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No Wilson Way: Manteca leaders order landscaping
Central Valley Motors must install a 10-foot wide strip of landscaping between the sidewalk and their car lot at North and Main streets. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Imran Ziadeh believes requiring landscaping for Central Valley Motors’ expansion into the former Valero gas station at North Main Street and Alameda Street is akin to denying him equal treatment under city ordinances.

The Manteca City Council doesn’t see it that way. Instead, they openly admitted staff — as well as elected leaders — in the past have been inconsistent in applying the rules and have even allowed those who agree to terms to develop to go back and violate them after they have built their projects.

Mayor Willie Weatherford noted citizens who feared that North Main Street would turn into Wilson Way in Stockton if Manteca failed to enforce development and landscaping standards had contacted him.

If Tuesday’s Manteca City Council meeting is any indication, that is all about to change.

The council voted 4-0 — with Steve DeBrum absent — to uphold a unanimous Planning Commission decision backing staff findings that the municipal ordinance is clear in that converting the use from gas station to a car lot requires landscaping.
Ben Cantu – a former municipal city planner who is now a private sector consultant — argued on behalf of Central Valley Motors pointing out that the city had allowed two previous conversions of gas stations into used car lots without applying provisions of the ordinance requiring landscaping. Cantu implied that current Community Development Director Mark Nelson lacked the “experience” in Manteca to understand why that was done.

“Mr. Nelson provided a skewed perspective on the situation,” said Cantu, who made an unsuccessful run for the City Council in November.

Cantu repeatedly emphasized that “all we are simply asking for is to be treated the same.”

Nelson, for his part, noted that 34 years of experience in Manteca wasn’t needed to interpret what he said was straightforward language in the city’s planning codes adopted by elected leaders over the years. He also noted that Cantu was senior planner when municipal staff allowed the exceptions to the city rules that ran contrary to adopted municipal policies.

“My job is not to perpetuate any mistakes,” Nelson told the council adding it was his duty to follow the rules adopted by elected leaders unless conditions for a variance as required by law were met. In the case of Central Valley Motors, Nelson said they weren’t met.

Nelson noted that Cantu was the lead planner handling the Mike’s Used Car Lot use permit in November 2001 when the gas station was converted to a used car lot at 814 West Yosemite Avenue and wasn’t allowed not to follow city requirements for landscaping.

Supporters of Ziadeh rattled off a list of other businesses including Manteca Dodge that remodeled without landscaping and El Pollo Loco that were required to have it in the same stretch of East Yosemite Avenue.

Caltrans, in that case, squashed the city requirement for trees and landscaping at Manteca Dodge although Caltrans signed off on the landscaping for El Pollo Loco. The reason was no sight lines were involved with the landscaping at El Pollo Loco. Caltrans has superior authority on a state highway route when it goes through a municipal jurisdiction.

They also pointed to Discount Liquors, 409 N, Main St, as another example of a change in use — in that case adding additional square footage didn’t trigger the city requirement for landscaping.

City attorney John Brinton said the requirement for Central Valley Motors did not constitute selective enforcement.

Mayor Willie Weatherford pointed to cases where owners of retail center buildings went back and took out required trees and plant shrubs because they wanted the store signs to be seen from a distance. The mayor asked if the city could still go back and require the property owner to put back in the originally required landscaping. The city attorney said that they could as the requirement doesn’t end and is legitimate to enforce at any time.

Central Valley Motors must comply with the commercial zoning rules requiring landscaping along the 10 feet nearest the back of the sidewalk along both North Main as well as Alameda and to provide 10 percent landscaping for the entire site. It also includes 12 percent landscaping on the working area that ultimately will shade 50 percent of the parking lot pavement.