The Santa Monica City Council has approved an ordinance that will establish a Child Care Linkage Fee for the development of childcare centers in the city.

The action, which passed with a 5-2 vote, came after the second and final reading of the ordinance at the council’s meeting Tuesday, December 5th.

Councilman Bob Holbrook and mayor pro tem Herb Katz voted against the ordinance. At the meeting, Katz said he wanted to make clear that he doesn’t oppose childcare, “but the amount of money on this, which I think is exorbitant.”

The “linkage” or mitigation fee will “ensure that developers of new workplace and residential developments mitigate the increased demand for childcare,” said city officials.

Recognizing the importance of early childhood development, the council authorized Keyser Marston to prepare a study analyzing the linkage between new development and the need for childcare facilities in 2003, said Andy Agle, assistant director of the City of Santa Monica Planning and Community Development Department.

“The report shows a clear link between development and the demand for childcare and collected data to support the adoption for the linkage fee,” Agle said.

In October 2005, the Santa Monica Child Care Task Force reviewed the Keyser Marston study and recommended adoption of the linkage fee, and in December of 2005, the planning commission did the same thing, Agle said.

Then, in April of this year, the council directed staff to prepare an ordinance implementing the Child Care Linkage Fee.

The linkage fee would be $5.27 per square foot for office space development, $3.77 per square foot for retail development, and $2.64 per square foot for hotel space.

For residential development projects that result in the addition of a dwelling unit, the linkage fee would be a flat $111 per dwelling unit.

“The fees will be adjusted annually for construction inflation,” Agle said.

For the first five years, the fees will be dedicated to funding the Early Childhood Education Center at the city’s civic center.

“On behalf of all our members, I’d like to share our excitement that the Child Care Linkage Fee is here before you for a vote,” said Patti Oblath, co-chair of the Santa Monica Childcare and Early Education Task Force at the first reading of the ordinance at the November 28th City Council meeting. “As you know, instituting this fee has been a major goal of the task force for a long time.

“We applaud this huge step to insure that there is adequate space for our younger children to attend high quality, early care in education programs. We look forward to a positive vote to establish the Child Care Linkage Fee program.”

Oblath did say, however, that the task force did not believe the fee should apply to residential development.

Of the linkage fees, Councilman Ken Genser said, “It’s about time. Let’s get this thing moving forward. I’d like to move the staff recommendation.”

Councilman Kevin McKeown, who was also supportive of the fee, acknowledged the members of the task force “who have donated their time for many years to help make this happen.”

“And the issue they have illuminated for us is the crucial importance of making a commitment to excellent care and education in the very earliest years of life for every child in Santa Monica,” he said.

But Councilmen Holbrook and Bobby Shriver had some questions and concerns about the fee at the November 28th meeting.

Holbrook was troubled that the linkage fee did not apply to all residential developments, for example, affordable housing units, government facilities, senior citizen and community care facilities, daycare centers, and buildings used for religious worship (churches, temples, synagogues).

“It just seems strange that the people who are building the largest units that will be bringing a lot of children into the city will not be paying a fee for childcare,” he said.

Holbrook said he would rather there be no fee on any residential development — a view shared by the task force.

He also thought the fees were “just too high.”

“I mean, they’re three to five times higher than any other city in the State of California,” he said.

Many cities in California charge commercial developers $1 per square foot.

Agle acknowledged that the Santa Monica fees are “substantially higher” than other cities in California, but pointed out that some cities — like San Francisco — are re-addressing their current fees and he anticipates that these cities will adopt similar fees to Santa Monica’s range.

Like Holbrook, Shriver was also concerned about the fees being much higher than most cities in California.

“I’m always a little worried where we’re 500 percent higher than every other person in the entire state,” he said. “I’m a complete supporter of aggressive childcare, so I think it’s a great thing to do.

“And at the same time, I think that being 500 percent higher than everybody else in the state of California is a pretty aggressive posture, not that we shouldn’t be aggressive, not that Santa Monica isn’t a leader and so forth, but it’s a little nervous-making for me. I don’t feel wildly comfortable being that much higher.” But Shriver voted in favor of the ordinance.

Mayor Richard Bloom said the council should take some comfort in the fact that members haven’t received e-mails and letters in opposition to the mitigation fee.

“I’m very comfortable with the fee where it is,” Bloom said. “It’s been studied rigorously. This has been really totally vetted in the community, and all the parts of the community are aware of it and nobody is complaining. A lot of people are cheering about it.”

Councilwoman Pam O’Connor wasn’t concerned about the fees either, “because they’re relative to rise in property value,” she said. “These costs will be keeping pace with real costs in the marketplace, so I think this also reflects what it will take to get and achieve the outcomes of childcare facilities in the future.”

Genser didn’t think the $111 flat fee was too much for residential developers.

“If we don’t charge these fees, then we are either not going to have sufficient childcare facilities in this city or we’re going to have to subsidize those childcare facilities with public dollars,” Genser said.