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Cantu continues to say levees first, homes later
rivr levee
Crews work on shoring up the San Joaquin River levee designed for 100-year flood protection adjacent to Lathrop High in this photo taken in 2017.

Mayor Ben Cantu is adamant and consistent when it comes to flood protection.

Cantu thinks it is absolutely nuts to continue allowing building in the 200-year floodplain that includes a large swath of southwest Manteca where a developer was granted permission last week by the City Council — including the mayor himself — to start ground work for 319 homes.

The mayor steadfastly refuses to vote to certify adequate progress is being made on efforts to proceed to construction and actually put in place levee upgrades as well as a controversial dry levee south of Manteca to provide 200-year flood protection for the residents of Reclamation District 17.

The annual vote on certification that passed on a 4-1 vote with Cantu dissenting came minutes after the mayor joined his colleagues in  approving the balance of the consent calendar carte blanche that included allowing grading to start for homes in the flood zone before final map approval.

The 319-home Denali subdivision covering 83.5 acres southwest of the envisioned McKinkey Avenue and 120 Bypass interchange is within the 200-year floodplain as are roughly 1,100 nearby existing homes built since 2001. That is in addition to much of the Airport Way corridor north of the 120 Bypass in including Costco, Great Wolf, and the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

Cantu’s point is simple. It is irresponsible to allow more homes to be built in the food zone that will end up imperiling more people and property.

The last time the issue came up the mayor argued a 200-year flood event could easily happen in the next water year or the actual levee work may not take place in either a timely manner in subsequent years or not at all if funding isn’t actually secured.


So why is no one else

on council voting with

Cantu for the levee to

be upgraded first?

That would mean Manteca along with Lathrop that has the portion of its city east of the San Joaquin River in the 200-year floodplain could allow additional thousands of homes to be built in harm’s with no protection if a 200-year food event hits before construction now targeted to start in July 2028 is completed.

So why hasn’t Cantu convinced any of his council colleagues to join him?

The reason is simple as well. Between Manteca, Lathrop, French Camp and the Weston Ranch portion of Stockton there already 52,000 people living in harm’s way. The overwhelming majority are in housing that was built before the state upped flood protection from 100 year events to 200 year events.

In order to afford flood protection for housing that existed for years before the state mandate was issued, it will cost $180 million plus. While local agencies working in unison as the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency (SJAFCA) are seeking federal and state help, it is clear local funding will be needed.

Part of that will likely come from an area of benefit district that will impose annual property taxes on impacted property. If voters don’t approve such a district and the levees aren’t upgraded they will face the need to buy expensive flood insurance for protection.

And while it is not mandatory per se for many those with federal insured loans or those buying homes with federally backed mortgages will be required to pay out in excess of $2,000 a year for flood protection policies that typically have a $15,000 deductible.

The lack of 200-year flood protection being in place and, in the meantime the certification that progress is being made, would subject the impacted areas to a state edict that would stop all construction — including adding rooms to existing homes. It would also make getting mortgages and home equity loans a lot trickier and likely a more expensive proposition.

In short, not certifying progress is being made — which it is — would have costly consequences for existing residents and property owners.

And by allowing construction to continue while moving toward actual ground breaking on levee work, allows flood protection fees to be collected on each new home built that will reduce the potential out-of-pocket costs for existing homeowners if and when an area of benefit district is put in place

Councilman Gary Singh represents Manteca on SJAFCA that is working on a regional solution that will have a pro-rated cost for the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Stockton as well as San Joaquin County based on how much land in each jurisdiction is within the 200-year floodplain.

The largest is Lathrop followed by Manteca. While River Islands at Lathrop is in the 200-year flood plain Cambay Group has put in place 300-foot wide levees that exceed the 200 year protection standard effectively lifting the 15,000 home planned community out of danger.


What would be flooded in

a 200-year event if upgraded

levees aren’t in place?

The term 100-year flood and such is misleading. It doesn’t represent a flood that occurs every 100 years or whatever number hydrologists assign but to a flood event of a particular size that has a 1 in a 100 chance of happening in any given year.

Without upgraded levees in place a 200-year flood would also:

*flood 5,000 existing homes with 3 feet or more of water.

*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 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 88,500 existing Manteca residents and more than 14,000 of Lathrop’s nearly 30,000 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.