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Dusty & weedy school site irks neighborhood

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POSTED June 14, 2013 1:34 a.m.

A dusty and weedy nine-acre property in the Union Ranch housing development stands like a sore thumb in the middle of toni homes with manicured lawns. Its expansive brown dirt is in sharp, sad contrast to the lush green park next to it bordered by blooming shrub roses.

It’s this desert-like scene that the children see when they are playing in the park’s jungle gym.

This piece of real estate is the property of the Manteca Unified School District, and it’s earning the wrath of residents at this subdivision across the street from Woodbridge at Del Webb on North Union Road. More than a dozen of these angry homeowners turned out at the Manteca Unified Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday some of whom called the property a “dirt lot” and “an eye sore.”

Resident Bruce Lownsbery, who came to the meeting with wife Diane, said the poor condition of the property “detracts from our property values.”

“Why don’t you give us back our money?” asked another resident, referring to the more than $1,000 that resident at this residential subdivision have to pay in Capital Facility District Fees, also known as Mello-Roos, every year to finance such community services such as building new schools.

One resident suggested that one way to solve the problem is for the district to simply sell the land. However, that’s a step that is more easily said than done, explained Superintendent Jason Messer, and just as complex as returning the CFD fees that residents have paid, and continue to pay, every year.

Messer said that the property was bought by the school district before he came on board. “I don’t know why this property was purchased,” he said.

However, if it were to be sold, there’s a chance the school district won’t get the money back, plus that process will require talks with the developers and with the state since Mello-Roos was enacted into law by the California State Legislature in 1982.

 It’s this complexity which prompted the superintendent to schedule a study session on CFDs to be held in July at the district office. The session, which will address not just the Union Ranch property but all other Mello-Roos areas such as the Tesoro Estates, the Ethel Allen Elementary School that also remains to be built at Mossdale Landing in West Lathrop, will be open to the public.

“The decision (to purchase Union Ranch) was made in the best interest of the school and the kids,” said Trustee Manuel Medeiros. Unfortunately, soon after the purchase, the economy “went down south” with the country, San Joaquin County most especially, suffering from the mortgage meltdown followed by a flood of home foreclosures.

The Union Ranch residents made their comments known during a discussion on an agenda item proposing one solution to the problems for the district property. The $230,000 solution that went before the board involved landscaping the property even though a school construction is not expected to happen in seven to 10 years or more, as projected.

The board eventually decided to put that landscaping project on hold and instructed staff to come up with all possible options to remedy the situation for more discussion at the next board meeting in July.

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