Frustration lingers in Oxnard over traffic issues

Some officials say increased fees will inhibit development

By David Courtland 07/31/2008

In the wake of complaints it is friendlier with developers than constituents, Oxnard’s city council members have agreed to put a controversial proposal on the November ballot that many in the business community say will drive those same developers away.

But the Oxnard city councilman who lobbied for the Oxnard Traffic Initiative says he doesn’t buy the notion that it will bring Oxnard’s growth to a standstill and jeopardize a critical source of money to pay for public works projects.

“Developers aren’t the only ones that pay for infrastructure,” said Tim Flynn, who voted July 8 with the rest of Oxnard’s city council — one of whom publicly scolded him for putting the councilmen “in a difficult position” — to let voters consider the initiative.

“They make a contribution towards that, but there’s also federal and state aid,” said Flynn, adding that there are alternatives for financing and funding large projects, like business assessment districts.

If the initiative becomes law, residential projects of six or more homes or commercial projects larger than 5,000 square feet could not be built within five miles of the most crowded intersections without voter approval.

Critics say that would mean developers would have to pay the cost of improving every intersection within five miles of a project, making them too expensive to be worth while.

“It’s a matter of dollars. In the case of an intersection like Five Points, it would take millions,” said Matt Winegar, Oxnard’s development resources director. “There aren’t many projects that can handle that cost.”

But Flynn says the initiative is more of a quality of life rule that would have a positive impact on city revenues by reducing the drain on utilities, calls for fire and police service and by encouraging more people to shop in Oxnard with less traffic.

Easing that strain on resources is critical because the city has grown beyond what the city’s general plan is written for, says Flynn.
“There are probably about 50,000 more people” in Oxnard than the city’s general plan takes into account, Flynn said. “Even though the general plan is a blueprint, we didn’t update it.”

Oxnard is doing a general plan update for the first time since 1990, when the current plan was approved. Flynn says a major oversight during the years since was not raising the traffic impact fee to take advantage of a booming housing market.

In 1993, Oxnard’s city council reduced the traffic impact fee from $542 to $176 per average daily trip (ADT) to make the town more attractive to developers. ADT is the estimated volume of traffic added by a single family residence.

“In 1998, one of the greatest booms in housing occurred,” said Flynn. “Ten years of unprecedented growth, and we went without those fees.”

Although other impact fees have been raised regularly, the traffic impact fee remained at its reduced level until last year, when it was adjusted back up to $730 ADT. Flynn said when he asked a senior city staff member why the fee wasn’t raised sooner, he was told, “We just didn’t get around to it.”

Flynn says that oversight has cost the city millions of dollars it could have raised for housing and infrastructure. Figuring there have been perhaps 300,000 to 350,000 average daily trips added to Oxnard’s traffic during the 14 years the impact fee was low, he estimates the city has missed out on as much as $100 million of revenue because of the reduction.

But Winegar said the traffic impact fee’s adjustment depended on the timing of a general plan update.

“You have to evaluate the entire system you’re dealing with,” whether it’s sewer, water or other infrastructure systems, explained Winegar. “The street master plan is generally only updated when the general plan is updated.”

Winegar said he wasn’t sure what the city would do to make up any lost revenue if the initiative passes, but noted some large projects like River Park have been financed with municipal bonds. Flynn dismissed the suggestion the initiative might have prompted a sales tax proposal that recently polled badly in a city survey.

“No one really knows to what extent the traffic initiative influenced the city to propose the sales tax,” said Flynn, who suggested staff were probably just considering costs and where general funds were coming from. “(Opponents) might try to link it to a sales tax, but that’s all just phoney baloney.”   

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