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Once the bane of neighborhoods, they are an endangered species

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POSTED August 25, 2017 1:58 a.m.

The Manteca Canyons are fading fast.
That term entered Manteca’s political vernacular 17 years ago when city staff — hell-bent to carry out marching orders to minimize ongoing maintenance costs — rolled out the desert deluxe version of a corridor street along Fishback Road.
It was a sterile and stifling design for the ages. Curb to curb asphalt for a wide as the Mississippi River collector street with a deep sidewalk from curb’s edge to the base of a 7-foot sound wall with the obligatory tree wells designed to stunt street growth and plant the seeds for tripping hazards in the long haul. It also functioned well as a wind tunnel and litter magnet
Given how Union Road and Louise Avenue looked at the time, it was the piece de resistance when it was created as an inhumane, bland urban corridor designed to absorb heat in concrete and masonry blocks alike to allow the valley summer heat to bake pedestrians long after the sun went down.
When a developer — under the city’s grand plan — put in the first segment just south of Wawona Street near Sierra High, the response of nearby residents was swift and clear. They didn’t want their neighborhood, or Manteca for that matter, turning into a maze of asphalt and concrete corridors with a token stunted tree every 20 feet or so as they saw at the time along Union Road and Louise Avenue.
At one Planning Commission meeting a frustrated resident stood up and pleaded for the city to stop the spread of what she called “Manteca Canyons.”
The moniker struck a chord as voices in opposition to the city’s lack of sound wall development standards grew.
Neighbors succeeded in getting the City Council to trash plans for Fishback to serve as an emergency runway. They got the city’s first residential landscaped median complete with trees in front of homes being built on Fishback north of Daniels Street.
The city, true to form, treated the development of neighborhood design standards addressing sound walls as if it required a team of rocket scientists laboring for several years to devise.
Meanwhile the local builders — Raymus Development and Atherton Homes — devised the de facto community sound wall standards. Raymus’ standout contribution was to plant ivory and such on sound walls in Chadwick Square along Lathrop Road. The goal was to soften the look of the sound walls and eliminate graffiti easels.
Atherton re-introduced the 1930s era parking strips with a wider, 21st century flair along with deeper sound wall setbacks to allow meandering sidewalks where appropriate. They also worked with the city to put in landscape maintenance districts to make sure the common neighborhood improvements were maintained.
After almost four years from when the “no more Manteca Canyons” battle cry came from frustrated Manteca residents, the city finally incorporated most of what Atherton Homes and Raymus Homes had been doing into development standards when a non-local builder was pushing hard to extend the Manteca Canyon design in their project to reduce development costs.
Today, the city has picked up its game considerably. They have even gone back and worked on makeovers on Louise Avenue and Union Road where the Manteca Canyon concept was born.
The softer, more inviting, and human scale touches put in place 15 years ago have made Manteca more appealing and pleasant.
The Van Ryn Road corridor between Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue in South Manteca offers examples of the two primary ways sound walls are now being developed — meandering sidewalks on the east side flanked by extensive landscaping and six foot wide sidewalks on the west side that run along expansive landscaping.
Thanks to developers and the city working together and the city the following through, “established” post 1960s neighborhoods that started sprouting up 15 years ago look a lot nicer and are more pleasant to navigate on foot and in vehicle than their forerunners.

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