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Cantu wants to stop building in 200-year floodplain until upgraded levees are built
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A motorcycle rider is shown on a cross levee south of Woodward Avenue that would be extended farther east toward Union Road and heightened as part of efforts to secure 200-year flood protection. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu wants to push for a building moratorium in the 200-year floodplain that includes southwest Manteca and much of the Airport Way corridor until such time upgraded levees are in place.

But judging by the support the rest of the council gave to replace a fee the city put in place to collect fees on new development for levee work with a San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency regional levee impact fee he’s not likely to garner much support should he place the issue on an upcoming agenda.

The council Tuesday voted 4-1, with Cantu dissenting, to switch out the city fee with the regional fee. In doing so it took the flood protection fee charged on new single family homes being built up $1,638 to $18,692 and reduced the multi-family residential fee by $1,646 taking it down to $17,021. The commercial fee is now at $17,702 and the industrial fee is $14,979. The changes were based on a more precise analysis of land zoning and the need for Manteca development to help pay $65 million of the ultimate $170 million cost to bump up levee protection from the current rating for a 100-year flood to a 200-year flood. The reference refers to the odds of a flood happening as being 1 in 100 as opposed to being once every 100 years.

Cantu said he doesn’t want to see the city issue another building permit in the impacted area until levee upgrades are completed. Under state mandate they must be in place by 2025.

“This area has flooded two times in my lifetime (alone),” Cantu said.

 Cantu noted since the last flood in 1997, thousands of homes have been built south of the 120 Bypass and west of Tinnin Road in the 200 year floodplain. Back in 1997 there was only a scattering of rural homes in the area.

“We need to beef up the levees before (there’s more building),” Cantu said, adding he couldn’t “support this city in a mistake of this magnitude.”

He noted when current homeowners get flooded they are going to demand answers from elected officials and not staff.

Councilman Gary Singh pointed out if there was a moratorium not only would the city be unable to raise revenues to do the levee work through fees tied into building permits but those already living in the floodplain would be left exposed to a 200-year flood threat,

“In simple terms,” noted Councilman David Breitenbucher, “if we don’t collect the money there is no levee built.”

City Engineer Kevin Jorgensen noted that those projects already with entitlements — there are nearly 3,000 housing units that fall into that category along Woodward Avenue from the new McKinley Road alignment west — have a vested right to build which would likely trigger legal issues.

The odds of the city not pursuing 200-year flood protection have always been next to none regardless of the desire of residential developers in southwest Manteca.

That’s because a 200-year flood would damage the city’s nearly $100 million wastewater treatment plant facility as well as impact the 30 acres where Great Wolf is building along with a family entertainment zone the city is pursuing.

It also isn’t clear whether the treatment plant could be expanded for growth elsewhere in the city if 200-year flood protection isn’t secured.

The area where the flood fee applies is everything west of the Airport Way corridor on both sides of the 120 Bypass and the land to the east of Airport Way south of the Bypass to a point roughly halfway to Union Road.

What would impacts

of 200-year flood be

Should a 200-year flood occur with multiple levee failures along the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers south of the Interstate 5 bridge before the merger with the 120 Bypass, engineers have indicated it would:

flood 4,200 existing homes with 3 feet or more of water.

endanger and force the overall evacuation of 55,000 residents in Lathrop outside of River islands, Weston Ranch in Stockton, southwest Manteca, and rural areas

force the evacuation of San Joaquin Hospital — the county’s major trauma center — as well as the county jail.

force first responders at five fire stations, the Lathrop Police Department and the county sheriff to abandon their stations and key communication centers in the middle of a major emergency.

Lathrop High and Weston Ranch High would have water flowing through their campuses as would six other Manteca unified elementary schools.

force the closure of a portion of Interstate 5 — the major West Coast freeway running from Mexico to Canada — and the 120 Bypass.

water would swamp the wastewater treatment plant serving 81,450 existing Manteca residents and more than 13,000 of Lathrop’s nearly 25,000 residents.

disrupt Union Pacific Railroad train movements as well as damage tracks that Altamont Corridor Express relies on.

182 commercial and industrial properties from Costco to the Lathrop Target and Tesla Motors to Simplot would be flooded.

And that’s just for starters. Modeling shows a number of existing homes would likely suffer water damage in fringe areas that could receive upwards of three feet of flood water.

Manteca, Lathrop, and Stockton aren’t the only communities impacted by the Senate Bill 5 mandate. There are 85 cities in 33 Central Valley counties that have to comply.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email