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School farm annexation moves forward
Also involves 18 homes & almond orchards
The homes behind the Louise Avenue sound wall between Airport Way and the railroad tracks are included in the proposed annexation to the City of Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Manteca’s most controversial annexation in decades – 112 acres that include the Manteca Unified office complex, bus garage, and school farm along with 18 homes including that of community activist Georgianna Reichelt  - is going before the Manteca City Council on Feb. 3.

The annexation is taking place because the City Council refused to extend municipal water and sewer services to the 68.23-acre Manteca Unified complex on the northwest corner of Louise Avenue and Airport Way without the land being annexed to the city.

The district got itself in a bind building the $14 million office complex without first securing a source of drinkable water or addressing sewer needs. The district’s water supply has such a high level or arsenic due to contamination from an old adjoining magnesium plant that district office personnel and students at the school farm have been barred from drinking it for years.

Drilling a new well may not have been wise due to the odds it could be contaminated as well. The equipment needed to reduce arsenic levels - that were up until a few years ago was acceptable under federal standards at several Manteca municipal wells - may cost an average of $200,000 to put in place. The district’s problem, however, is much more severe. The district started building without making sure it had adequate water or sewer service.

The fire suppression system installed in the three-story building also may not have been effective with well water unless a big holding tank was put in place.

Several school board members balked at annexing to the city over concerns about the future of the school farm.

Manteca leaders repeatedly assured the school district that they are a “right to farm” city which requires anyone purchasing property within the city limits to sign a disclosure statement saying that farmers have the right to farm using acceptable practices which means complaints wouldn’t trigger enforcement. Trustees also were concerned about development pressures that could generate complaints directed at the school district over the school farm. It was pointed out that could happen whether the school farm stayed outside the city or was annexed.

Because annexing the district property would create an island of unincorporated land – a triangle bounded by Louise Avenue, Airport Way, and the railroad tracks – current state law means the city has to force the annexation of the 44.15 acres as well.

In years gone by protests by other property owners such as those who own the 18 homes and two almond orchard parcels could have blocked the annexation. That isn’t the case now as the state wants to prevent islands or pockets of unincorporated areas being created such as Joseph Road off North Main Street in Manteca.

Community Development Director Mark Nelson conducted two workshops with impacted residents. He said their main concern was whether they’d be forced to install city sewer lines.

Nelson said that will not happen unless residents wanted to connect to the municipal service. If they did, they’d have to pay for the connection. They are able to continue on septic systems and water wells but do have the option in the future - if the need arises - to tap into those city services.

There is no disadvantage to annexing to a city when it comes to taxes. The tax rate will remain unchanged although they would have municipal police and fire services available after annexation.

Most of the homes are located along Louise Avenue behind a sound wall and a frontage road that was the original Louise Avenue.

Reichelt led neighbors to pressure a previous City Council to require the developers of Villa Ticino to swing Louise Avenue and build the sound wall instead of putting a four-lane road directly in front of their homes.

Reichelt has been speaking out against the annexation for the last several years at both school board and City Council meetings.

It is her contention that the annexation is being done illegally.

The larger of the two orchard parcels is being prezoned for future single family home development. The orchard parcel along Airport Way and a larger residential partial at the railroad tracks has a tentative multiple family zoning attached to allow apartments in the future.