Over the last year, our legal wrangling with the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) has generated many points of dispute where we do not agree with the direction of the agency. Most things the embattled agency does have demonstrated a willful lack of transparency. They overstep the terms of their mandate, and the funds they do collect are often directed toward questionable ends.
But there is one issue that has come up recently where, quite surprisingly, we agree with commission staff: the proposed increase in BCDC’s permitting fees. Our position is a fee permit increase should be considered only after the pending report from the California State Auditor has been issued, recommendations carefully considered and implemented. We’d like to take a moment to explain why fee increases can make sense in the future.
The BCDC has not adjusted its permit fees since 2009, a time when the nation was being ravaged by the Great Recession. Obviously, the economy has improved greatly since that time, especially here in the Bay Area. Now, commission staff is proposing to double the permit fees as the preferred alternative among several options to be presented to the commission on Thursday, April 18 (read the full staff report here).
Permit fees automatically increase as project costs increase, so there are built in inflation escalators. However, the fee structure percentages change by the size of the project. These thresholds should be adjusted from time to time. As the cost of a proposed development increases, the permit fees assessed by BCDC increase as well. At the very bottom of this scale, the BCDC’s permit fees are quite reasonable; for instance, $2,000 for a major permit on a $1 million project, compared to what other agencies like the Coastal Conservancy and local municipalities charge, seems paltry by comparison. As the project cost increases, so do the permit fees.
Another critical part of the proposal is the efforts to recoup funds that the state puts into the BCDC. The state provides for much of BCDC’s funding, and in return, the BCDC has a goal to collect 20 percent of the funds it receives from the state through permit fees that it sends to Sacramento. In some years, it meets that goal, but in others, it does not. Commission staff is proposing to increase that target to 40 percent, which is admirable, and we feel is something the development community can sustain. We also believe that a self-sustaining BCDC is in everyone’s best interest, and movement toward that is a better return on investment than having another agency reliant on Sacramento.
Our main goal is immediate reform at the BCDC. As such, NO CHANGES on fees should be considered ahead of the pending report from the California State Auditor. As an Alliance, we are doing everything we can to encourage reform of the BCDC, even if that includes agreeing with the other side once in a while. You can read our full comment letter on this topic sent to the BCDC here.