At the last City Council meeting it was asked by the public and re-asked by Council member Sebourn why Park Dwelling Fees cannot be utilized for maintenance in existing parks. At approximately the 3:41:00 mark in said meeting Parks Director Curiel stated it was owing to an ordinance and Interim City Manager Roeder specified that it was State Law which is where the conversation ended.
I would like to set the record straight from my layman’s perspective.
First and foremost let us explain Park Dwelling Fees. They are fees that developers have to pay the city in order to build new places for people to live within the city. $X/Room. That money is then used for Bridges to Nowhere and temporary stairs that cannot be repaired. What it is not used for is maintenance on our existing parks.
This is especially problematic as salaries and benefits eat up ever more of our general fund and we find ourselves with unsafe parks and deferred maintenance. We put plywood up over damage (nearly 6-weeks later and counting), or worse, while our $6-figure employees tell us we don’t have the budget to keep our kids safe. It’s infuriating.
But back to the Dwelling Fees. The point of Dwelling Fees can be explained by the first ordinance I can find from within the city of Fullerton. That’s Ordinance 1375 from 20 October 1964. It reads as follows (Emphasis Added):
Section 14.29.010 – The City Council hereby declares that the fees required to be paid hereby are assessed pursuant to the taxing power of the City and solely for the purpose of producing revenue. The continued increase in the development of dwelling units in the City with the attendant increase in the population of the City has created an urgency for the planning, acquisition, improvement and expansion of public parks, playgrounds, and recreation facilities to serve the increasing population of the City and an urgency for additional revenues with which to finance such public facilities.
Improvement. Finance such public facilities.
The intent was clearly and originally to finance as well as improve our parks. This ordinance was changed on 20 April 1971 when the council passed Ordinance 1741 which removed municipal code section 14.29.010 on Dwelling Fees and added the more current Chapter 21.12: Tax for Parks on Installing Bedrooms. We’re talking specifically about 21.12.040: Use of funds.
Ordinance 1741 stated:
Purpose of Tax. The City Council hereby declares that the tax levied by this Chapter is solely for the purpose of producing revenue for the acquisition of public parks, and it is hereby determined that the need therefor increases in proportion to the increase in the number of bedrooms in the City.
This section of the municipal code was changed again in 1978, 1987, 1988 and again finally with the most recent change coming in 1992. At that point the city changed the ordinance to specifically allow for maintenance with a sunset provision to take place in 1993 (Ord. 2830) owing to a budget crisis. Since that sunset the Fullerton Municipal Code has stated:
…the park dwelling fund and shall be used solely for the acquisition, development and improvement of public parks and recreational facilities in the City.
There is no kicker about financing such facilities so we find ourselves in the situation where we can keep buying and building parks while not being able to maintain the parks we’ve previous procured which is ridiculous. Take Hillcrest Park as a perfect example. This narrow reading of our Municipal Code has allowed parks to defer maintenance causing them to remove playground equipment while building a bridge for purely aesthetic reasons. It’s a backwards way to run a Parks Department.
It’s also not something that our Parks Department does consistently. This becomes problematic when you realize that restoring the fountain at Hillcrest is no different fundamentally than restoring a playground that has, like the fountain, fallen into disrepair owing to neglect. The fountain isn’t a new acquisition or development in the park so if the city can argue that such an improvement for the fountain is within the scope of “improvement” I’d like to see a solid definition which precludes other such improvements for less grandiose projects.
But what about CM Roeder saying it was a State Issue? He seems to be mostly correct. On 08 September 2015 Governor Jerry Brown signed AB1191 which is the Quimby Act. What does the Act have to do with Park Dwelling Fees?
It amends Section 66477 of the Government Code to read (Emphasis Added):
(3) (A) The land, fees, or combination thereof are to be used only for the purpose of developing new or rehabilitating existing neighborhood or community park or recreational facilities to serve the subdivision, except as provided in subparagraph (B).
Okay. Let us not mince words here.
1a : to restore to a former capacity : reinstate
1b : to restore to good repute : reestablish the good name of
2a : to restore to a former state (as of efficiency, good management, or solvency) rehabilitate slum areas
2b : to restore or bring to a condition of health or useful and constructive activity
Restore. Restore. Restore. Restore. Every part of that definition using the word restore. Unless the State of California is using a non-standard definition of rehabilitate, which is possible knowing CA, I find it hard to fathom why we aren’t using at least a part of the Dwelling Fees to restore our parks instead of simply allowing them to fall into disrepair due to our council’s insistence on throwing the majority of the general fund at public safety pay/pensions.
It’s time that the City either offers a legal reason from the State that contradicts my reading of AB1191 or they amend our municipal code to make fixing our parks the priority they clearly are not currently. I would state immediately the code change should specify actual improvements and preclude payroll and benefits. The last thing we need is for the dwelling fees to utilized to simply offset salary/benefits problems.