Members of the Calimesa City Council reluctantly approved an ordinance and resolution at its recent meeting that will increase building fees, beginning July 1.
Mayor Bill Davis, Mayor Pro Tem Linda Molina and Councilman Jeff Cervantez voted in favor of the fee increase that funds the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, or MSHCP, which preserves natural ecosystems.
Councilwomen Wendy Hewitt and Wynona Duvall voted against the ordinance and resolution at the April 5 meeting.
“I want to know why we are doing this now in the midst of everybody having so many problems,” Hewitt said, directing her comments to Riverside County Transportation Commission members who participated in the meeting via phone.
“We are driving businesses away from California. Amidst the COVID shutdown, businesses are struggling, people are struggling, they are leaving California,” Hewitt said. “I see where you are coming from, with trying to protect the habitats and stuff, but I feel like your timing is way off. Just my opinion."
City Manager Bonnie Johnson explained the city of Calimesa has been charging the fee since March 2004, when the MSHCP was established.
“There was an ordinance adopted then and it established MSHCP as a local development mitigation fee, another form of what we commonly refer to as DIF fees,” Johnson said.
In December 2020, the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) board met and approved a nexus study that updated the MSHCP for the first time since 2004.
“The RCA board of directors is asking all member city councils to consider and adopt the ordinance and resolution in time for the fee to be implemented on July 1, 2021,” Johnson said.
“Once action is taken, there is 60 days before the fee becomes effective after the resolution and the ordinance become effective,” Johnson said, continuing. “That is why staff brought it forward in April to give it ample time to go through the rest of its process.”
Johnson added the RCA board consulted with the Building Industry Association, or BIA, on the fee increase. Recognizing the current economic situation, the increase with the lowest impact was selected, along with a phased-in implementation. The lower fee increase was possible because the land acquisition period for habitats was extended 15 years, from 2029 to 2044.
Aaron Hake, Interim Regional Conservation Deputy Executive Director for the Riverside County Transportation Commission, said the two-step implementation – 50% of the fee increase July 1, 2021 and the remaining 50% on Jan. 1, 2022 – was adopted “so it is not such a shock right away.”
“Given that the acquisition by RCA of habitat has not kept pace with where we’d like to be, there is still a lot left to do in a short amount of time,” he said. “In order to do that, the fee would have had to have been close to double to what you see here today. This is actually the lowest impact option.”
The fees are divided into five categories:
• Residential, up to eight dwelling units per acre: Current fee $2,234; Full fee (Jan. 1, 2022) $3,635
• Residential, eight to 14 dwelling units per acre: Current fee $1,430; Full fee $1,515
• Residential, 14 or more dwelling units per acre: Current fee $1,161; Full fee $670
• Commercial, per acre: Current fee $7,606; Full fee $16,358
• Industrial, per acre: Current fee $7,606; Full fee, $16,358
Johnson, who has a finance background, figured out the increases in percentages.
“I calculated those percentages because it helps put some things in perspective about what we are really talking about with the fee,” she said. “For example, with the first category, which is residential, up to eight dwelling units per acre, with the housing we are building in Calimesa, where a lot of our single-family dwellings have fallen into that category, it is a 62% increase overall.”
The other percentages were: Residential, eight to 14 dwelling units per acre, 6% increase; Residential, 14 or more dwelling units per acre, 42% decrease; and commercial and industrial, both a 115% increase.
Mayor Davis had mixed feelings about the ordinance and resolution.
“I don’t agree with the monetary stuff here,” he said. “I do agree with protecting the habitats. But, I also agree with people being able to use what you get … I am just telling you I am not really in favor of this, but what I am told is I don’t really have a choice in the matter.”
If a city does not adopt the updated MSHCP fee by May 2, 2021, then it would not be compliant and receive plan benefits, according to the agenda.
Chaplain leaving fire department
Announced at the council meeting was the departure of Calimesa Fire Department chaplain, Pastor Shawn Lind, who is moving out of state.
Councilmembers and the fire department thanked Lind for his service. Besides serving as chaplain for the fire department, Lind was involved in many charitable events and activities throughout the community.
Lind offered a final prayer for councilmembers and city staff.
“Thank you and God bless you guys,” he said in closing.