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Union Ranch’s wishful thinking elementary school

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POSTED July 23, 2013 9:47 p.m.

Union Ranch East is in a twilight zone.

The neighborhood was conceived in another era. Call it “Before the Crash” (BC), if you will. Today it is clearly the AD period of housing development —  After the Downfall.

Two assumptions were built into the design of the 450-home neighborhood located east of Del Webb at Woodbridge.

One was that all developers would interpret the city’s language on how parks would go from paper to reality the same. The other was that school growth patterns, while they may go with the flow of growth, will always stay the same.

The park fiasco in which homeowners were assessed for the maintenance of a park that didn’t exist has been resolved.

The solution for the weed infested potential dust bowl that is known as the Union Ranch school site is less certain.

Manteca Unified School District isn’t too sure when the elementary school site will be developed. They have looked at several holding pattern ideas including partial landscaping that are a tad too expensive for the district’s budget.

In another era you could assume it would be just a matter of time before a school is built. But more has changed besides the housing market.

If you doubt that, check out Great Valley Academy, River Islands Technology Academy and a host of charter schools at the San Joaquin County Office of Education complex just north of Manteca on Arch Road.

Between then they have peeled off well in excess of 500 students who would have gone to Manteca Unified schools. That’s close to the enrollment of an envisioned campus in Union Ranch East.

Public charter schools are not a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon. They have been growing steadily for the past 20 years. Given the fact the state’s support of a student’s education goes with the student to a public charter school means parents do not pay tuition. Once that roadblock was removed it has literally opened a floodgate although traditional public schools are trying the best they can to keep it in check.

Manteca Unified has even hopped on board with its culinary and vocational academies.

Manteca, Lathrop and Weston Ranch will continue to grow but so will the pull of public charter schools.

This will have major consequences on enrollment patterns.

Manteca Unified during the build up to 2006 bucked the trend at its older, established schools such as Shasta. Enrollment from the surrounding neighborhood went up. Usually as communities grow the younger children tend to be generated by people moving into new development and not older neighborhoods. But the dynamics of the housing market had also changed. McMansions — or move-up homes — dominated the housing boom and not entry level homes. That prompted first-time buyers consisting mostly of young buyers to look for homes in older neighborhoods.

While Union Ranch is not exclusively move-up buyers, it is definitely not a neighborhood of first-time buyers. And while there are elementary-age children they are not in the numbers that you could expect in the past from a new neighborhood.

Also, it isn’t exactly a secret that more than 60 percent of all housing growth in Manteca over the next 30 years is expected to happen south of the 120 Bypass. It is where the big players are. It is also where the backbone of main sewer and water lines as well as storm drainage systems has been put in place.

Given the demand for schools south of the 120 Bypass and the continuing growth of public charter schools the odds of an elementary school campus ever being built in Union Ranch is slim.

That doesn’t mean the district is misleading anyone. It is their intent to build a school there. The problem is whether it ultimately will make any sense to do so.

As for Union Ranch residents paying Mello-Roos fees for school construction, the courts have made it clear that as long as they are not denied the benefits they are paying for the tax is kosher. Unlike Tracy where the Mello-Roos tax was applied to specific developments, Manteca Unified did it district wide with several zones. That means the schools where Union Ranch students attend benefit from Mello-Roos construction funds therefore there is no legal issue. In Tracy, they actually were busing the students from a Mello-Roos neighborhood to a non-Mello-Roos school that was much older while students whose homes were not in a Mello-Roos benefit area were attending a school that benefited from the tax.

It is a roundabout way of saying the Mello-Roos tax is not a legitimate grievance for Union Ranch homeowners to pursue.

That leaves only one viable option unless the district wants to landscape the site and maintain it until such time as they think they might need it. That option is to sell it. Yes, that means there will be more houses. It also means the money will go to the state.

But at least the Union Ranch neighborhood will get some benefits. It will lower the annual park maintenance assessment slightly as there will be more homes paying into it. And it also gets rid of an eyesore.

The district already has three other undeveloped elementary school sites and an undeveloped high school site. These are all located in South Manteca or Lathrop where growth is much more likely to occur.

School officials are only kidding themselves if they will be able to afford to build in Union Ranch East in the next 20 or so years.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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