CALEXICO — A $200 million housing project in Calexico halted a day after the local school board decided to increase the fees it charges to home builders might have a new lease on life, its developer said.
However, Calexico Unified
School district officials did not immediately have an answer as to whether the
fees could be rolled back.
The matter involves El
Portal, an 870-home project along East Cole Boulevard proposed by Imperial
Valley Builders Construction Co.
The developer put the
brakes on following an Oct. 24 decision by the school district board to raise
all three levels of impact fees it charges to home developers. The fees offset
the district’s costs of building new schools due to the increased population
caused by new housing.
However, because of the
district’s desire to build a new school on land within the housing tract there
might be some room for negotiation.
“They (Calexico Unified) really want the land,
and we really want to build there. Hopefully, we can work this out,” said Charlie
Schreiber of Valley Builders on Jan. 14. “We all want to get something out of
the deal … the city, the school board and us.”
Talks could resume as
soon as February, he added.
For two-plus years, the
city of Calexico had been working with El Portal to development 160 acres of
land into a combination of about two-thirds single-family homes and one-third
apartments north of East Cole Boulevard between Meadows Road and G. Cleveland
The project was moving
forward, with a tentative map close to going to the city Planning Commission,
when the plug was pulled on the development on Oct. 25, City Manager David Dale
said Jan. 10.
The school district and
El Portal were in negotiations regarding the development’s impact to the
district since about December 2018 and not much progress had been made, Schreiber
said. Shortly before the fees were increased in October, the district informed Valley
Builders that increase was likely, Schreiber added.
In August, the developer
offered to hand over for free the 13 acres of land on which the district wanted
to build a school provided the school board would maintain the impact fees at
their pre-Oct. 24 level, Dale and Schreiber agreed. That amount was $4.79 a
square foot for what are called Level II fees for building new schools,
Instead, the board voted
5-0 to raise all three levels of fees, including raising the Level II fees to
$7.41 a square foot and the Level III fees to more than $14 a square foot, he
said. The vote and levels were confirmed by the school district in an email to
this newspaper on Jan. 10.
Response was swift.
Schreiber said the next day the chief investor with the project, who he did not
name, hung up the phone during a call with the school district, and the
development was halted.
Raising the fees,
Schreiber estimated Jan. 14, would add about $15,000 to the price of each of
the single-family home. At last count, 521 single-family homes and 352
apartments were planned.
Adding that cost to each
home would no longer make them affordable entry-level homes, the builder said.
Still, Schreiber said the
developer and school district never negotiated further.
However, in the weeks after the Oct. 24
decision, Schreiber said it was decided state-mandated soil studies on the
proposed school site should continue on both sides. Once the district got back its
study, the two sides should meet again with a school district-contracted
negotiator to see if the fee impact could be reduced for the project, he added.
But Schreiber warned, “If
this doesn’t work, we’re done. We’re not going to build. This is the last straw.”
It wasn’t immediately
clear late whether the school district has the latitude to roll back the impact
fees. Dale and Schreiber said they were under the impression it can since its
board voted to raise them.
A school district
official was trying to get that question answered but had not done so before the
deadline for this story.
In Jan. 10 prepared
statements, Cesar L. Vega, district assistant superintendent of business services,
on behalf of Superintendent Carlos Gonzales, indicated the board was “justified” in raising the fees.
That is based on a comprehensive fee-analysis study conducted by the district
When the district’s
public information officer, Alejandra Limon, was asked Jan. 14 whether those
increases could be rolled back through negotiation, she said that her
understanding was the increased fees were based on some predetermined measure considering
the district’s population. However, she said she did not know for certain and
was attempting to get that question answered.
“Fee rates increased
because calculations and methodologies applied by the fee consultant show that
the district will incur an increased impact from new development. The fee rates
are an attempt to partially mitigate the increased impact,” according to Vega.
Vega wrote the Level I
fee rate for residential and commercial development is adjusted every other
year by the State Allocation Board and “so long as a school district is able to
meet the statutory nexus requirements, the district is authorized to levy that
fee rate amount.”
Information was not
immediately available on whether other fee levels are also set by the state.
Vega did address concerns
the city has — specifically City Manager Dale — that such a dramatic
increase in impact fees could affect future development in the city at a time
when the city is trying to recover financially through increased commercial and
residential development, among other avenues.
“The district would incur
costs of at least $11,656,353.50 from the students generated by future
development,” Vega responded Jan. 10 through the district public information
He added, “There is
minimal, if any, funding from the state to house these projected students and the
district has no local funds available to dedicate to school facilities
necessitated by future residential development. Not recognizing the need to
plan for such new students would be counter-productive to the city’s current
and future residents and the district’s current families and students.”