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Ventura Boulevard Fee Assessment Plan 'Fatally Flawed,' Study Says


A long-term plan to spend nearly a quarter-billion dollars for traffic improvements along Ventura Boulevard is "fatally flawed" in the way it assesses fees on boulevard property owners, according to a study commissioned by property owners and released Friday.

The inch-thick study, drafted by a Los Angeles-based consulting firm, concludes that the fees to be charged to new developers should be "at most one-third" of the fees required by the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan, as the 20-year blueprint for development is formally known.

The study by Hamilton, Rabinovitz and Alschuler Inc. says the fees were based on erroneous commercial growth projections and over-inflated cost estimates for traffic improvements, such as street widenings.

Also, the Specific Plan asks boulevard property owners to pay for traffic problems created in part by growth outside the boulevard, according to the consultant's study.

Property owners are expected to use the study as ammunition in their battle against fees charged under the Specific Plan. The property owners will present their study Tuesday to the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

The boulevard's Specific Plan requires property owners and developers to pay for $222 million worth of improvements based on the number of vehicle trips created by their projects.

But these so-called trip fees--ranging from $2,000 to $800,000 per property--have come under attack recently by property owners who say they unfairly place the financial burden on newcomers and discourage vital new development.

Under the analysis of the consultant's study, the average fee of $3,400 per trip should be reduced to $1,156 per trip.

City planning officials acknowledge that the plan, drafted in the fast-growth 1980s, expected builders to help relieve the pressures of skyrocketing growth along the boulevard.

But now that commercial development has slowed considerably. The city is seeking ways to ease the burden on new developers, while also trying to protect existing merchants and residents.

The city Planning Commission recently asked its staff members to look for other ways to pay for improvements called for in the Specific Plan. One idea being forwarded by some merchants is to create a giant assessment district that would require old as well as new property owners to pay for road projects.

Already, 38 boulevard property owners have appealed $8.4 million of the $12.5 million in trip fees that have been imposed. Many appeals have been approved but many more are expected, including appeals that will come before the City Council's planning committee Tuesday.

Fred Gaines, an attorney representing the property owners who commissioned the study, said it was not meant to challenge the Specific Plan but to examine the fairness of the trip fees.

He said the six property owners who called for the study have each been assessed fees of more than $200,000.

Tom Rath, a city planning associate who has helped administer the Specific Plan, said he has not read the consultant's study but, based on a summary told to him, said the complaints have some validity.

He said city planning officials are studying the property owner's concerns, including the commercial growth projections and the question of how to pay for traffic impacts caused by regional growth.

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