The City of Santa Monica may never know what happened to a study conducted in the 1990s that would have prompted a transportation impact fee which might have brought the city almost $45 million, but it has decided to finally put the issue to rest.
“I don’t think it’s worth dwelling a lot on what occurred back then,” said Councilman Ken Genser at a recent City Council meeting. “I think what’s important is going forward. If people want to focus on the money that was allegedly left on the table, then we can do that, but I don’t know how productive it will be.”
The issue of transportation impact fees came to light several months ago when supporters of Measure T — an initiative that would have capped commercial development but failed in this month’s election — brought up the missing study.
After the Santa Monica City Council adopted an ordinance creating a transportation impact fee in 1991, the city contracted with Meyer, Mohaddes Associates (MMA) to prepare the study.
It was to “provide the basis for actually setting the amount of the fee and thereby implementing the ordinance,” said city attorney Marsha Moutrie.
However, no fee was ever set. And the last mention of a transportation impact fee was in 1996, until earlier this year, when the council directed city manager Lamont Ewell and Moutrie to determine what work was done pursuant to the council’s adoption in 1991 of the ordinance creating a transportation impact fee.
Subsequent research found that work on the nexus study continued into 1994, but no documents were located reflecting work done during the two years following April 1996, Moutrie said.
The last piece of documentation the city could find was a December 24th, 1994 memo from Meyer, Mohaddes Associates to the city summarizing the company’s conclusions and explaining that recent developments in the law would make it very difficult to impose a fee that included a substantial share of costs related to transit system improvements. No documents were located after that time.
Councilman Kevin McKeown asked if former staff members had been contacted about the study, but Moutrie said they had not been, as she and Ewell were directed by the City Council to review the paper records.
Moutrie did say, though, “I joined [the City of Santa Monica] in ’94 and don’t remember this ever rising to the council level after ’94.”
Genser added, “I was around and I don’t remember why this fell off the work plan myself. I just don’t have any clear memory of it.”
He believes that it is reasonable to assume that the course of work may have changed because of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
Either way, the nexus study was never brought before the council.
However, a new nexus study is in the works.
“We have a nexus study that will be under way and we’ll be focused on making sure that report comes back to you and complete,” said Ewell.
McKeown pointed out, “Because we’re about to adopt a new Land Use and Circulation Element that will be heavily dependant on the effective collection of fees like this to accom- plish the transportation goals that we’ve articulated from the council, we need to make sure we know how to make it work this time.”
Ewell is confident that will not be a problem.
“I think the lesson learned here is proper tracking and follow-up and accountability within the organization, and that’s something you can hold me accountable to, so I don’t anticipate having this happening again,” he said.
McKeown added, “Certainly, this has been a wake-up call for us and I think, to that extent, we should be grateful this happened.”
He continued, “We’ve learned something and I think knowledge is always of value to government.”