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Cantu: Time to revise growth management
Mayor Ben Cantu

Mayor Ben Cantu is calling for an updating of Manteca’s 33-year-old growth management plan.

The mayor wants to devise a mechanism that would prevent growth from inundating the city’s overall infrastructure such as major streets, community parks, public safety facilities as well as water and wastewater systems.

Since the implementation of Ordinance No. 800 that limits annual housing unit growth based on sewer connection allocations, Manteca has never reached the cap. Other cities that have adopted growth caps since 1988 have put in place exact numbers in terms of the housing units allowed in a given year.

Cantu said he wanted the city to update the growth management ordinance during Tuesday’s joint council/planning commission workshop on the general plan update. The general plan is essentially a tool that provides the framework for the city to manage growth.

Nothing will come of Cantu’s proposal unless an item is placed on a future council agenda for such an undertaking to occur and a majority of the council concurs.

Cantu didn’t offer any specifics on Tuesday. But in the past two years he had made it clear if there was a legal way to do so he’d suspend growth until such time adequate fees are in place to assure that the city can maintain current service levels as well as assure infrastructure needs growth creates are funded and in place.

The number of residential sewer allocations that can be issued in any given year is 3.9 percent. The number is obtained by taking the overall count of housing units within the city limits on Dec. 31 each year — single family homes, apartment units, mobile homes, duplexes, triplexes, condos, and townhouses — and multiplying the total by 3.9 percent.

The basic framework of the growth management ordinance adopted in 1988 means the real cap in terms of the number of homes that can be built in a given year keeps growing. Two decades ago elected leaders amended the ordinance to exempt age-restricted housing such as Del Webb at Woodbridge, affordable housing as defined by the city’s housing element, and secondary housing known as granny flats on existing residential lots that already have a home on them.

Any allocations awarded to developers that are unused can be rolled over by developers for one year. Development agreements — that came into vogue two decades ago and now have essentially disappeared — provide multiple year allotments in exchange for what has been described as “upgraded development.”

Almost all other city growth management plans set a firm number.

Tracy, as an example, has a growth management board in place that essentially awards an average of 600 residential growth allocations (housing units) although another 150 can be issued in a given year if they meet affordability guidelines.

Manteca in 2020 had 986 housing units started — including 644 single family homes and 344 apartment units.

To determine the number of housing units that can be built in 2021, the 986 number is added to the 28,250 in place at the start of 2020. The number 29,236 is then multiplied by 3.9 percent. That means 1,140 housing units can be “approved to be built” in 2021 without running afoul of Ordinance No. 800.

That number can go higher as rollover of allocations is allowed.


How Manteca’s growth

management got started

While Manteca set the trend when it comes to controlled growth in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, its 33-year old cap rule is now arguably the most liberal.

The push for a growth cap started when a group known as the Concerned Citizens for Planned Growth rolled out a plan to put a 2 percent growth cap on the ballot and started collecting signatures. It was countered by developers who wanted a 4.5 percent growth cap instead.

That prompted then Mayor Jack Snyder to roll out an initiative plan that basically mirrored the 3.9 percent growth cap on residential housing. Developers backed down and ultimately the more stringent 2 percent growth cap didn’t qualify for the ballot.

The 1970s had ended with four strong growth years capped with a 12 percent gain in residents in 1980 that took the city’s population from 20,187 to 25,641 or an increase of roughly 25 percent in 48 months.

The growth rate slowed a bit but then it hit a record 12.1 percent in 1985 followed by a 9.2 percent jump in 1986 that took Manteca’s population up from 29,027 to 35,437 in two years. Manteca today — some 33 years later — has almost 82,000 residents.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the city’s inability to keep up with growth. Fees on growth were inadequate or non-existent for a wide variety of amenities such as parks and fire services.

Manteca was bouncing back

from near bankruptcy

The city was still recovering from a near-bankruptcy episode in the 1980s when the budget reserve was a razor-thin $1,800. Manteca’s financial trials were heavy on civic leaders’ minds during the building boom of 1984 to 1987. They didn’t want a repeat of the 1980s experience which forced the city to leave the just completed Louise Avenue fire station unopened because they couldn’t afford to staff it while city police were using old CHP cars with excess of 90,000 miles on them when the city took delivery of them as primary patrol units.

Many residents shared the concern that Manteca was growing faster than basic services could keep up with. The sentiment was Manteca was growing too fast as neighborhoods such as Mayors Park in the triangle formed by the railroad tracks, Louise Avenue and Union Road seemed to develop overnight.

The ordinance went into effect just as the economy started receding. It would take 12 years before the cap would be pushed in a particular year.

Tying into sewer allocations was viewed by legal experts and civic leaders at the time as the easiest way to implement a growth management plan.

Ordinance No. 800 was put into effect on Aug. 16, 1988 as the guideline for how the first phase of the municipal wastewater treatment plant expansion would be utilized to divide sewer capacity. It was subsequently extended in future years to govern how the second phase of the treatment plant would have its capacity parceled out.

A percentage was set aside for every category in terms of how much capacity of the plant would be allocated to a particular use. Those percentages set aside 60 percent of the overall capacity to housing with no distinction being between apartments, single family homes, duplexes or mobile homes. The other categories — schools, industrial, retail and office divided the rest of the capacity.

Based on the intent and the actual wording of Ordinance No. 800, city leaders view the growth management plan as a success.

That, however, isn’t a universal view. There are those who believe the city has been growing too fast.

Originally the growth cap gave projects two windows to secure sewer allocations — one in March and the other in October.

The advent of development agreements tied into “bonus bucks” — fees paid to secure sewer allocation fees — were advanced by the development community in 1998 to avoid the potential for lawsuits among builders when 13 projects were moving forward at once. The bonus bucks generated more than $30 million for the city to spend without restriction. They used $11.9 million to avoid city cutbacks for a number of years when expenditures exceed revenues. The city has now had a balanced budget for more than three consecutive years.

The balance of the bonus bucks have helped pay for amenities such as soccer field lights at Woodward Park, traffic signals on the Tidewater Bikeway, more than half of the construction of the Union Road fire station and other amenities including aerial fireworks on the Fourth of July.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail