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It is no longer about jobs for Mantecans

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POSTED March 2, 2010 2:03 a.m.
The Manteca City Council – contrary to anyone’s expectations – is not the Federal Reserve Board. Nor are they, thank goodness, Congress.

They really have no magical power to steer the economy one way or another. The council, though, can make the community more business friendly with the intent to bring more jobs which means more employment and a better standard of living whether it is for those struggling to simply survive or looking to climb the prosperity ladder.

Tonight the council will examine four proposals aimed at encouraging new housing development. To understand how this started, it was out of a concern expressed by Mayor Willie Weatherford that the city should – if they could – come up with ways to try to get people back to work.

Manteca has a 15 percent unemployment rate. It also is the hot spot for home building in the Northern San Joaquin Valley with 304 homes built last year. That’s 38 times more homes than Modesto built last year.

It seemed a noble enough of an idea. But that direction soon morphed into getting housing starts pumped up with the idea it will then help generate jobs. It is much different than generating jobs for Manteca residents by using the new housing market to do so.

At one point in the council housing subcommittee that included much of the home building community in attendance, it was pointed out that an informal city survey showed that hardly any of the workers they found building homes in Manteca were actual Manteca residents. This was a subtle point that apparently was lost on a lot of people including council members Vince Hernandez and Debby Moorhead who were serving on the subcommittee.

Instead, the building community managed to steer the debate into an issue of how high fees were stifling building in Manteca. So you understand that with Manteca’s fees being called the highest around and supposedly squeezing the life out of the new housing industry, Manteca built 304 homes last year, Modesto 8 and Tracy even less.

The tragedy of all of this is the one builder who uses almost 100 percent local sub-contractors, Raymus Homes, doesn’t have any finished lots of consequence to build production homes on and literally needs a somewhat easier upfront cost to opt to spend millions of dollars to break ground on a new subdivision. It is because people like the Raymus siblings who aren’t building that is hurting a lot of Manteca-based sub-contractors who’ve either gone belly-up or have had to lay off scores of people.

You probably wouldn’t have to worry about Raymus using Manteca firms should they start building again if the collection of sewer allocation certainty fees dubbed “bonus bucks” were held in abeyance through June 13, 2015.

Then again the city really doesn’t have the authority to tell developers who they should use – or do they?

A funny thing about those bonus bucks is that they were negotiated on individual agreements with developers. No other city has such an animal. It is a leverage given by the developers that once the council lets it go it’s gone.

There is a solution that the subcommittee never explored because they were too busy being indoctrinated into the possibility the housing market could still slide off into the Pacific Ocean and disappear altogether. Yes, that’s a possibility as things aren’t what they used to be economically but then just about any option is possible. Nobody has a crystal ball.

The solution is simple. Collect the bonus bucks but then reimburse a builder a set amount if they – or a subcontractor– uses a worker with a verifiable Manteca residence at the close of escrow. Make it reasonable so if they use let’s say 10 workers they can wipe out the bonus buck obligation.

Normally that would be a bit too intrusive for most people’s likings including myself. But what is being asked is for Manteca to give up the gold. Yes, holding on to the promise of gold may not do Manteca any good if things deteriorate but the real objective here is supposedly putting Manteca people to work and not simply building more new houses.

Manteca has something that the developers want which is the removal of the bonus buck hammer hanging over their heads.

If they want to play ball, then hire Manteca sub-contractors or make sure they have firms with Manteca-based workers. It may not seem fair to the unemployed in Stockton but this is a Manteca asset that is being sacrificed on the altar of stimulating housing construction jobs.

And if developers don’t like it and refuse to pay the bonus bucks, they can simply let the agreements lapse in two to four years and then build homes free of the requirement of paying bonus bucks.
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