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Is water tower historical landmark?

Cantu successfully pushes for city to determine if it is

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Is water tower historical landmark?

Ben Cantu is pushing for the city to make a determination whether the water tower on Wetmore Street is an historical landmark.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED July 31, 2013 2:05 a.m.

Ben Cantu is pressing for an environmental review before any further work is done at the City of Manteca corporation yard including the demolition of the 51-year-old abandoned water tank tower.

His efforts appear to have paid off. City Manager Karen McLaughlin has indicated that before the city moves forward with any plans to demolish the water tower that “staff will need to determine whether the tower is legally considered of ‘historical significance’.”

Cantu, a retired City of Manteca senior planner, filed a formal complaint this week with the San Joaquin County Grand Jury. His complaint against the Manteca City Council and a number of senior staff including McLaughlin, Public Works Director Mark Houghton, and Community Development Director Frederic Clark also states he “suspects since 2007 the City has illegally undertaken city projects without conducting proper environmental evaluations in accord with CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) statutes.

The year 2007 has significance, as that is the last year of Cantu’s 36-year career as a Manteca planner. Cantu on Tuesday indicated that on “several occasions” while a planner that he stopped the city from moving forward with municipal projects without doing environmental reviews as he said is required by state law.

Cantu blamed the cavalier attitude on management changes at the top levels noting it was his opinion they lacked adequate understanding of the environmental laws. He also said the city’s reorganization to save money and streamline the approval process has created situations where staff may not be completely aware of what state laws they have to comply with while processing municipal projects. He believes engineers are making planning decisions that they are unqualified to make. He offered the lack of an environmental review for the corporation yard as an example.

Other public works projects including new roads such as Atherton Drive have received environmental reviews at least on the staff level.

“There is a lack of transparency at city hall,” Cantu said. “They are not following the same rules everyone else has to follow.”

McLaughlin disagreed with Cantu’s assessment. She noted the city complies with CEQA requirements but that each case is different based on moving parameters.

As for work already done at the city’s corporation yard that includes the new animal shelter and new vehicle maintenance facility, McLaughlin conceded the city “did not file any subsequent environmental actions relating” to their construction. She added, however, that they were consistent with the master plan the City Council adopted at the Oct. 5, 2010 council meeting.

Cantu contends not doing an environmental assessment before adopting the master plan in 2010 was a violation of state law.

The city attorney’s office has taken the stance “the statute of limitations for challenge to any environmental actions, or lack of actions, relating to the Master Plan, have expired. An individual has 180 days from the date the Council approved the projects — in this case, approval of the Master Plan — to file any challenge.”

McLaughlin said staff will need to consider whether the water tower is legally considered “of historical significance” as well as possibly provide an environmental assessment of further projects such as the construction of a corporation yard administration building planned in the future near where the water tower now stands. That determination would need to be made prior to any work being done.

That determination could include a full-scale environmental review, a negative declaration, or simply stating there is no significant impact.

McLaughlin indicated she would be guessing at this point if staff would have determined there was “no significant impact” in relating to the animal shelter and vehicle maintenance facility projects. Both involved taking down older commercial structures the city had purchased and replacing them with new buildings.

The city also tore down the old animal shelter without making a determination if it had an historical significance. Cantu said he doesn’t believe the city has to make such a determination regarding the former vehicle maintenance facility that predates the water tower by at least 40 years and was once a horse barn for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. He indicated that is because of the condition of the building. McLaughlin, though, said she doesn’t believe the condition of the building has anything to do with determining its historical significance under CEQA law.

$2.1M price tag to restore water tower

In May 2012 the City Council gave its final approval to a cell tower plan at the new vehicle maintenance facility that indicated the water tower would eventually be torn down to make room for other corporation yard improvements.

A 2006 seismic study by the structural engineering firm of Showerman Hawn & Stone essentially red tagged the tower. It is not structurally sound enough to withstand a major earthquake if it is used as a water tower.

The report stated the weight load demand on the tension rods and compression struts was estimated at being 300 percent of their existing capacity for the tower built in 1962.

Once the city received that report, they drained the 300,000 gallon tank and worked on other ways to enhance water pressure in the central part of the city.

Part of the solution is the construction of a water tank that will hold nearly four million gallons of water at Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue. A contract has been awarded for that project

The city had looked into retrofitting the 1962 water tower on Wetmore Street and found out it would cost $2.1 million to meet current state earthquake standards.

Cantu has noted in the past it would cost considerably less than $2.1 million if the water tower wasn’t used for what it was built for — the improvement of Manteca water supplies and water pressure. He has argued it would cost far less to keep it empty and unused.

Staff noted saving the water tower as a landmark would have at least a $150,000 price tag that included the need to tent the entire structure while existing lead paint is removed. The demolition is projected to cost around $35,000 due in a large part to the amount of salvage steel that will keep the cost fairly low.

Cantu made an effort prior to the 2012 vote to have the water tower saved as an historical landmark.

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