Pittsburg council members voted to ask a regional environmental agency to get an outside review of its proposal to hike wetland mitigation fees charged to developers after a company that is part of the embroiled Seeno family's construction empire objected to the higher fees.
As a result of Monday night's 5-0 vote, a recommendation will be made to the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy to have an outside review of the data it used to come up with the updated mitigation fees for Pittsburg, Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley and unincorporated county areas.
"I think we would be remiss if we did not take a second look at this," council member Pete Longmire said before the vote.
Conservancy board members will take up Pittsburg's action at a July 26 meeting.
Concord-based Discovery Builders Inc. has challenged the Conservancy's new wetland mitigation and development fees -- saying they are based on inaccurate data and do not take into account declines in land values -- in a series of public hearings held earlier this year in Pittsburg. In a Jan. 17, 2012, letter to the city, Albert D. Seeno III, president of Discovery Builders, said the wetland mitigation fees "are all significant changes that will result in substantial fee increases."
The letter suggested there should be at least a 25 percent across-the-board-reduction in fees instead of any increases.
"What should be reflected in this adjustment is a substantial across
Before the vote, Louis Parsons, a representative of Discovery Builders, questioned the validity of the wetland mitigation fees that are being proposed.
"Regardless of its biotic value (on a parcel of land), you still have to pay to mitigate," he said.
John Kopchik, the Conservancy's executive director, said the goal of habitat conservation is to "treat all property as mitigation for lost habitat and not fight about what species are where."
The fees are applied to wetlands acreage where development takes place and are used to help buy and restore wetlands outside of the developed area.
The updated fees were adopted by the Conservancy in July 2011, but need to be officially approved by the cities and county before they can go into effect. Pittsburg is the first jurisdiction to take up the new fees.
Under the Conservancy's proposal, per-acre mitigation fees for a seasonal wetland would increase from $191,445 to $245,000, or a 28 percent increase.
The Conservancy contends that the updated wetland mitigation fees are justified because of higher costs to restore wetlands. It also points out that while most wetland fees have risen, overall development fees, which make up the majority of fees collected and that apply to all projects, have actually declined under the Conservancy proposal.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189.