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Levee farther south will trigger more Manteca growth

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POSTED December 10, 2009 1:39 a.m.
There is a way to stop urbanization from destroying farmland to the southwest of Manteca.

All it takes is convincing three of the five Manteca City Council members sometime next spring that they should not support any new alignment of the cross-levee that parallels Woodward Avenue to a point west of Airport.

Instead, Manteca should push for the heightening and widening of the existing “dry levee” and extend it as far as needed to the west – a point short of Tinnin Road – to protect the area north of it from a 200-year flood event.

Manteca municipal staff is currently working on three alternatives for a cross or dry levee to protect the southwest portion of the city not from a 100-year flood event but a 200-year flood as required under Senate Bill 5 that was signed into law in 2007.

The 200-year flood plain requirement imposed by the California Legislature essentially says if levees are not put in place to protect such affected areas – or at least having a funding mechanism in place with concrete plans to build the needed levee - that building permits cannot be issued after 2015 for new construction unless they meet certain conditions. Those stipulations require the structure be elevated out of the floodplain on a dirt mound or else built out of the flood zone by essentially using stilts or block bases such as at Wetherbee Lake.

That would impact everything including homes, barns, other outbuildings, and commercial projects.  It also would prevent homes from being remodeled if it encompasses more than 50 percent of the structure. Permits for standard construction could still be issued in 2015 if a finding mechanism is in place and a strategy adopted to have the 200-year flood protection levee finished by 2025.

When the 1997 floods prompted the Office of Emergency Services to plug the McKinley Avenue underpass with 10 feet of dirt as a makeshift levee, the fear was the existing cross levee was near failure. There were no subdivisions in the impacted area back then. Today, there are the Manteca neighborhoods south of the Highway 120 Bypass on both sides of Airport Way plus Oakwood Lake Shores which is a county development.

The city at the very least will need to strengthen and extend the existing levee to a point close to Tinnin Road. That would protect existing homes in the area plus future homes that are on the drawing board.  However, by staying with the current alignment and extending it that would leave a large swath of land designated as potential area to be annexed to Manteca for development as they are part of the general plan outside the 200-year protection zone.

The city is considering other options including one that follows a ridge in the topography to a point south of Nile Garden School. That would include a much larger area which would mean that it would have to be designated as potential general plan territory for eventual annexation to Manteca.

Manteca has plenty of other areas to grow to the southwest of Highway 99 until they are stopped by Ripon. Lathrop basically defines Manteca’s future city limits on the west side. Manteca has plenty of space to grow north toward French Camp Road and west of Highway 99. This area makes more sense to gobble up even though farming is still going on as it would become contiguous to the City of Stockton.

That leaves the eastern boundary open to create a DMZ, if you will, of which urbanization should never cross. Just for the sake of argument, draw the DMZ it is midway between Jack Tone Road and Louise Avenue with French Camp as the northern edge and Ripon as the southern. Whatever actual boundary is proposed it should be put on the ballot for a vote by the citizens to give it the authority of real law.

There is a small window of opportunity to stop urbanization to the southwest. Of course, it won’t happen south of a levee that goes near Nile Garden School.

The real question is do the people of Manteca – and the residents in the area – want the land between the existing cross-levee and the ridgeline to be agricultural or urbanized?

If the levee ends up going farther south, the area’s fate will be sealed.

This is a decision that should not be made simply based on cost analysis meaning the more territory included to cover the cost of the levee the less cost per lot. Instead, it needs to have genuine input based on impacts it will have on farming, land use, and ultimately how far Manteca will grow.
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