Guest Opinion - How the Elk Grove City council knowingly created our traffic congestion, and who will ultimately pay to fix it?

The proposed Whitelock Parkway-Highway 99 interchange, which is planned to relieve Elk Grove traffic congestion has not been properly funded by development fees that the city is supposed to collect from developers. | 

By Lynn Wheat | 

    The city of Elk Grove incorporated July 1, 2000. As a 33-year resident, I can personally attest to the changes as our population has grown from about 81,000 to 175,000 residents.

One obvious change is the increase in traffic and the growing wait times at traffic signals. However, what is not generally known is that for the past 20 years, the Elk Grove City Council has followed a deliberate policy of not requiring new development plans to include full mitigation of the traffic impacts, essentially approving the congestion we have today.

Elk Grove, like most cities, accommodates new growth by identifying the impact new development will create, (i.e. water, sewer, emergency services, parks, schools, traffic, etc.).  Through a combination of requiring developers to install new facilities and to pay impact fees, the hope is for mitigation of the impact on existing residents. Impact fees charged to developers are based on identifying future needs with a fee structure established accordingly, and adjusted periodically to keep pace with construction costs. Sounds good in theory, right?

The City Council has known for at least 17 years, when it adopted its first General Plan in 2003, that an interchange would be needed at Whitelock Parkway/Highway 99 to relieve congestion on the other major east-west thoroughfares.

At the City Council meeting on Sept. 23, the city staff reported that the current cost estimate for that interchange is $102.5 million, but only $10.7 million has been collected in impact fees. The report states that the remaining $91.8 million will have to come from grants and future impact fees if the interchange is to be built.

To make matters worse, the City Council has essentially adopted a blanket waiver in its General Plan which exempts all major projects from having to fully mitigate their traffic impact. By adopting what is known as “Findings of Overriding Consideration,” the City Council has stated that the economic benefits of new development outweigh the impacts on traffic congestion.  

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And in case you have found yourself struggling to find a parking space in some of our shopping centers, senior housing, and other apartment projects, the Elk Grove Planning Commission and City Council have also regularly granted “parking deviations,” which allows developers to not comply with the zoning code requirement for on-site parking.

I realize that developers would like to maximize building density and keep their development fees as low as possible. However, what we are then left with is a city that manages growth by undercharging developers and hoping for future grants or a tax increase to make up the shortfall. To be fair, this is not just a City Council problem either. We also hear that the Cosumnes CSD hopes voters will support a tax increase because they do not have enough money to maintain all of their parks.

Improving traffic congestion seems to be a major talking point during every city election, even from City Council and Planning Commission incumbents who helped perpetuate the problem!

My solution is simple: Reset the Roadway Impact Fee on all new development to take into account all of the necessary improvements identified to reduce traffic congestion, including the new Eschinger Road/Hwy 99 interchange as well as the 2,900-acre boundary expansion the city is currently working on.

I realize that the call for “relaxed standards and lower fees” makes good political sense, but I also know that we residents want our quality of life protected as well. I’m not against growth or economic development, but let’s be smart about it. We can do better, and we deserve better!

Lynn Wheat is a candidate for Elk Grove's District 3 city council seat. 

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1 comment

Steve L said...

Finally, a candidate offering solutions to our real problems instead of mudslinging their opponent(s).
Ms Wheat shows a deft understanding of real problems, ignored for years.
She has this family’s votes.

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