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How much green will 7,100 trees cost?
Manteca hasnt figured out how to pay for upkeep
Tree and shrub plantings at the Main Street and 120 Bypass interchange are part of the $3.7 million landscaping project - photo by HIME ROMERO

Steve DeBrum wants to see Manteca get out of the financial woods when it comes to the stressed municipal general fund.

That’s why in 2010 the councilman questioned the wisdom of Manteca accepting $3.7 million in federal stimulus funds to pay for what was touted as the ”biggest stand-alone landscaping project undertaking along freeways” in California. The money paid for the planting of 7,100 trees, 3,900 shrubs and other landscaping improvements  along the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 through Manteca. It also covered three years of the contractor trucking in water and maintaining the plantings.

Now as the maintenance contract winds down, DeBrum said he’s getting impatient waiting for staff to explain how the city is going to pay to maintain the landscaping.

“I’m still waiting for an answer,” DeBrum said.

He also has another concern. DeBrum said that, in his opinion, it appears the watering has been inadequate when it comes to providing the trees and shrubs the opportunity to get firmly established. They will soon essentially go waterless during Manteca’s hot spring and summer were the temperatures often push 100 degrees with little or no rainfall for months.

The last thing he wants to see besides putting more pressure on the city’s general fund critical for police and fire services is for the city to have spent $3.7 million in federal taxes only to have the trees and shrubs die.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin said staff is exploring various options including enlisting volunteers through an adoption program similar to Caltrans’ adopt a highway program for policing litter. Also she indicated the city could explore possibly using available groups such as the California Conservation Corps that would represent a minimal cost to the city.

DeBrum said volunteers would raise a liability issue for the city given they’d have to work along heavily traveled freeways.

McLaughlin noted the landscaping planted was designed for minimal maintenance. Ideally that would mean the need for trimming and other work is just once or twice a year instead of the more intense once or twice  a month attention that less drought resistant plantings would require.

There are no plans currently to water the trees or shrubs if they become stressed after the maintenance period ends. The city had talked about possibly extending purple pipe to the 120 Bypass for future landscaping but nothing has been spent toward that goal.

In the past, Caltrans picked up the tab for landscaping maintenance along freeways. But since the start of the current state budget mess, Caltrans adopted a policy requiring local jurisdictions to handle maintenance costs for any new landscaping put in place

When the city accepted the $3.7 million in American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funds, staff did not do an annual maintenance cost estimate for the city as they have on other freeway landscaping projects.

The city already knows it is on the hook for landscaping upkeep at the Yosemite Avenue and Highway 99 interchange it will take over in the coming year. That price tag has been placed at $30,000 a year including water costs. The interchange has much more intense landscaping than what is found along the freeways.

Ground is breaking on the Lathrop Road and Highway 99 replacement interchange next year. The original Caltrans landscaping plan called for plantings that would have cost $150,000 a year to maintain. Due to pressure from the City Council led by DeBrum, the landscaping scheme was toned down to reflect an annual upkeep of $35,000 a year. Like the other landscaping projects, Manteca would take over after a contracted three-year maintenance period ends.

Still DeBrum notes the city has to come up with the money from somewhere for the upkeep costs.

The need to improve the looks of what has been freeway corridors infested with weeds - including tumbleweeds - has been a council goal for years to upgrade Manteca attractiveness to potential employers as well as to create a good impression with motorists passing through the city.