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Letter: On the costs of educating our children

“There he goes, again,” as Reagan used to say. This time “he” is the vice president of a local home building company. Every few years he seems to dust off his previously published letters to the editor complaining about an increase in developer fees and then resubmits.

Let’s start with something that tends to get lost in some of these gripes in writing: the facts and the law. California law allows school districts to assess homebuilders with certain fees related to school districts costs associated with the new homes. Why? Because the developers sell these homes (for profit) to homebuyers. Many homebuyers have school-age children. Those kids go to our schools. It costs school districts money to provide facilities and otherwise educate them. It costs a lot of money.

We all benefit from this cycle of growth. But the reality is that school bonds and developer fees historically do not cover the entire cost of educating our community’s children. The law recognizes that by calling these fees “mitigation fees,” mitigation, by definition, only reduces the severity of the cost of new development to the school district. It doesn’t cover the whole tab. And the laws are very clear in regard to what these monies can and cannot be used for.

So who would pay for the costs if not for these fees? It doesn’t appear that the developer is of a mind to make a sizeable donation, does it?

And these new homes don’t just impact our schools. Our new neighbors need water in their homes. They need the waste that they create to be removed. They need roads to drive on. They depend on local law enforcement to protect and serve, and prosecute, and on and on. The city and the county, and in some cases the state, must plan for these additional demands on infrastructure and services and provide for them. And when developers build new homes, increasing these needs for public infrastructure and services, our taxes go up. It’s a fact of life.

He also criticizes the City of Madera’s choices in spending money for new developments that he, apparently, is not associated with. As I recall, he had no complaints when taxpayer monies went from the taxpayers through the City of Madera’s Redevelopment Agency into his pockets when he built homes south of Yosemite Avenue. I don’t criticize the program that helped low income buyers realize the American Dream of home ownership in Madera. Personally, I liked the idea. It paid for itself as people bought those new homes and “repaid” the city RDA. I wish Gov. Brown had left the Madera RDA alone.

But I do criticize the developer’s hypocrisy, his failure to support his generalizations with facts, and his repeatedly self-serving approach to his reality.

I also criticize the falsehood of his statement about the Madera County Arts Council. He said that MUSD “then turned around and gave taxpayers’ money earmarked for the schools to the Arts Council…” Not true. I was on the Board of Directors of the Arts Council during the time in question. One would hope that a developer who pretends to wear a superhero costume for the poor, the disenfranchised and the taxpayers of our community would tell the truth.

The school district, the county and the city on a one-time basis pooled resources in an attempt to determine whether a multicultural arts center would be feasible in downtown Madera. The project would host musicals, plays, dances, and other performing arts. It would serve as a site for reunions, weddings, service club fundraisers, and other public functions. It would be used by schools, community organizations, and outside performers. The downtown improvement project would also help improve parts of Yosemite Ave, east of Gateway.

If feasible to do (and that is yet to be determined), the cost of the construction and maintenance of that project would overwhelmingly come from private donations and one-time grants. As an example, the Arts Council is holding approximately $3 million from a Secara Family donation to be spent towards this project.

The three entities dispersed their monies to the Arts Council so that the Arts Council would keep track of costs and pay the bills associated with that study. It did so. None of the monies were given to the Arts Council for the Arts Council to keep.

If this project ever gets built, it will be for the benefit of everyone who lives in our community. It will attract others to the community for events held at the center. It will bring additional tax revenues to Madera. It will certainly be a reason to focus on the positive side of our community if you are thinking of relocating to Madera.

But the developer describes Madera as a community from which well paid local public workers choose to live across the San Joaquin River. He says that my home community looks “like a ghetto with dead lawns, dead trees and weeds popping up on previously nice-looking residential properties and streetscapes”. He also talks about “stagnate demographics”. If I were thinking of moving to a new community, I would read the local newspaper on line. Thank you for your description of our community, vice president.

Does this mean that he is completely wrong? Of course not. Every community has its eyesores and issues. But we deal with them by electing people with a vision and a plan to improve our town. We volunteer through our service clubs. We pay the monies needed to get the job done.

What we don’t do is bitch and moan every time we don’t get our way.

The developer laments that Madera is no longer the cute, small community that it was. Isn’t that the point of development?

When my wife and I moved here 41 years ago, we both had jobs in the community. I joined the Madera Lions Club and the Madera District Chamber of Commerce. We met a lot of people who had been here for a while: Massetti, Berry, Cappellutti, Lopez, Cadenazzi, Perialas, Vizcarra, Favini, Furman, Basila, Skeels, Smith, Wilkins, Gonsales, Saunders, Peters, Sagouspe, Gill, Pia, Marchetti, Rigby, Manfredi, Oberti, Martinazzi, Alessini, Mariscotti, Kennedy, Pistoresi, Chezick, Giersch, and many, many more.

Don Spangler asked me to join the Madera Lions Club the day before his partner Herb McClure asked me to join the Madera Rotary Club.

But I don’t want to leave out an interesting gentleman who owned and operated a store on Yosemite Avenue in downtown Madera. His name was Bruno. Bruno had some physical challenges that may have affected his personality, to be polite. But I liked him. We got along well. We could make each other laugh.

My point is that these people welcomed us with open arms. Then my wife and I started going to the chamber’s Farmer of the Year awards. We heard about how would-be farmers and ranchers came to Madera from the old country before WWII or came back to Madera after WWII with nothing but a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed. Farmers and ranchers who were already here helped them buy land, lent them tools and equipment to plant and harvest crops, and sometimes helped do the work, too. It was a cooperative community effort.

Given the contentious nature of our country today, hearing this part of the history of Madera is enough to bring tears to one’s eyes.

Andrew, Yakligian, Pool, Thomas, Baker, Coulthard, Cosyns, Bitter, Sordi, Buchenau, Secara, Deniz, McKinney. Just a few of those recognized.

Madera is about the quality of its people. Does our downtown need improvement? Absolutely. Lots of it. Are there other areas to be upgraded in Madera? Of course. There always is. And we should have informed, intelligent and respectful debates about the directions in which we might take Madera.

But quality people who care about their community work together to make it better. They volunteer. They help others quietly without seeking fame or fortune because it’s the right thing to do. There is a certain can do spirit and dignity to what has been accomplished by those that I’ve mentioned, named and unnamed.

The seventeen years that I spent working with others to get that new courthouse in downtown Madera didn’t happen overnight. Naysayers, including judges, had to be ignored. And we had to work cooperatively with people in our community and around the state to make it happen. But we did it. Maderans did it. And with the right attitude, we can continue to improve our community.

— Charles A. Wieland,

Retired Madera County Superior Court Judge

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