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Manteca should end economic segregation by subdivisions

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POSTED October 25, 2009 1:52 a.m.
Lincoln in Placer County where I grew up is much like Manteca when it comes to old and new neighborhoods.

You could go down a street in Lincoln such as J Street and see a variety you would not see in the new neighborhoods. I’m not talking housing types and styles but the entire spectrum of families not just by ethnic and culture but by economic status.

On one particular block on J Street you’d find Walter K. Jansen, arguably the richest man in town. He owned several feed and grain operations in the valley and lived in a brick house. Next door lived an electrician and his wife. Two doors down was the owner of Toft Hardware.  Across the alley was a sergeant and his family from Beale Air Force base. Directly across the street was a family on welfare. The rest of the block included an immigrant from Mexico who was a laborer at Gladding, McBean & Co. that made clay sewer pipes, and an immigrant from the Azores who was a Jack-of-all-trades on the city’s public works crew.

The houses were not as stylish as Jansen’s. They ran the gamut from California ranch-style and a two-story wood frame house from the 1920s to a home without a foundation.

People knew everyone on the block. They said “hi” to each other. They had their separate “circles” they socialized in but they often would visit each other. There was a strong sense of neighborhood and community. It was a different world in the newer developments. The feel of neighborhood and community wasn’t quite as strong as there was no wide cross-section of economic and social classes within the subdivision’s boundaries let alone in a block.

Tract homes, per se, are not a bad thing. Such residential developments have made housing affordable to the masses by streamlining production.

A modern-day neighborhood besides being repetitive tends to be exclusive to a particular micro-economic class. That’s not necessarily bad but what it does is isolate people within a community as much as does a city that has slums on one side of the tracks and exclusive upper-end gated neighborhoods on the other.

Segregating housing types has been the trend in California since the end of World War II is helping balkanize communities. A vanilla community isn’t a good thing nor is one that intentionally is created to separate economic classes from each other.

The answer isn’t in creating enclaves of workforce housing in a sea of McMansions or using apartments to serve as barriers between commercial and the endless expanse of 6,000-square-foot parcels sprouting free standing single family homes.

Manteca needs to break the mold.

There needs to be subdivisions that offer a mixture of large homes in the 3,000 to 4,500 square-foot range, medium-sized homes from 1,800 to 3,000 square feet and those from 1,100 to 1,700 square feet. Such neighborhoods – if they offer close to a three-way split in such houses – should get higher points in a bid for limited sewer allocations.

Regardless of the size of the wastewater treatment plant expansion capacity that is currently available, the city needs to treat it like a limited precious resource and dole it out accordingly. Sewer allocations are about the only way the city has any real say in shaping the private sector’s housing strategy.

Manteca could also encourage “real” workforce housing such as a modern-update of the “cabins” you’ll find behind Foster’s Freeze on West Yosemite Avenue. They could stand alone or mixed in with apartment complexes, duplexes and smaller single family homes.

The city could also mix regular apartment complexes – with units between 590 to 880 square feet – with studio complexes where units top out at 300 square feet and have their own bathrooms plus kitchenette with communal laundry rooms.

Regardless of how it is accomplished, Manteca needs a true mixture of housing types and not just those that respond to the largest market demand du jour.

It is essential not just to meet the broadest housing needs but to assure that Manteca doesn’t lose its sense of community and turn into yet another soulless blob much like East Modesto.
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