HOME BUILDERS IN CENTRAL California are facing the nation's first air-pollution impact fee. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has adopted a new rule, set to begin March 1, that calls for developments of more than 50 units to pay fees ranging from $450 to $780 per unit, based on the air pollution expected from lawn maintenance, heating and cooling, and (especially) auto travel by homeowners.

To reduce or avoid fees, developers will have to take pollution-avoiding measures such as creating bike paths, siting near mass transit lines, and building mixed-use developments with services located within walking distance of homes.

District officials say the move is called for by the district's desperate air quality situation. The air in the valley ranks alongside Los Angeles' air as the worst polluted in the nation. The district, which includes the cities of Fresno and Modesto, has been cited by the EPA for “extreme noncompliance” with national clean-air standards.

HAZED OUT: San Joaquin Valley's air pollution (fuzzy gray band, left) is comparable to that in Los Angeles.
Courtesy NASA HAZED OUT: San Joaquin Valley's air pollution (fuzzy gray band, left) is comparable to that in Los Angeles.

But developers say it's unfair to single out new-home owners when people in existing homes also create air pollution. California BIA officials question the estimates of the pollution the measure would prevent and say they're considering a lawsuit to stop the new rule.

For their part, district officials would be just as glad to see developers avoid fees. Said official Tom Jordan to reporters, “We'd much prefer they build pollution-reducing features. ... The fee is almost a backstop.” top photo: courtesy nasa

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.