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Council needs to rethink Manteca LMDs

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POSTED July 16, 2010 2:21 a.m.
Richard Behling believes government has no business being in landscape maintenance.

The Manteca City Council hopeful is critical of the city’s move last year to “take over” the operation of the landscape maintenance districts (LMDs) in order to save municipal jobs.

He would like to see any future LMDs that are created to be private and not controlled by the city government.

Behling’s position underscores two irrefutable points. First, the city had no qualms with the quality of the work the private contractors did before the budget crisis hit as they never interfered on a large scale. Two, by simply shifting the jobs to city workers and billing the LMDs accordingly the city has essentially abandoned any sense of pretense that they are about delivering first and foremost the most efficient value to dollars collected from the various people who pay into the LMD.

Behling is driven by the philosophy that planting trees and shrubbery to beautify sound walls isn’t an essential government function. He does note, though, that there is a desire to do something to soften the looks of sound walls and that the people with the biggest investment both moneywise and even in terms of aesthetics are the people who would buy homes in such neighborhoods. One option, Behling suggested, is that the people impacted by the LMDs may want to do the work themselves.

While it might be tough to get people to volunteer to keep up such LMDs in their neighborhood, Behling is definitely on to something.

For years, Manteca has shied away from creating homeowners associations (HOA) after the Magna Terra HOA that included support of a cabana and pool fell apart. The city has another one in the Trailwoods neighborhood that maintains a community swimming pool and greenbelt, parks that has had a fair amount of success.

It is time for Manteca to revisit such private maintenance concerns especially since the two more successful “LMDs” in Manteca in terms of upkeep and cost aren’t city run. They are the Spreckels Park concern that is responsible for common landscaping on the Spreckels Avenue corridor and Del Webb at Woodbridge.

There is obviously a way to create “private LMDs” that are much more cost efficient and can operate successfully year after year. If you doubt that just visit a Del Webb community 20 or 30 years after sales are over and Pulte Homes has pulled out. The neighborhoods look virtually brand new and all maintenance is well kept.

The cost efficiency is a matter of eliminating the middle man which in this case is the city. You will note the municipal LMDs still have a consulting firm doing part of the work in terms of assessments and such. It is mighty nice the firm has held their price for a couple of years. The truth, though, is there are ways of doing what the LMDs is doing just as nice and for less money.

If you don’t believe that compare the Del Webb costs of maintaining landscaping along Union Road versus the city’s cost estimates.

There are two additional positives about moving in the direction that Behling suggests.

First, the city obviously can’t go back and un-ring the bell. The current LMDs are what they are. Either they are maintained by city workers or firms that the city contracts with. That means there is no concern over losing municipal jobs to get in the way of making a change for the better although Behling is correct city leadership shouldn’t be concerned about saving jobs but instead should be concerned about delivering the most effective and cost efficient services possible.

The other advantage is you could create a Del Webb-style requirement for new neighborhoods minus the recreation center that covers property maintenance and gives teeth to the covenants, conditions and restrictions CC&Rs. The Del Webb model retains a private firm to enforce the CC&Rs that are designed to prevent property from going into disrepair and blight settling in which contribute to property declines and increase the cost of municipal services by planting the seeds from crime and such.

Right now CC&Rs adopted by the city with developments they approve are a big joke just as they are in all California cities. Municipal governments do not enforce them. Of course they tell you that you have civil recourse. Given the fact that costs money to simply make your neighbor follow the rules they agreed to follow plus the fact that getting court dates in San Joaquin County for civil matters can age you a few years, the paper the CC&Rs are printed on is essentially worthless.

The city right now is talking about getting aggressive with property maintenance. With effective homeowners associations such as at Del Webb, that would never be a municipal concern for new neighborhoods as they age.
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