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Don’t recreate Modesto’s Village 1 debacle in Manteca

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POSTED February 13, 2010 1:48 a.m.
Modesto has a population of 202,000 residents.

Manteca has a population of 67,000 residents.

Modesto had 8 new homes start construction in 2009

Manteca had 304 new homes start construction in 2009.

How can a city one third the size of Modesto just 15 miles away have 38 times the housing starts?

One real big reason is Manteca is a better sell due to a proliferation of amenities and – even though at times I’d debate whether it is good enough - solid planning.

Every city around Manteca has developers with “stranded” money in the ground in the form of at least $100,000 per finished lot that can’t be retrieved unless a home is built. The reason why builders are willing to lose $5,000 or so per house when fees and actual construction costs are factored in is simple. They’d rather lose $5,000 than lose $100,000. Builders are in money management mode. How well they can financially forge the backside of The Great Recession will go a long way into determining whether they will survive to enjoy the day when the housing market gets back to normal.

The numbers are numbing. In the time period from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009 Manteca also led all Northern San Joaquin Valley jurisdictions in housing starts. Manteca has 237, Stockton 120, San Joaquin County 30, Lathrop 25, Lodi 1, Escalon 1, Ripon 0, and Tracy 0.

The statistics again scream one obvious question - what makes Manteca different?
Manteca’s location is definitely primo. Location alone doesn’t cut it or else Manteca by now would be larger than Modesto or Stockton.

Manteca’s success has everything to do with making the right moves – calculated risks accompanied by conservative projections – that have landed this community everything from Bass Pro Shops and its ability to lure 2.3 million consumers a year and the Big League Dreams sports complex that draws over 400,000 people per year.

But the right moves that even made that are much less flashy. It all started back about 13 years ago with the demise of Spreckels Sugar. Virtually everyone was writing off Manteca including nearby cities whose leaders acted like pallbearers in waiting while they systemically ravaged Manteca’s consumer dollar base by subsidizing the construction of such retail draws as West Valley Mall. That meant less money for Manteca to operate city services.

Credit elected Manteca leaders with the courage not to let the Greek chorus or worrying about their re-election by pandering to the anti-redevelopment agency crowd, with making the Manteca Miracle – the transformation of 320-acres that everyone else was wiring off as a blighted cancer sore on Manteca’s economy into a vibrant commerce center- work.

Manteca used Spreckels Park in turn to give RDA the financial power to benefit the entire community. At the same time Manteca was moving forward with aggressive plans to secure surface treatment water and decided not just to meet state mandates on wastewater upgrades as well as building for medium-range growth but decided to redesign the plant so future expansions would be less costly and time consuming. For this they were ridiculed by some Lathrop leaders who would tell developers Manteca was incompetent as it was taking Manteca 10 years to build a wastewater treatment plant that they could build in two years.

Manteca definitely doesn’t look incompetent now.

Now we come to a push to cut growth fees for a set period of time as well as to suspend bonus bucks paid by developers to secure sewer allocation certainty in order to give housing a needed boost in a bid to rev up the local economy.

Suspending the bonus bucks in some fashion that you get something in return for them such as at-market affordable housing in neighborhoods yet to break ground make sense. One quick and easy solution is to follow Ripon’s lead and have duplexes on corner lots designed to blend in with other houses with entrances and driveway on separate streets with each unit sold separately. Affordable housing doesn’t mean subsidized housing, it means other options that may cost less for qualified buyers to acquire other than single family homes starting at $300,000 on a 6,000-square-foot lot.

As for cutting growth fees to any degree, two words can provide the definitive answer: Village One.

Village One is the development debacle in Modesto where the city failed to collect adequate growth fees to cover parks, sewers, storm drains and other improvements to the tune of at least $47 million.

Slash Manteca’s growth fees and Manteca’s leadership – which looks pretty smart today – will ultimately send Manteca down the same path Modesto did with Village One leaving residents holding the bag.
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