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A bright idea to cover city costs?
Future homeowners may cover costs of street lights, storm system upkeep
The landscape maintenance district costs for Union Ranch Park now being put in place will include the cost for upkeep of neighborhood street lights. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The next wave of residential development won’t impact the City of Manteca’s general fund as much.

But it will also mean buyers of new homes will have a higher cost of annual ownership with what is essentially maintenance and service fees tacked onto their annual property bill.

It is all because of a relatively new municipal policy that will require subdivisions to have landscape maintenance districts or other fee collection mechanisms such as a community facilities district pick up the tab for park maintenance and ongoing street lighting and storm drain costs.

 Depending on the size of the park and neighborhood, it could cost owners of future homes between $200 and $300 a year. In a 200-home subdivision it would save the rest of the city’s taxpayers upwards of $60,000 a year.

The 7.3-acre Union Ranch Park now being developed with a finish target of spring of 2013 will be one of four LMDs already with park maintenance collapsed into the annual assessment. It will also be the first with the cost of electricity and maintenance of street lights within the neighborhood included. That is on top of common landscape areas and sound walls normally on the perimeter and entrance to subdivisions.

Also, if part of the adopted bikeway system goes through a neighborhood the upkeep of that pavement is also covered under the LMD. That is the case in Union Ranch.

The three other LMDs that have park maintenance already included are Tesoro northeast of Van Ryn and Woodward avenues, Terra Bella south of The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, and Rodoni in the triangle formed by Louise Avenue, Cottage Avenue, and Highway 99.

The initial assessment for Union Ranch Park LMD is $358.78 per home. That will go much higher once the park is in place for a full year. The maximum allowable annual assessment for Union Ranch is $583.58 per home.

Storm drain maintenance could be added to future LMDs or community facility districts (CFD).  A move to employing CFDs could give the city even more latitude to pass on costs directly connected with a neighborhood. Under California law that could include streets including their maintenance, police protection, fire protection, libraries, museums, and other cultural facilities.

The council last year balked at adding storm maintenance costs to the Terra Bella LMD.

Staff advanced the storm system costs because the city simply has no way of funding the ongoing maintenance for the upkeep of neighborhoods growth is adding. That was the case before the housing bubble popped triggering plunges in property taxes and sales tax revenue. It is even more so the case now.

Just like LMDs, a CFD can be formed before homes are built if the majority of the landowners involve agree to it. The city is now requiring LMDs to be formed at the start of neighborhood construction. That means buyers who purchase homes in the new neighborhoods will be fully aware that they will be assessed fees to take care of certain things.

Manteca went to LMDs in the late 1990s after being pressured by residents to improve the looks of newer development by adding landscaping along sound walls and enhancing the actual sound walls. The city in the past went for the absolute minimum due to concerns about the cost of ongoing maintenance.

Homeowner Associations (HOA) were rejected as not being effective given the city’s history with the Magna Terra HOA covering the neighborhood to the east and north of Doctors Hospital of Manteca. In that case, the city took over what little common landscaping there was but there was also a community pool that fell into disrepair creating a safety nuisance that the HOA was supposed to maintain.

Del Webb at Woodbridge, however, is an example of an HOA that has been proven effective and includes landscaping maintenance along exterior streets. The city also has one private LMD in Spreckels Park that maintains the common landscaping plus bikeway.