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Council: Money for landscaping upkeep doesnt grow on trees
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The Manteca City Council has no problem with the $100 million upgrade that Caltrans is planning on making to a 10-mile stretch of Highway 99 that will extend from the 120 Bypass to Arch Road.

They just don’t want to foot the $158,000 annual bill that the landscape architect estimates it’ll cost to maintain the $2 million worth of landscaping included in the project for the Lathrop Road and Highway 99 interchange.

During a presentation Tuesday night intended to outline the options for the interchange the council was keenly interested in the ideas being presented by a landscape architect assigned to the project.  The initial phase of the Highway 99 work is expected to get under way next month when the project for adding a lane in each direction in the median goes out to bid.

But an annual six-figure expenditure from the general fund needed to maintain the investment isn’t something that the four present members – Mayor Willie Weatherford was out of town – warmed to.

Councilman Steve DeBrum said that he simply couldn’t wrap his head around the kind of maintenance that would be required to rack up an annual tab that big. DeBrum grew even more frustrated with the numbers when the consultant told him that it would be just weekly work needed.

Getting the staff to work on ways to cut that number down was something that Councilman Vince Hernandez supported. He noted  the project itself will be a major shot in the arm for Manteca and could end up adding a whole host of outside benefits like enhanced business revenue.

“As a Central Valley community that’s growing in the right direction, I think we need to take a very serious look at the opportunities that we have before us,” Hernandez said. “But there’s a point where the government can only do so much. I think there are a lot of things we can do to stimulate our departments to come up with ideas to make the cost work.”

One of the ideas discussed as a cost-saving maintenance measure was partnering with a government agency like the California Conservation Corps – a state outfit that provides jobs and training for young people – in a move that would be mutually beneficial to both involved.

Using plants, shrubs and trees that require little maintenance – similar to those that were planted at the interchange where Highway 99 intersects with the Highway 120 bypass – was another idea tossed out.

Councilman John Harris called the entire project “a rare opportunity to spruce up an area that badly needs it” but also echoed DeBrum’s comments about using money that comes from the same fund that is used to pay for police officers and firefighters.

Resident Bruce Lownsbery – who got active in local politics because of a landscape maintenance issue near his subdivision – asked the council to take a step back and look at all of their options before pulling the trigger on an annual bill this large.

“I want you to look at what’s the minimum you can do,” said Lownsbery – who tossed out the idea of using the money to build a permanent landmark at the Lathrop Road Interchange instead. “Don’t just keep taking on things with an annual cost to the general fund. Please.

“I want a simple – a simple – interchange. It sends a sign that Manteca is a fiscally responsible city, not a city that goes out and buys things and worries about paying for them later.”