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Stockton, SJ County not on board
The levee protecting Lathrop from the San Joaquin River. - photo by HIME ROMERO

It’s a harsh $168 million reality. 

The cities of Manteca and Lathrop have to find a way to get Stockton and San Joaquin County to come to the table and play ball in order to meet the State of California’s legislated flood protection plan, or else they run the risk of not being able to proceed with development. 

No more rooftops. No more revenue especially in Lathrop’s case where the entire city — save for River Islands — is in the 200-year floodplain. Manteca’s impacted areas are in the southwest part of the city and along Airport Way.

The clock is ticking. 

In an informational session prior to the start of Monday’s Lathrop City Council meeting City Engineer Glen Gebhardt and consultant Dave Peterson gave an update on Senate Bill 5 and the current efforts underway to ensure that the city is on track with compliance by the July 1, 2016 deadline. 

An agreement with the City of Manteca and a developer to cover the cost of $2.8 million worth of elevations, mapping and engineering work is already in place. The next step, according to staff, is to prepare the necessary documents for submission in order to receive state and federal funding that will be needed to pay for the $168 million in upgrades that will be required to strengthen the levees that run through Reclamation District 17. It will protect all of Lathrop, portions of San Joaquin County and Manteca and sections of Stockton and its sphere of influence that rests within the 200-year flood plain. 

While all of Lathrop is within that boundary, only parts of Manteca are and according to city staff, the parts of San Joaquin County and Stockton aren’t important enough – based on their interpretation of the communications that have had – to invest the resources necessary to get on board with the project. 

That includes Weston Ranch. 

A map of the 200-year flood plain stretches from Eight Mile Road north of Stockton all the way down to south of Manteca. The levee runs on the west side along a significant portion of that stretch. 

The city itself can issue a “finding of adequate progress” which will be required by the state in order to comply with the 2016 deadline, and the elevations and mapping along with the preparations underway could qualify for that mark. And no new development can continue until that finding is in place, and while the state won’t be actively enforcing it, legal action can be taken after the fact once the documents are submitted and it’s found to be inaccurate or unsubstantial to qualify. 

But without all of Reclamation District 17’s members on board, it’ll be next to impossible to qualify for the funding necessary to complete the project by 2025 and meet the annual renewal requirements for the finding of adequate progress. 

“There’s going to have to be a financing plan and we wouldn’t be able to afford the improvements on our own,” City Attorney Salvador Navarrete said. “If they flat-out tell us no then we know that we’re going to have a problem.”

Even with the backing of Stockton and the San Joaquin County, Peterson – the principal engineer of the Folsom-based firm Peterson Brustad Inc. – said that there aren’t very many projects underway in Northern California that are qualifying for federal funding. 

A project in Natomas, he said, is getting federal money, as is an overhaul at the Folsom Dam and the Marysville Ring Levee project. Outside of that the pickings, Peterson said, have been slim in terms of Washington’s contribution.

City Manager Steve Salvatore said that local elected officials at the state and federal level have been contacted on the matter – a question raised by Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal – and are being apprised on the situation. A proposed bill by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman of Stockton that would have stalled the implementation of Senate Bill 5 died in committee. 

Two other reclamation districts exist within Lathrop’s borders. One caters specifically to the River Islands development which already funded the levee improvements and will be handling the necessary documentation process necessary to submit to the city in order to comply. The other, which comprises Dell’Osso Farms, is within an area that will never be protected by a levee capable of withstanding a 100-year flood because of the sheer cost of upgrades. Homes that exist within this area need to be built up above the flood plain height. That area covers both sides of I-5 and was extensively flooded when levees along the San Joaquin River broke in 1997.