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Builders have Manteca’s lunch & forgo the ‘tip’

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POSTED August 22, 2014 1:36 a.m.

If you work as a waiter or waitress today the odds are overwhelmingly that you can’t keep yourself clothed, fed, and sheltered on what you make.

There was a time when you could struggle by on minimum wage, but the virtually universal move to slash hours below 30 a week so restaurants barely getting by on operating margins don’t have the added burden of health insurance has made tips all that more essential to a server’s survival.

That’s why Manteca Councilman Vince Hernandez using the analogy of tips and the price of a meal to explain away the council’s decision to give developers back $6.9 million in bonus bucks they committed to providing in exchange for building more homes that will put more financial strains on municipal services is so apropos. Hernandez’s take is that the price you pay for a meal is essentially what the city can legally charge in growth fees for things such as sewer and water capacity as well as parks and such. Tips are a bonus and therefore aren’t part of what a waiter needs to keep their head above water or the city being able to handle growth pressures.

Guess again. Well over two-thirds of the $41 million in bonus bucks the city has collected has gone directly to cover shortfalls caused by growth.

The $12.2 million general fund shortfalls over the past 15 years that bonus bucks helped cover can be directly tied to the fact growth added 20,000 more residents that the city had to provide services for. Obviously growth wasn’t generating enough revenue to pay for additional police and fire as well as park maintenance and street upkeep.

Sixty percent of the Union Road fire station and 100 percent of the Lathrop Road fire station were paid for with bonus bucks.

How could that be, you ask? Doesn’t the city have growth fees for fire facilities?

Yes, they do. But here’s a dirty little secret. The fire fee was kept artificially low throughout the 1990s. It didn’t budge from $350 per home. That meant the city added thousands upon thousands of new homes that didn’t pay their fair share for fire facilities creating a huge shortfall. How did this happen? It was pressure from developers not to increase the fire fee.

It gets worse. More than five years ago the city realized it may have to come up with more than $100 million locally to cover the interchange work needed to accommodate growth. Various models were made and none of them had the fee being less than $2,000 per home. Of course, the developers wanted it studied more. Then the city got distracted by other things such as the recession.

Now 1,500 plus housing units later, Manteca has basically lost at least $3 million in interchange fees that they cannot go back and collect.

This, in all honestly, is not the developer’s fault. It’s obvious they have backbone.

As for bonus bucks being collapsed into the price of new homes, here’s a news flash. As things stand today we’re back to a Bay Area buyers’ market for new homes. In other words, the bulk of new homes are being snapped up from people fleeing east over the Altamont Pass. They can afford the home prices with the bonus bucks collapsed in. And here’s a shocker: They are buying into a community and have expectations that certain amenities will be put in place. And with bonus bucks they were helping pay for them.

Not any more since the City Council Tuesday said hasta la vista to $6.9 million in bonus bucks by giving  developers a pass until Dec. 31, 2015 on  legally binding development agreements they signed not in the insane housing boom but in 2013 and earlier this year.

The council says they fear developers will build elsewhere if Manteca continues to collect bonus bucks. No joke. That’s what they contend.

Too bad the council doesn’t have an equal fear of not paying for everything Manteca needs with that list getting bigger because growth is taking place.

No problem. They’ve got that covered. They’ll just blame Sacramento.

The time has come for the community to revisit the 3.9 percent growth cap.

First, if bonus bucks are being taken off the table there needs to be a moratorium immediately on all new home construction until all maximum justified growth-related fees are put in place. This is reasonable because the Manteca City Council has historically used bonus bucks to backfill shortfalls in the accumulative collection of other growth fees.

Second, the growth cap needs to be adjusted downward to 2.5 percent and the rules changed. Currently the 3.9 percent is based on issuing sewer allocations per calendar year applied to a percentage of existing housing stock. That means 1,000 new homes can be approved each year but language allows any shortfall to carry over to the next year.

It should be changed to a standard growth rate of 2.5 percent. That would allow 600 new homes per year with the proviso they have to be started and allocations can’t rollover into another calendar year.

The growth cap as it stands now has become useless. Even without bonus bucks it can no longer effectively leverage quantity development on a point system. Builders get that. Too bad the people whose fate Manteca rests with do not.

And, by the way, most of those folks hammering away on new homes don’t live in Manteca. So exactly whose jobs are we “saving” by not “chasing” away new home builders with bonus bucks that just three months ago builders had no problem paying?

 

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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