construction before Jan. 27. Hann said the $1,200 fee limit will still apply to those permits.
Erskine of the building association said the builders will temporarily accept the higher fees but that they will seek state legislation that will provide for school construction money, eliminating the need for the developer fees.
Erskine said that the problem stems from an evaporation of state funds once readily available to build public schools as needed. Erskine said the school board and the builders are together urging the Legislature this year to pass measures to remedy the shortfall. One such measure, Erskine said, is a constitutional amendment proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Sacramento), allowing for a small state tax on construction, with the money to be earmarked for building schools. Another measure, Erskine said, is the proposed $800-million bond issue, carried by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), that would cover the shortfall in the state's school building fund this year.
The special study Nestande's resolution requests will be done by the County Administrative Office. The study's cost, which was not immediately estimated, will be paid by the Building Industry Assn. "and its developer members in the south county area served by the (Saddleback Valley Unified School) District."