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Time to rethink Manteca housing?
Mayor wants city to look at everything from A to Z
Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford, left, makes a joke during the recent council retreat. Retiring Fire Chief Chris Haas looks on. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Is the 6,000-square-foot-lot with a traditional single family home on a wide street responsible for placing too much pressure on taxpayers to cover the tab for municipal services as well as eroding housing affordability and weakening the construction job market?

It is a question that Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford believes needs to be explored as the city deals with the fallout from the subprime mortgage meltdown and positions itself to be able to handle growth that will eventually follow the housing recovery.

Weatherford reads the mortgage mess as a case of cause and effect. Fees charged against new housing sent the cost of buying up higher. Delays in the approval process added to the ultimate costs of a new house. Development standards – including street widths, amenities, the type of sewer and storm collection, and even acceptable traffic levels - all impact the costs of buying a home.

The foreclosure mess underscores how important housing is to the overall economy.

“You shouldn’t kill the beast you live on,” the mayor said of the danger of overburdening new home construction with fees and costs to the point that people - especially those who live and work in Manteca – can’t afford to buy homes.

And, as far as the mayor is concerned, everything should be looked at from A to Z.

“We should rethink how we do business,” Weatherford said. “When we were kids growing up no one bought a new car until the one they were driving fell apart.”

Weatherford, though, noted that not all that has come about as part of the foreclosure mess is bad.

“The good side of housing market collapse is there are a lot of people able to buy homes in Manteca that couldn’t before,” Weatherford said.

Those buying – thanks in part to collapsing prices due to the huge inventory and a desire not to be pushed to the max – have the financial ability to make needed improvements. Investors today are also fixing up property instead of sitting on them for a year or so and not doing any maintenance and then flipping them for a quick profit. That, in turn, is helping neighborhoods go through a rebirth and strengthening the community.

Weatherford believes the place to start is allowing developers with approved maps be given the opportunity to rethink everything from housing size and style to lot size. The reason is simple. They are the ones in a position to start moving forward when the economy rebounds. If they have a subdivision that doesn’t meet market and economic conditions, it won’t do the developer, the city or the community any good.

Among the things that Weatherford cites as examples of what can be done to reduce city or development costs include:

• putting future neighborhood parks into landscape maintenance districts to reduce the impact of park maintenance on the general fund and give neighborhoods a sense of ownership.

• seeing whether it makes more economic sense to go with forced sewer mains versus gravity flow given Manteca’s sandy soil and high water levels that has a tendency to deteriorate pipe.

• adopting lower acceptable levels of traffic flows that in turn reduce road construction.

The mayor said City Manager Steve Pinkerton is leading a staff effort to explore everything involving the housing approval and building process from permits to fees.