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Riverside County Likely to Hike Fees

July 02, 2003|Janet Wilson and Hanah Cho | Times Staff Writers

Developer fees are expected to increase again in Riverside County, this time to fund a controversial new wildlife conservation plan.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously voted to consider fees of between $859 and $1,651 per new home, and $5,620 per acre for new commercial and industrial development.

If passed as expected this month, the increase could bring the fees for a new home to more than $8,300. In February, a transportation fee of $6,650 per new home was imposed to fund road projects. The conservation fees are expected to generate more than $600 million in the next 25 years and would be used to acquire 56,000 acres of habitat for nearly 150 species.

In exchange, developers could be granted sweeping exemptions to the cumbersome permit process required under environmental laws.

"This is the best insurance policy anybody could buy against the extreme hazards of the Endangered Species Act," said Supervisor Bob Buster. "It seems to me like the steal of the century to write that check and be part of this plan."

Buster said that by paying one fee up front, developers could avoid unknown charges later. A handful of builders at Tuesday's meeting disagreed.

"Steal of the century? With all due respect, the math you used is off," said Borre Winckel of the Building Industry Assn.'s Riverside County chapter.

Winckel said that state and federal funds were originally supposed to pay for two-thirds of the habitat acquisition, and the local share was to be one-third. That has changed to two-thirds coming from local fees, after federal officials said that county planners needed to increase their share to qualify for the permit exemptions.

"We have become the cash cow," Winckel said.

He and others acknowledged that developers could be prime beneficiaries of the exemptions, but fear that with the current federal and state budget woes, local fees could rise again.

The fees will unintentionally curtail commercial development, said Michael Kendall of the Inland Empire chapter of the National Assn. of Industrial and Office Properties, stunting Inland Empire job growth.

The builders, the only members of the public who testified at the hearing Tuesday, complained about lack of specifics in the new fee ordinance.

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