Daily Camera, Boulder, CO
POSTED: 04/25/2015 08:46:02 PM MDT
Link to the Daily Camera letter
I believe that growth should pay its way and support an initiative recently proposed by concerned Boulder citizens.
This initiative seeks to ensure that growth and development pays its way and doesn’t unduly transfer costs to existing residents and businesses.
The fact is, Boulder hasn’t actually done a study of the true impact costs of development. And as a result, development brings a huge cost burden on the taxpayers of this city.
A recent study for the city of San Diego found that the public impact costs for new office buildings there are $72 per square foot! In other words, San Diego would need to charge that developer $72 a square foot in order not to go in the red due to the true costs associated with the development. And the study considered only affordable housing costs (meaning, how much affordable housing the city of San Diego would have to fund, in order to help house the additional workers brought in by this new office building who couldn’t afford market-rate housing).
This study didn’t even attempt to measure the additional costs to the city (and therefore, existing resident taxpayers) for increased city services including increased traffic mitigation, transportation demand management, emergency response services, school programs, parks, recreation centers, open space, etc. Had it done so, the study would have found actual costs to the city, and ultimately the taxpayers, of more than $100 per square foot for the new office building in question.
Boulder’s costs can’t be that different from San Diego’s.
But the city of Boulder charges linkage fees (i.e. affordable housing impact fees) of only $9 per square foot, and these fees are applied to only 44 percent of the building that’s above 38 feet (in the downtown area). So averaged over the entire new building, the rate is only $3.96 per square foot. That leaves a giant gap that we taxpayers have to pay, rather than the developers who will benefit the most from the development. It means you get to subsidize development, rather than the growth paying its way.
I see this Boulder’s citizen initiative not as a referendum on growth, but merely a means of ensuring that it pays its way and doesn’t transfer costs to existing residents and businesses, many of whom are struggling as it is. Growth should achieve a net benefit for everyone. In order to do that, growth needs to be properly regulated.
The consequences of unregulated growth may be explained in a recent study by planning consultant Eben Fodor. Fodor studied the 100 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. and found that the 25 slowest-growing metro areas outperformed the 25 fastest-growing in every category and averaged $8,455 more in per-capita personal income in 2009. The study found that faster growth rates are associated with lower incomes, greater income declines, and higher poverty rates. Unemployment rates tend to be higher in faster growing areas, too. The findings raise questions about conventional urban planning and economic development strategies that pursue growth of metro areas to advance the economic welfare of the general public.
I suspect that the fastest-growing cities were the worst performers because so many costs of development were transferred to existing residents. The initiative proposed by citizens is reasonable and fair. For it to get on the November ballot, several thousand citizens must first sign a petition calling for this. I’ll be signing that petition, and encourage you to, as well.
Jane Angulo lives in Boulder.