State law allows school districts to collect fees from new residential and commercial development projects to mitigate their impact on school facilities. New construction and new residents mean new students and new classroom space requirements. Most school districts in the state collect these fees. Berkeley does not.

Berkeley is losing out on money that is desperately needed to house its ballooning student population. Since 1998, approximately $10 billion dollars have been collected by various school districts throughout California from developer fees, according to a recent report by the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO). In addition to state funding and local bonds, the LAO calls developer fees one of the three legs holding up the stool of school construction funding. Without these fees and with state funding drying up, we are teetering on a one-legged stool in Berkeley.

If a developer fee had been assessed in Berkeley, it would have generated between $8 and $9 million over the past fifteen years. That is an uncontested estimate based on 2400 new housing units permitted in Berkeley during that period as determined by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Fortunately, with a new superintendent and facilities director, the school board will reconsider this issue at its next meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 14. It makes sense, given the level of new development proposed in the city and the capacity issues that the district faces. Approximately 3,000 new housing units are under consideration in Berkeley. At the same time, the school district is planning to install new, relocatable classrooms at LeConte and Thousand Oaks Elementary Schools to house some of these students.

At the state level, school construction bond funding is nearly exhausted. Gov. Brown has expressed opposition to a new statewide bond and, instead, is proposing to increase the fees that school districts can collect from developers.

Locally, the school district will likely ask voters to renew the current parcel tax in 2016. Failing to act on this issue now will cause some to argue that the district is not doing everything it can secure alternate funding sources needed to maintain a quality education with adequate facilities for its students.

I work for a state agency that provides oversight on school construction. I am also a parent in the Berkeley Unified School District. Adopting these fees will ensure that fewer students are educated in temporary trailers and improve the chances that voters will continue to support the district through the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program.

I urge you to contact the school board and tell them that now is the time to act on the issue of developer impact fees.

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Michael Fretz is a Berkeley resident and licensed structural engineer. His child attends a public school in Berkeley and he works for the State of California.
Michael Fretz is a Berkeley resident and licensed structural engineer. His child attends a public school in Berkeley and he works for the State of California.

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