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Keeping cost off back of taxpayers gave birth to landscape districts
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The 1980s municipal budget crisis gave birth to Manteca canyons.

The city teetered on the brink of bankruptcy caused by the failure to impose fees on growth to pay for its share of municipal services. The city had a new fire station on Union Road that remained shuttered because they couldn’t afford to staff it. Police were issued used CHP cars that had 90,000 miles on them when they were first put into service in Manteca. The city had just $1,800 in reserves.

The edict went out. Avoid creating expenses.

So when projects started moving forward designs were basic when it came to main corridors – five lanes of uninterrupted asphalt running into swaths of concrete abutting six-foot high masonry walls. The only relief were occasional trees planted in wells created in the sidewalk.

The cost to maintain the sound walls was minimal.

Fifteen years later, Manteca residents began to balk at attempts to continue the design. They managed to stop a “Super Manteca Canyon” from going down Fishback Road to the west of Sierra High. The initial – and final – segment that raised their ire can be seen immediately south of Wawona Street.

There were several attempts to upgrade landscaping but sterile sound walls won out on new projects as no council member wanted city taxpayers to pick up the cost of maintenance. The dismal failure of the Magna Terra Home Owners Association in the neighborhood immediately north of Doctors Hospital had soured elected leaders on allowing HOAs as a way to pay for the upkeep of upgraded landscaping along corridors.

The birth of landscape maintenance districts (LMD) as a way of paying for upkeep of sound walls and upgraded landscaping came after Curran Grove, the 177-home neighborhood on the southeast corner of Powers and Yosemite avenues that replaced the old Spreckels Sugar almond orchard.

A split council had debated putting in place an LMD to allow more intense landscaping for Curran Grove. In the end, the argument that it was in effect creating taxes on future residents who would buy the homes won out until the council saw what that directive provided – a small corner of shrubs and tulips – along with the traditional Manteca tree in a  concrete well approach to streetscape.

The ensuing debate after several council members expressed anger at staff for the results included one councilman who opposed the LMD making the statement that developers should have to pay for landscaping upkeep in perpetuity.

Shortly thereafter a split council directed staff to start deploying LMDs. The initial results were the landscaping areas along Chadwick Square in northwest Manteca that ultimately led to other areas in Manteca receiving similar treatment including new segments of development along Louise Avenue and neighborhoods being built south of the Highway 120 Bypass.

It ha also allowed the city to plant grass under stretches of high-voltage power towers that cut a swath through Manteca and have buyers of nearby homes pay for maintenance. It is arguably a win-win since prior to that it was either left to go to weed creating an eye sore for neighbors or were incorporated into the back yards of homes.

Now that Manteca is in another budget crisis a proposal is being made for the city to take over the maintenance function to funnel $250,000 back into the general funds’ park budget to preserve park maintenance jobs.