Supt. Kenneth L. Moffett said last week that the ABC Unified School District may join a growing list of California districts that impose fees on new development to pay for campus improvements and classroom construction.
Should the Board of Education approve the move it could have widespread implications for Cerritos, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens and Lakewood, cities served by the 23,000-student ABC district.
A special report last month revealed that the school district needs more than $10 million for improvements and expansion at its 30 campuses. The district will take a "serious look" at the developer fee option, Moffett said. "Our enrollment is not growing but this may be a way of generating money we need to pay for a long list of needs. . . . "
The school board will discuss the developer fees for the first time publicly at its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in district headquarters. Virgil L. Hall, the assistant superintendent of business services, will present a report to the board, said Terry McAlpine, a district spokeswoman.
Given Power by Legislature
School districts were given the power by the state Legislature last fall to levy fees on residential and business development to help pay for new construction and facilities. It was designed particularly to help districts with sharply escalating student enrollments, like the Los Angeles Unified School District, that need more classrooms to ease overcrowding. But districts like ABC, where enrollments have stabilized or declined, are now eyeing the fees as a way to pay for long-overdue improvements.
As outlined in last month's report, the most pressing needs in the ABC district include: covered outdoor lunch areas at most elementary campuses; air conditioning in older classrooms; a sound wall at Juarez Elementary School in Artesia to block noise from the Artesia Freeway, and a gymnasium/multipurpose building at Whitney High School. District officials have also discussed replacing some portable classrooms with permanent structures.
The report, prepared by consultant Wayne D. Wedin, suggested that one way to pay for the improvements is to close Haskell Junior High School and move Whitney, the district's college-preparatory school, to the Haskell campus. The Whitney campus would then be sold for residential development, a move Wedin said could generate $17 million for the district. But winning public support for the move would be difficult, at best, and Moffett said that imposing developer fees may be an easier way to raise money.
Large Project Could be Taxed
Moffett said district officials have not estimated how much the district stands to gain by imposing the fees. But based on the size of the proposed Towne Center project in Cerritos, the district could receive as much as $2 million. The city is in the planning stages of a 125-acre, $225-million hotel, office and shopping development at Bloomfield Avenue and 183rd Street. There is also talk of adding high-density residential housing to the project.
By law, school districts can charge developers up to $1.50 a square foot on residential construction and 25 cents a square foot on commercial and industrial building. For example, the fee for a typical home of 1,500 square feet will be about $2,250, which builders have warned they will pass along to home buyers.
Cities in the ABC district are largely built up, and there are no plans for any major residential projects, except those suggested in the Towne Center development. Much of the new development in Cerritos, Artesia and Hawaiian Gardens is commercial. And city officials in Artesia and Hawaiian Gardens say that they would resist an attempt by the school board to use money collected on their projects on schools outside their city.
Position Stated in Letter
"Our position would be that if they charge a fee on a developer, that money must be spent on schools in Artesia," City Manager C. Eugene Romig said. He added that the Artesia City Council has already sent a letter informing the school district of its position. "We are not interested in seeing that money spent on projects at schools in Cerritos or Hawaiian Gardens."
Spokeswoman Michele Ogle said the City of Cerritos has not taken a position on developer fees.
Moffett said it will be several months before he makes a recommendation to the school board on the fee issue. One problem, he said, is whether it would be worth pursuing at the risk of creating ill will among builders, and more importantly, city officials.
"The real question is will there be enough money to offset the ill will that may be generated by such a move," Moffett said.
Another uncertainity is whether a school district must demonstrate that a commercial development like the Towne Center project will be a direct cause of an enrollment increase. The law regarding developer fees is vague on that point, and some contend that school districts should not be able to assess fees on commercial projects if they do not affect enrollment.
"Personally, I have a problem with imposing fees on commercial development that do not directly lead to more students in the classroom," Hawaiian Gardens City Manager Charles Bryant said.
There are several dozen bills in the Legislature that propose exemptions from developer fees for various types of businesses and commercial operations.
"The problem we face is the district stretches across four cities," Moffett said. "We've got to sort this thing out and really look at it before we move on it."