Posted on Mon, Oct. 23, 2006
Builders of new housing should pay full cost of parks
Mercury News Editorial
The showdown over San Jose's parks finally is at hand.
Years of financial studies, community meetings, audits and angst will culminate Tuesday in a city council vote on whether developers should have to pay the full cost of land needed to provide parkland for residents of the housing they build.
The vote should be a unanimous: yes.
Many business leaders oppose this plan, but none of their reasons holds up under scrutiny.
Yes, the city needs to update its plan for parks, known as the Greenprint. But is there even a remote chance that that update will conclude the city doesn't need more parkland? No.
Yes, higher fees will add to a builder's costs -- thousands of dollars in some parts of the city, depending on the value of nearby land. But will the amount immediately be tacked onto the price of a home? No way.
Home prices are determined not by allowing a fixed profit margin but by what people are willing to pay. That's as true of new homes as it is for re-sales.
In fact, fees that enable the city to purchase parkland are good for the development industry in the long run. If San Jose can't do a better job of meeting neighborhoods' needs for facilities such as parks, then it's only a matter of time before residents rebel against new housing.
The proposal on the table is well thought out. Besides setting fees at a fair level, it would revise the parks ordinance to allow more leeway for private recreational credits and more flexibility in how park funds can be used to improve recreation in the immediate area of a development -- which will add to property value.
Buying parkland isn't San Jose's only challenge. Failure to maintain its existing parks has become a municipal embarrassment. Fortunately, some good ideas are surfacing to remedy that failure, including letting developers and adjacent homeowners take over caring for parks in some cases.
But that doesn't change the need to add parkland as we add more homes and more residents. Waiting for the maintenance problem to be solved before buying more parkland would be like placing a moratorium on home building until existing neighborhoods have everything they need.
San Jose has an excellent record of approving housing in and near existing neighborhoods, often despite protests by some neighbors. To justify continuing this important accomplishment, it has to make sure builders, not existing homeowners, pay for streets, sidewalks, all the things that the new residents will need -- including a park or a trail nearby.
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