Viewpoints

Atascadero residents should not be stuck with the cost of Eagle Ranch development

Take a tour of the 3,450-acre Eagle Ranch in Atascadero

Take a short tour of the 3,457-acre Eagle Ranch, owned by the Smith family of Ventura since 1964. The family has proposed developing the Atascadero ranch into a residential community with 494 single-family lots of at least 1 acre, 93 units of mult
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Take a short tour of the 3,457-acre Eagle Ranch, owned by the Smith family of Ventura since 1964. The family has proposed developing the Atascadero ranch into a residential community with 494 single-family lots of at least 1 acre, 93 units of mult

Hearings have begun in Atascadero on whether the city should annex the proposed Eagle Ranch project. Looking at all of the maps, pictures and proposed benefits of the development, some people may say, “What a great project!”

While serving on the Atascadero Planning Commission for seven years and the City Council for eight years, I was somewhat involved with the project getting to where it is today.

That process has taken close to nine years, mostly in an attempt to come up with an environmental impact report that may be acceptable.

On three occasions, I met with the owners of the ranch and their consultant. At each of those meetings, I said it appeared the project would not pencil out or, in other words, was not revenue neutral. They agreed.

I have always wondered why anyone would want to go forward and support what appears to be a failed project from the beginning. I still feel that way today.

Current Mayor Tom O’Malley is on record from a previous joint Planning Commission and City Council meeting stating that the Eagle Ranch project would have to be “revenue-neutral at a minimum.”

I, too, took that position.

One point of concern: In 1996, the incorporated cities in the county came to an agreement that if county property were to be annexed into a city, the county would retain two-thirds of the property tax revenue and the city would get one-third.

It has always been said that residential properties do not generate enough revenue from property taxes to support needed services.

Consider: With the base tax rate at 1 percent, owners of a home valued at $600,000 pay $6,000. From that amount, the city of Atascadero normally gets about 16 percent, or $960. But under the revenue-neutrality agreement, the county would retain two-thirds of that amount, leaving the city with just $320.

I have asked for years what the amount of tax would have to be in order for a residence to be revenue neutral. I have never received an answer because I think there is no answer.

The discussion of renegotiating the property tax issue with the county so that the city of Atascadero could receive its rightful share has been going on for years. To the best of my knowledge, nothing has changed.

Any change in the agreement has to be done in a public forum. It needs to be considered by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and requires a positive majority vote. (The Atascadero City Council also would have to approve a new revenue-neutrality agreement.)

Until that time, there should be no decision of any type on the Eagle Ranch project. At this time, the project is not revenue neutral.

Even if the county agreed to give Atascadero its full share of property tax revenue, it still appears the Eagle Ranch project in no way can come close to being able to cover future costs of the infrastructure and services it will require.

The city does not have a good record of structuring financial conditions for projects that require expensive improvements. For example, had the Wal-Mart project gone forward, taxpayers would have been left with an unfunded $8 million tab to complete the 101/Del Rio roundabouts.

People of Atascadero need to become proactive and require the city to disclose the financial agreements that will be in place between the city, the county and Eagle Ranch prior to any acceptance of any portion of the project.

This time, don’t settle for hearing the city say, “We have it handled.”

Should the city approve this without ample proof of revenue neutrality, the only ones to benefit will be a government bureaucracy that will require more taxes from all of us to support what they have approved — a financially negative project.

Bob Kelley is a former Atasacadero city councilman. He also served on the city’s Planning Commission.

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