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Reasons for higher government costs can often be found in our front yards

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POSTED December 2, 2012 11:09 p.m.

Manteca - by all standards in the Central Valley - has a minimal flooding problem.

Despite the city being flat there were few incidents of flooding these past few days. Almost all of those incidents were the direct result of leaves clogging storm system inlets. Some of this is a credit to our natural sandy loam that takes in rainwater much like a sponge. Most of it has to do with a well-engineered storm system, interconnecting with nearly four dozen parks doubling as storm retention basins connected via drain pipes with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District canals. Those canals ferry the run-off to the San Joaquin River.

As flawless as the system may appear to other valley cities, we are pushing our luck.

And it all has to do with the city's cavalier attitude toward covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) or the conditions of approval that it places on property.

One of those edicts typically states that no more than 35 percent of a front yard may be covered with an impervious surface.

The reason for this is simple. The more soil that is covered up the greater the runoff.

A typical 6,000-square-foot parcel left in its natural state absorbs rain. Its effectiveness is diluted significantly by the time you cover a large chunk of it with roof tops and concrete. That doesn't even take into consideration the asphalt that is put in place for streets.

Storm systems are designed to take away the increase in manmade runoff. Engineers build in a cushion. That means some fudging can be done with how much of a front yard is covered in concrete.

But pour enough concrete and the storm system will be compromised. Serious flooding issues then will trigger costly improvements.

There is little political stomach for enforcing such restrictions due to the popularity of widening driveways to accommodate more automobiles or RVs.

The city allows the pouring of concrete in front yards without a need for a permit. Such an application process would give the city the chance to make sure the 35 percent threshold of impervious surface isn't exceeded.

Ultimately, enough concrete will create flooding in neighborhoods. That in turn impacts the entire citywide system, which in turn sends more water to the river. When increased storm water runoff comes from hundreds of communities, more pressure is put on levees increasing the chance for catastrophic flooding.

The unchecked conversion of front yards into concrete parking lot isn't the only folly that ultimately will lead to flooding and costly investment in the years ahead.

The tendency to require oversized parking lots with spaces that will never be used (think the Manteca Target store) isn't helping either.

Not only does it waste land to require commercial parking lots to be sized to accommodate one peak day of use such as Black Friday, but it also creates other issues such as increased runoff in the winter and increased ground heat in the summer.

Likewise, city policies in place that simply ignore on-street parking in certain areas while determining off-street parking needs add to the problem. So does the "convenience" factor where the city buys into the argument parking has to be available in front of a storefront in a traditional retail area as a customer won't walk more than a half block. Drop by the Wal-Mart center sometime and see how for people walk to get to the front door after parking their vehicle.

It is popular pastime to express - or feign - angst about how much government will cost out grandchildren one day due to wanton spending. But the cost of government isn't always something one can blame on Sacramento or Washington. Quite often it is the things we do in our own front yards.

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