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Manteca council learns a lesson from rep of the ‘cold-hearted snake’

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POSTED March 21, 2014 11:47 p.m.

The time has come to stop treating home builders as if they are the most essential part of Manteca’s economy.

The Builders Industry Association of the Great Valley’s whining at this past week’s Manteca City Council meeting about a decision to end just one discount they get from the city for development fees is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

First, home builders submitting parcel maps, subdivision maps, and such are still getting them processed through the city at 60 percent of the actual cost to taxpayers. The discount that was dropped was for multiple submissions for entitlements for the same project.

In the dark days of the recession when the pressure was on to recover costs for services to keep municipal services afloat, the city opted to not do so with many development fees.

The rationale was pretty solid.

There were roughly 980 lots that had been developed to the point they had streets and all infrastructure in place so they were ready for homes to be built. They could be described as “infill” since the lots were already within established police beats, fire station coverage areas, and even municipal garbage routes. If the city added 200 more households annually it would generate enough water, sewer, and garbage fees to avoid increasing the cost to everyone else and laying off more municipal workers. At the same time, the equivalent of 600 new residents would generate taxes through spending in Manteca establishments, which in turn would help the municipal general fund and keep police and fire staffing stable.

What happened? Instead of 200 homes being built, 300 homes were built.

It is because two city decisions – keeping development fees down and putting bonus bucks that the developers agreed to pay that started at $8,000 per home and up in abeyance – that Manteca had more new housing units built for three years in a row than the rest of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties combined.

Even so, in the depth of the recession when the only new homes that would sell were less than 2,100 square feet, builders were losing money on each home built. The reason they still built was simple. They were able to pull money they had invested in upfront fees, land costs and infrastructure – one estimate put it at more than $250 million – out of the ground to pay off bank loans and stay afloat.

It was a tough sell for council members to make to the public that was getting financial hits at every turn due to the recession and implosion of the housing market.

It should be noted the little guy – someone replacing a water heater or an electrical panel – was being hit with fees that were significantly closer to covering the cost of processing them while the developers and builders got a break.

Second, the days are long gone when the new home building community in Manteca was dominated by local firms such as Atherton Homes and the Raymus family, which built virtually every home in  town and hired almost exclusively local subcontractors that tended to employ people from Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon and not Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Those reduced fees directly put people to work but not a lot of Manteca residents.

On the flip side, a large number of Manteca families, individuals and local investors that bought foreclosed homes and fixed them up or remodeled them, tended to hire local firms to do the work. And the lion’s share of their employees were from Manteca.

Yet no one gave them as big a break on city processing fees as the home building community got.

It goes without saying growth, when done right, helps the Manteca economy and community stay vibrant.

But growth when it is being subsidized by the general fund can take money away from everything from repairing deteriorating streets to modernizing the library to providing more police and fire protection.

What the home building industry did via their representative at the council meeting Tuesday night was akin to the lyrics of Al Smith’s 1970s standard “The Snake.”

 

“Take me in, oh tender woman

Take me in, for heaven’s sake

Take me in oh tender woman,” sighed the snake


Now she clutched him to her bosom,”You’re so beautiful,” she cried

But if I hadn’t of brought you in by now you might have died.

Now she stroked his pretty skin and then she kissed and held him tight.

But instead of saying thanks, that snake gave her a vicious bite. . .


. . . “I saved you,” cried that woman

“And you’ve bit me even, why?

You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”

“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin

“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

 

In the real world there are political repercussions. And if you’re perceived by many in the general public as a snake and then prove to them that you are, don’t be shocked if the people they elect actually start treating you like a cold-hearted snake. 

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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