At the City Council meeting tonight planning staff is asking the council to approve a plan to impose a Transportation Impact Fee (TIF) on most new development in the city. While the plan would impose the fee on new residential development (other than affordable), something that might be questioned because residential development is good for the city in numerous ways, including because it helps relieve traffic caused by commuters into Santa Monica, the plan is well thought out and I hope the council approves it.
How is the plan well thought out? Well, for instance:
• The plan would assess the TIF only on the net new development on a site; i.e., if a new development replaces an existing development, which will generally be the case in Santa Monica since there is little vacant land, the fee is charged only on the amount of new development. Most future residential development in Santa Monica will occur in commercial zones that are already developed, and the TIF will not be charged on either housing or new commercial (such as ground-floor retail) that replaces what was already there.
• Staff estimates that the TIF will generate a substantial portion (about 40%) of the 20-year costs for the improvements to our transportation infrastructure identified in the LUCE. New development should not carry the entire burden for infrastructure improvements, since the traffic issues have been developing for decades (and also reflect conditions outside of Santa Monica), but new residents and businesses in Santa Monica get access to a high level of existing infrastructure. The plan strikes a fair balance.
• The plans under the LUCE for how to spend the money are good, and the new infrastructure will add value to the new developments themselves. The plan calls not for spending the money in a fruitless effort to “mitigate” traffic by increasing road capacity (which is self-defeating because widening roads attracts more vehicles onto all of our streets), but by improving the environment for cyclists, pedestrians and transit-users, and by improving transit itself. These measures will actually reduce the number of motorists and miles traveled by car.
• Finally, the fees that staff proposes are fair, particularly in the context that staff is, on a parallel track, proposing to reduce parking requirements for new developments. The reduction of one underground parking space, at a conservatively-estimated cost of $40,000, would pay the TIF for 10 to 15 apartments (depending on location), or up to several thousand square feet of retail or office development. One reason I support charging the TIF on housing is that I expect that planning staff will push as hard for these reductions in parking requirements (which will themselves reduce traffic) as staff is pushing for the TIF.
This doesn’t mean the fees couldn’t be tweaked. The Chamber of Commerce in its letter to the council about the TIF made some good points. But overall, this is a good plan, a fact that even the Chamber’s letter acknowledges. Better traffic management benefits everyone, including, or even especially, business.
It’s good to see that the City is beginning to implement the updated Circulation Element of the General Plan – the “CE” of the LUCE.
Thanks for reading.