California School News — June 2017
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SummerHill Winchester V. Campbell USD

Assessing fees for new housing developments in school districts

A case currently before the California Court of Appeal, Sixth District, SummerHill Winchester, LLC v. Campbell Union School District, could create a precedent that would make it more difficult and more expensive for school districts to impose statutory fees on developers to accommodate additional students generated by new housing developments.

Education Code section 17620 and Government Code 65995 provide authority for school districts to add three different levels of developer fees to new construction projects within a school district’s boundaries. School districts may assess Level 1 fees for residential, commercial and industrial construction as long as the district’s Developer Fee Justification Study justifies the amount. The California Legislature has recognized that residential development in California generates students who must be accommodated in the local public schools, and allows school districts to impose school facilities fees on new developments to mitigate this impact on school districts.

Before taking action to impose fees, a school board must conduct a fee justification study that: (1) identifies the purpose of the fee and how it will be used; (2) determines a reasonable relationship between the fee’s use and the type of development project on which the fee is imposed; (3) determines a reasonable relationship between the need for the public school facility and the type of development; and (4) determines a reasonable relationship between the amount of the fee and the cost of the public school facility.

The central issue in this case is that a developer is building homes in a school district that has exceeded student capacity in its school facilities. After Campbell USD experienced a dramatic increase in enrollment and began exceeding its student capacity, the district commissioned a justification study and began imposing Level 1 fees in 2012. The homes built by SummerHill Winchester will generate students who will attend Campbell USD, contributing to overcrowding at district schools.

The trial judge in the case found deficits in the fee study, improperly applying a heightened standard to the school district’s Level 1 developer fee study, and as a result, ordered Campbell USD to refund all fees paid by the developer: $499,976.96, with an additional $101,403.21 in interest. The trial court found that: (1) the fee study’s statement that “in excess of” 133 homes were anticipated to be built was not an adequate methodology to describe the total amount of new housing needed; (2) the fee study’s estimate that the number of students to be generated by the development was “in excess of” 67 students was not adequate methodology to estimate the number of students generated by the new development; and (3) the fee study did not adequately calculate the costs to house new students generated by the development because the costs were not based on actual construction plans for new school facilities. Campbell USD is arguing on appeal that the trial court’s decision is contrary to existing case law with respect to the use of projections for housing units expected, students generated and estimates of facilities costs.

CSBA and the Education Legal Alliance will file an amicus brief in the case in support of Campbell USD. The case has the potential to put additional restrictions on districts’ assessing Level 1 fees. The restrictions would create unnecessary burdens and costs for districts, and potentially limit districts’ ability to assess fees on new developments.