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Investing or buying green cards?
Trails of Manteca financing plan draws flak from some
The Trails of Manteca will border the southern edge of Woodward Avenue where it curves in southwest Manteca. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Investment and politics clash all the time in growth areas of the Central Valley such as Manteca.

There’s nothing new about that.

It is rare though when public debates centers on a mixture of foreign dollars, investing in America, creating jobs, a housing development, and immigrants.

The Manteca City Council Tuesday embraced a federal program designed to snare “clean” foreign money to create American jobs but not before they got an earful from some constituents.

Next Bay - the developer of the Trails of Manteca approved for 1,673 living units at the western end of Woodward Avenue - plans to utilize the “EB-5 Visa Program”. That’s shorthand for the United States Citizenship and Immigrant Service Employment-Based Immigration Fifth Preference Investor and Visa Program.

In a nutshell, it will allow individual foreign investors worth at least $1 million to essentially buy their way to the front of the line for a green card and ultimately automatic citizenship within five years for themselves, their spouse, and any children less than 21 years of age. All they will have to do is invest at least $500,000 that will help create at least 10 jobs into the first phase of the Trails of Manteca. The $23.5 million first phase for the Trails of Manteca will create 529 full-time jobs.

Manteca businessman Ed Fonseca saw it as a continuum of city leaders’ efforts to bring investment to Manteca to generate jobs.

Others saw it differently.

“We’re allowing people the opportunity to buy their way into the United States,” said Richard Fleenor, an East Manteca resident.

Richards noted that the United States is “throwing thousands” of Mexican nationals out who have been in the country illegally for years and can’t afford to buy a visa for $500,000. He said they just want the opportunity to come here to try and make a living.

Joe DeAngelis - a regular speaker at council meetings - built on Richard’s comments.

“If a guy (foreign national) has $5 in his pocket and wants to start a hot dog stand (here) then we should let him,” DeAngelis said.

Both Fleenor and DeAngelis argued the EB-5 program essentially allows those in a position to do so “buy” a green card. The EB-5 program has 3,000 of the 10,000 visas the United States grants yearly reserved for participants.

Marshall Linn, the Urban Futures consultant Manteca has used for 27 years to advise it on economic development and planning related matters noted the EB-5 program adopted in 1990 enjoys broad support in Congress from both Democrats and Republicans as an effective way to secure “clean” funds to generate jobs.

Linn pointed out the current economic climate has prompted banks for all practical purposes to stop making construction loans. That has made the EB-5 investment financially a highly sought commodity. It’s been used for everything from 100 percent financing of a $100 million hotel next to the Staples Center in Los Angeles to funding expansion of the Seattle Mariners’ baseball facilities.

Foreign investors like it because it gives them the ability to invest in America - still considered a safe haven for money. Besides express service for permanent residency or citizenship status they also have the ability to send their children to American public universities and colleges at in-state or resident fee pricing saving 25 to 50 percent of the cost charged to foreigners who do not have green cards. Until such time as they become citizens, they are extended all other rights except the right to vote.

Councilman John Harris called the 21-year-old EB-5 program “innovative.” Mayor Willie Weatherford noted that five years ago developers wouldn’t be looking toward options such as EB-5 financing because the economy was robust and construction loans was easy to obtain.

The developer does not need council support to access EB-5 investors. The decision on what gets approved for a project and what foreigners can invest in is all controlled by the Department of Homeland Security.

It does help, however, in attracting the final investors as they are typically looking for projects that the local governments are behind.

A tentative map for the 477-acre Trails of Manteca in the southwest portion of the city at the western end of Woodward Avenue was approved earlier this year.