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Alleys: Council wants plan to improve, abandon or both
This alley in the central district one of many alleys in Manteca is often ground zero for shopping carts, trash, and impromptu sleeping quarters for homeless. - photo by Bulletin photo

Alleys for years have been relegated to the bottom of the list when it comes to city priorities.
The Manteca City Council wants that to change.
During a budget workshop Tuesday the council listed developing a workable alley plan during the upcoming fiscal year as one of their top four priorities for municipal staff. Topping the list was building the fifth fire station at Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue followed by police officer recruitment, and replacing aging police vehicles. Tying for the fourth spot was a citywide street upgrading effort and what to do with the alleys.
This isn’t the first time alleys were proclaimed at a top priority for an elected council. Twice since 2004 alleys came up as an issue during budget workshops with the latest being in 2014. The first time it resulted in the city’s street maintenance crew — before it was decimated by 50 percent with the arrival of the Great Recession and subsequent staffing cuts — using rented equipment and paving the alleys in Powers Tract between Manteca High and Spreckels Park. They represent the handful of alleys in Manteca where municipal solid waste trucks travel to collect garbage.
The second time it led to upgrades of alleys in  east central Manteca found behind North Powers Avenue, Sheridan Avenue, Marie Avenue, Hansen Avenue and Mylnar Avenue using asphalt grindings.
Both times the city indicated it would address deteriorating alleys in downtown and budgeted funding. The city still hasn’t rehabbed the downtown alleys yet but they are working on specifications to do so.
The council this week embraced a Public Works proposal to prepare a citywide alley master plan to determine whether existing alleys should be retained and repaired or eliminated as part of an overall goal set by elected officials to maintain and improve city infrastructure. The analysis wouldn’t necessarily be a wholesale directive.
Some alleys have city sewer and water lines buried beneath them in addition to PG&E, Comcast, and Verizon lines above ground hanging from poles. Access to poles may not be an issue, however, as there are neighborhoods in parts of central Manteca where such lines are behind houses without alleys whose backyards bordering each other with a common fence.
A handful of alleys that do have residential garbage collection stayed that way only because residents — such as in Powers Tract — objected to a plan to make collection more efficient by switching to curbside service.
There are alleys that have no garages that are accessed from the alley although most do.
Then there are downtown alleys used to access private and public parking lots.
And there are a fair number of granny flats — smaller secondary housing units — that are accessed from alleys.
Whatever course the city takes, most alleys except perhaps downtown alleys, are easements that run over private property. Homeowners own to the center line of the alleys and are responsible for weed abatement, trash clean up and maintenance.
Over the years the city has been hammered by property owners who believe it is the city’s responsibility to maintain alleys since they have an easement and given Manteca approved of alleys to be available for public use as well as to collect discarded trash people dump in alleys.
Then there is the creation of possible access issues to garages. Alleys that have no garages the city could be abandoned by the city and the land revert to adjoining property owners without much of a problem. But where there are garages on alleys the city could create a situation where the abandonment of an easement could render a garage inaccessible if other property owners blocked access to nearby streets by extending fences.
That issue could be addressed in an alley master plan.
And while it was clear that the council was talking about existing alleys, no mention was made of whether a plan that is developed would address future alleys.
The city doesn’t allow traditional 1970s and earlier alleys in subdivisions anymore.
However, a number of cities in a move to reduce street maintenance by narrowing residential streets, slow traffic, and reduce the cost of municipal utility work have allowed neighborhoods to have “upgraded alleys” installed.
Such neighborhoods in Oakdale and Turlock are paved with concrete or use pavers to reduce long-term maintenance. They have low-maintenance landscaping with utilities buried beneath requiring only sod to be lifted instead of pavement being ripped up to make repairs which in turns extends the life of pavement.
A 2009 staff report noted Manteca had 15,570 linear feet or almost three miles of unpaved alleys. The cost to pave them at the time was estimated at $730,000. That doesn’t include the cost of eventually having to resurface those alleys that are paved that rivals unpaved alleys in linear feet.
Upgrading all alleys in Manteca could easily be a $2 million to $4 million proposition.  Given the pressing need for street maintenance it might be classified as a luxury given limited funding.
Back in 2014 the push for a game plan for alleys wasn’t pushed by maintenance and cost issues as it was seen as a growing security concern. Then Councilman John Harris noted alleys can provide access to burglarize homes, serve as temporary encampments for homeless, and create hiding places for criminals being chased by police.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email