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Manteca needs IKEA-inspired housing options

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POSTED January 20, 2009 12:23 a.m.
The San Fernando Valley. The Inland Empire. San Jose. The East Bay.

These four major regions in California share two things in common — classic modern-day California-style urban sprawl and a crushing host of problems associated with letting cars and not livability dictate development patterns.

The Northern San Joaquin Valley — San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties — is expected to be the high growth region of the next 20-plus years in California. Let’s not do the same-old thing that turns with each passing year into more like the same old mistakes.

Single-family homes as the market now perceives them haven’t exactly run their course but they are getting there. Consider two lunacies that came up in the overheated building fueled by liar loans — multiple families buying one home to live in plus single people making $40,000 to buy entry level new homes for $350,000 that had 2,000 square feet or more.

The multiple families typically ended up in McMasnions. Their numerous cars and other issues often drive neighbors up the wall. The market, however, gave them no choices. We aren’t encouraging the building of cluster homes that would suit their needs much better or even housing designed for more than one traditional family living under the same roof. Instead, they simply make McMansions work as well as they could.

The single buyers speak to the other end of the spectrum. We’re building too big of homes for the needs of many buyers. Builders say that is what the market dictates but that’s really a cop out. The homes that have been built are more fueled by want fanned by the building community. In the builders’ defense, cities and state laws don’t really give builders much incentives to steer far from the tried and true money makers for them that can end up being hefty money drags for municipalities. And those builders who try something just a little innovative usually get clobbered in the planning process, which tells them they should avoid straying from the same-old, same-old.

All of those wide and endless streets, low numbers of connections per running mile of sewer and water lines as well as storm drain systems results in higher maintenance and replacement costs as well as a squandering of resources. It also costs more to provide police, fire and other services such as schools the less dense housing is in a community. Instead of walking to school, more kids ride buses that in turn increases traffic, pollution, plus adds to the cost of running a school system.

Manteca has a golden opportunity now that it is on “the map” in terms of being a solid location for retail, business park-style operations, distribution centers and even regional offices to break the mold.

Rethinking Central Manteca and increasing the density to a point that it ultimately can sustain not just entertainment venues such as specialty restaurants but also standard retailers such as community grocery stores and drug stores is a start.

And that density shouldn’t be apartment rentals or simply trading out an existing house for a duplex or a four-plex.

You need to create an environment that keeps young people — especially those who were raised in the region and have either professional or good paying blue collar jobs — in town and to strengthen the community’s base. They need to be homeowners — or long-term renters — who chose to live here because of the amenities for their age group. If or when they are ready to start a family, there is plenty of traditional housing stock in the immediate community to suit their needs.

What is needed is everything from one- and two-bedroom condos to studio condos.

Perhaps, though, studio condos are needed the most.

If you doubt this, remember those in their 20s have a different view of life than other age groups and earn less money. There are also other people out there who are older who will gladly buy into a different type of homeownership and lifestyle if they can be happy and not be in over their heads.

Done right, you can maximize more living in 495 to 560 square feet than most can in a 1,600-square-foot home or an 850-square-foot apartment.

If you doubt this, visit an IKEA store either in Emeryville or West Sacramento. They have examples of what you can fit into a well-planned studio of 495 to 560 square feet.  Those examples include a bathroom, kitchen area, dining area, laundry, mini-living area that can be jammed effectively with either tons of books or every electronic gadget imaginable, desk area, and sleeping area with plenty of storage. The bigger examples in the store —560 square feet — accommodate two people in terms of the bedroom area.

For much of the world, that’s a ton of space. More importantly, to someone who wants that lifestyle or who is at a different point in their lives, that is more than enough space. They don’t want big yards. They don’t need a garage to store a ton of stuff in. And if they did, there are always mini-storage units.

To make such a project really feasible, the redevelopment agency could come up with a way to set up the homeowners association and govern them to make sure blight never becomes an issue. It would be especially advantageous if the residential condos were also done in combination with first-floor commercial condos for small offices and even retail stores or restaurants.

You could go a step further and do such residential condos in conjunction with entrepreneur incubators that use the same approach.

We can’t afford to keep doing the same thing over and over again.

Manteca does not need to suffer the same fate as other areas of sprawl in California.

The time is now, not later, to turn the assumptions of housing upside down and to start new development patterns conducive to a strong, broad-based community and not just one of people in traditional single-family homes and renters in apartments.
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