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General plan update proposal may open door for possible Manteca discussion
General plan update may include a call for forming a Growth Management Commission. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Manteca may tinker with its 31-year-old growth cap.

A draft general plan policy document fashioned by a consultant working with a citizens’ advisory committee contains what is being dubbed “an optional growth management program” section.

It recommends establishing a Growth Management Commission “which would review growth management applications, when necessary, and provide an annual report to the City Council on the program, including levels of service and approved and forecasted development.”

The citizens committee will review the draft for the general plan update when they meet tonight at 6 o’clock at the Manteca Transit Center, 220 Moffat Blvd. The Planning Commission will review the draft prior to it being sent to the City Council for possible adoption.

General plans are mandated by the state to be updated every 10 years. They serve as a blueprint for growth.

The city’s current growth management plan adopted in 1988 called for two annual meetings to award sewer allocations for projects. That part of the ordinance disappeared in 2003 when a revision — triggered by sewer capacity scarcity that prompted builders to enter into development agreements that required them to provide added value to secure sewer allocation certainty across multiple years with such concessions as paying between $5,000 to $7,000 per home in “bonus bucks” for elected leaders to spend as they saw fit — tied up allocations for a number of years.

 The existing growth cap was put in place after a citizens group known as Concerned Citizens for Planned Growth prepared to circulate petitions that would have restricted annual home building to 2 percent a year based on the number of existing homes. Another group led by developers proposed a 4.5 percent cap.  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, the council adopted the 3.9 percent cap, and ultimately the more stringent 2 percent growth cap didn’t qualify for the ballot.

City goes from near

bankruptcy to $21.5M

in general fund reserves

What drove the push for the growth cap — the first ever implemented in the Central Valley — was growth getting ahead of the city’s ability to deliver services. Fees on growth were inadequate or non-existent for a wide variety of amenities such as parks and fire services.

The city was still recovering from a near-bankruptcy episode in 1980 when the budget reserve was a razor-thin $1,800. That compares to $21.5 million that was on hand in various general fund reserves on June 30, 2018. Manteca’s financial trials were heavy on many people’s 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.

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 existing growth management ordinance had been criticized over the years for being too lax. One feature, as an example, allows unused sewer allocations from year to be rolled over into the next year.

Also because it is a percentage instead of a hard number such as Tracy adopted more than 15 years later, the number of housing units allowed keeps growing.

No real hammer in

place to get additional

concessions from builders

As an example, if Manteca had 25,000 housing units at the end of this year, 975 more homes could be built in 2020 without breaching the 3.9 percent cap. (That number could be even higher due to rollover permits from the previous year.). At the end of 2020 there would be 25,975 housing units meaning the cap would allow 1,013 homes to be built in 2021.

The current growth policy requires projects to pass a point system so those that would add the most to the city — whether it is via amenities or providing more affordable housing — would get higher points and therefore a higher priority to be awarded permits.

In reality, builders for the past decade plus have been well below the growth cap building 200 or so less homes in any given year than Ordinance No. 800 allows. As a result the ordinance has no real teeth to get builders and developers to pony up more beyond basic requirements in order to secure building permits.

And with ample sewer allocations, the hammer that led to development agreements and bonus bucks is gone meaning developers simply have to submit maps, meet basic requirements and they can obtain building permits. The squeeze on sewer allocations started in the late 1990s when a plant expansion had yet to take place and there were 13 developers pushing projects that would have consumed all of the available sewer allocation for residential growth.

The draft general plan document lists various policies and objectives that hover around making sure services keep up with growth.

If the council ultimately adopted the general plan update with the optional growth management program goals included there is no guarantee anything behind what is already in place will happen.

But it could open the door for changes to be pushed by either elected officials or residents who may view what is on place as the equivalent of paper tigers.

Whatever potential changes might be advanced; it would be difficult to implement them without a hammer of sorts. As long as available allocations in a given year comfortable exceed the market demand there is no incentive for a builder or developer to do anything beyond meeting basic city requirements.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email