April 23, 2007 - From the April, 2007 issue

Western Riverside COG Funds Construction of Local Roads Through Transportation Mitigation Fee

As Southern California grows more populous and more congested, land use planning and transportation planning are emerging as two sides of the same coin. But while many jurisdictions fail to draw crucial connections, western Riverside County is making sure that new development does not result in gridlock. MIR was pleased to speak with Rick Bishop, executive director of the Western Riverside Council of Governments, about WRCOG's up-and-running TUMF fee and its impact on the region's growth and mobility.

Rick Bishop

The marquee program of WRCOG has been the Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee (TUMF), which the jurisdictions of western Riverside County adopted to help fund transportation improvements to accommodate the region's tremendous population growth. How did these cities and the County of Riverside-which often don't find much common ground- come together to create and approve a TUMF?

First was the clear recognition of the significance of the growth that is occurring and will occur in western Riverside County-upwards of 900,000 more people will be coming here in the next three decades. Jurisdictions also recognized that growth was regional, and had an awareness that transportation behavior does not have anything to do with political boundaries. Second, and looking toward the subregion's long-term future, is a recognition that as homes are built in western Riverside County today, employment growth will certainly follow in the years to come. Once those jobs are in place we will need to have an adequate arterial highway system-not just freeways that often move commuters between counties-to move people around within the subregion. We hope that there will be fewer and shorter freeway trips, but the region will need a good internal road system to move people from their homes to more proximate jobs.

Not all of Riverside County is involved-just western Riverside cities. How did the member jurisdictions choose to regionalize themselves for hte purposes of the TUMF?

Riverside County is a geographically large and culturally diverse place. It extends all the way to the Arizona border, and there is a fairly clear physiographic division between the what is considered to be the western and the eastern portions of the subregion. The eastern portion is comprised of all of the jurisdictions east of Banning; this subregion is served by a council of governments known as the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, or CVAG. The Western Riverside Council of Governments serves all 14 of the western cities in the county as well as unincorporated county area. WRCOG's geographic scope spans generally from Banning in the east, to Temecula in the southwest, to Corona in the west. The WRCOG subregion is among the fastest growing areas in the United States.

Why did the region need a source of revenue for transportation infrastructure beyond what the feds, the state, and other local revenues provide?

As recent as 10 or 20 years ago, cities and counties received the majority of their road and freeway funding-around 75 percent-from state and federal agencies, with the balance coming from local sources. Today that has almost flip-flopped. Currently, roughly 75 percent of funding comes from local sources.

The voters in Riverside County passed a half-cent sales tax dedicated for transportation in 1988 and reauthorized it for another 30 years in 2002. But even the additional $4.5 billion that will come from the new sales tax measure isn't even close to what is needed here to mitigate the growth and move people and goods at reasonable levels. The TUMF program was conceived to bring in an additional $5 billion for improving the local arterials, and there's a transit portion as well. And even with TUMF, the sales tax, and funding from the state bond proceeds, it's still not enough to get what we really need.

What overarching problem compelled WRCOG's jurisdictions to create and participate in this program?

The major selling point-if that's what you want to call it-that everybody agreed on was that traffic, commuter behavior, and infrastructure needs are regional issues. A local jurisdiction's general plan might work at the scale of that locality, but when combined with a number of adjacent city and county general plans the cumulative effects of growth overwhelm the ability of any single jurisdiction to create a solution. When we looked at the subregion's projected growth and transportation infrastructure needs, it became pretty clear that these issues that would be extremely difficult to address at the local levels.

WRCOG jurisdictions also came to realize that there was no such thing as being a "donor jurisdiction" as far as providing funding to the program and not getting an "equal" amount of project funding back. They know that if funds contributed by them to the TUMF are programmed for projects outside the jurisdiction, their residents would still benefit based on the nature of commuter habits and travel patterns.

In this way, the elected officials who approved the TUMF were following the example already set by the Riverside County voters who approved the 1?2 sales tax. With the sales tax, there's no guarantee that dollars generated by sales tax revenue in a particular jurisdiction will be returned to that jurisdiction commensurately.

A new program such as this generally requires consensus on a number of important issues, such as whether a region-wide minimum or maximum fee is needed or whether fee variations by sub-region would better serve the member jurisdictions. How did WRCOG deal with these issues?

One aspect of WRCOG's TUMF is unique. The reauthorized county sales tax includes a provision that a TUMF in Riverside would need to be adopted by all jurisdictions in western Riverside county in order for those jurisdictions to receive road maintenance monies to be generated from the reauthorized measure. But the provision was silent regarding the nature, scope and application of the "future" TUMF Program.

Technically, TUMF could have been a minimal program, identifying and funding just a few arterials and not providing any true congestion relief. But using a committee of the subregion's public works directors, we spent more than two years examining the impacts of future growth, eventually assembling what we call our regional system of highways and arterials which became the road network upon which the TUMF program was based. That effort demonstrated a consensus across all the jurisdictions, and it helped our elected officials recognize the need for a comprehensive, big-time regional program.

WRCOG's regional network is substantial; it encompasses over 1,400 lane-miles of roads, 90 interchanges, 20 grade separations, 50 bridges, and 215 intersection improvements. And there's a pretty hefty price tag that accompanies those improvements. With all the public works directors working together to identify the system and its costs to break those costs down to fees that could ultimately be charged on new development, it was a pretty significant-and, at that time, scary-proposition.

However, the subregion's elected officials understood that if new development didn't mitigate its impacts, our transportation problems would get significantly worse without any guarantee of future funding from state or federal sources. The subregion would effectively confine itself and its future to intolerable congestion if leaders did anything other than establish a program at the highest levels possible. And they did.

The WRCOG subregion comprises 77 city council members and Board of Supervisors members, and 74 voted in favor of the program at the maximum amounts. Today, each new single-family home built in western Riverside County pays a TUMF fee of approximately $10,000. Non-residential uses pay fees on a square-footage basis based on the trip-generating characteristics of the use.


What exemptions does the mitigation fee include for developers who want to do the work themselves rather than pay the fee?

We know that a number of developers will build some TUMF facilities over time as conditions of approval imposed on them by the local jurisdictions. We created credit agreements to deal with that so that there's no double-dipping and no way that a developer would build facilities and then have to pay a TUMF fee as well. We actually prefer it when a developer builds a TUMF facility; it's faster in terms of getting this network built compared to if they just paid fees.

What about redevelopment? Is it exempt?

We don't have any provisions specifically for redevelopment. There are a number of program exemptions, and one in particular can be linked to redevelopment efforts and activities. For example, if an existing retail building is going to be torn down and replaced with anther retail building, no TUMF fee is required from that new development unless the new development has a greater number of square feet than the original structure. In that case fees are only applied to the additional footage, It's an incentive to build in areas that are underutilized-places that are often part of identified redevelopment areas.

Many developers required to pay the transportation mitigation fees may be concerned that the money collected actually goes to what's promised by their governmental jurisdiction. How do you make certain that those expectations are met?

It was important to develop an aspect of the TUMF that would provide "return-to-source" funding to jurisdictions. We grouped the subregion's 15 jurisdictions into five separate "zones" with each zone being comprised of two to four cities and the County of Riverside. Approximately 48 percent of the TUMF revenues collected by the jurisdictions in each of the five zones are returned to those zones for prioritization and programming of projects in those smaller areas.

We've created a committee process for the jurisdictions in each zone to get together with their public works directors, city managers, technical staff, and elected officials to prioritize TUMF Program expenditures within their zones. Of the remaining TUMF revenues, WRCOG is providing about 48 percent to the county transportation commission for the next few years for prioritizing and programming the program's larger-scale regional TUMF facilities. Additionally, approximately 3 percent goes to the Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) for capital transit improvements. All in all, it's proven to be a great way to distribute TUMF revenues for the larger regional arterials and at the same time provide dollars to guarantee that local TUMF facilities get built as well.

How does the TUMF encourage city collaboration and avoid competition over the size of the fees or locations of the projects?

I think that occurred through the marketing process for the program. This program started in earnest around 2000 and then was adopted in the middle of the calendar year in 2003, so a lot of that work had to occur just with educational meetings at all different levels-with chambers of commerce, builders, planning commissions, council members, environmental groups, and citizens.

We met hundreds of times over a two- or three-year period to make sure that we had as much input as possible and to make sure that we could disseminate as much information as possible so that there wouldn't be any surprises with what we were doing. And we have found during the first two or three years in implementing the program that when we get the jurisdictions together in their zones there haven't been any tough decisions to make about what projects get prioritized.

There's been strong consensus on where the major problems are and with what needs to happen first. Before TUMF, local jurisdictions didn't have any money to argue about how to spend it. Now, with the program in place, it's been great for the jurisdictions to be able to decide what to build because now there's an incredible funding source in place money. $400 million has come to the Program in the first three years. Establishing a uniform fee was a great approach, because it disadvantaged no jurisdiction in terms of any "competition" that might exist with neighboring jurisdictions in terms of fee structures, economic development efforts and the like.

In the three years since the program began, what progress have you made on actually implementing the fees and mitigating congestion?

One of the best success stories about this program is that it was developed by the public works directors from scratch starting in 2000. There weren't any shelf-ready projects that had all the levels of entitlement, all the rights of way acquired, or all the environmental studies completed. In just three short years not only has the program received about $400 million in revenue, but more impressively, 14 TUMF projects have already been completed, and 77 projects are underway. In all we have about 140 projects, currently valued at $900 million, programmed; about half of them are scheduled to start construction within the next five years. It's a successful program because of the diversity of the jurisdictions, the uniform application of the fee, and I think the thing we're most proud of is that things are already getting programmed and built.

You were a speaker and guest recently at one of L.A. Metro's PAC meetings on effort to create a program similar to WRCOG's TUMF in L.A. County. What did you observe? What unique challenges does L.A. County face in trying to do what WRCOG has done?

I think L.A.'s challenges aren't significantly different than what occurred in western Riverside County. Like Riverside, Los Angeles has a number of diverse jurisdictions are in different phases in their evolution. The one obvious difference is just the sheer size of Los Angeles compared to western Riverside. In western Riverside county it was easier to develop a one-size-fits-all approach. L.A. can certainly benefit from implementing a program similar to that developed by WRCOG, but in the end they will need to make it work for them. They might try to go with a uniform approach across the board, or it might be beneficial to break the county into smaller subregions, identifying infrastructure needs, forecasting growth, and assessing fees accordingly.



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