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Study underway could lead to the incorporation of Mountain House as San Joaquin County’s eighth city
mountain house aerial
An aerial view of Mountain House looking toward Mt. Diablo.

 Mountain House  — a community where a bidding war recently saw a $1.5 million 3,400-square-foot resale home listing get bid up to a final selling price of $2 million — is moving along a path that could lead it to becoming San Joaquin County’s eighth city.

And if it were a city in 2021, based on state Department of Finance yields for new housing, it would have been the fastest growing city in all of California once aberrations for PG&E wildfires and college students returning to four-year campuses for in-person learning are taken into account.

The planned community nestled against the western county line added 624 housing units in 2021. That translates into a 9.2 percent growth rate and a population of 28,044 as of Jan. 1, 2022.

Lathrop which was the state’s third fastest growing city in California on the official Department of Finance list but actually the fastest when Paradise and Santa Cruz regaining population from sudden drops tied into wildfires and COVID pandemic in-person learning restrictions are taken into account, grew by 6.63 percent in 2021. Lathrop’s population as of Jan. 1, 2022 was pegged at 31,331.

Manteca, by comparison grew, by 2.19 percent to reach 86,859 as the state’s 25th fastest growing city.

The $70,000 study approved by the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors last month will analyze the financial ability of Mountain House to stand alone as a city.


Mountain House has more per capita than

Manteca to cover municipal services

Based on how the city was set up with a special tax that assesses all square footage — residential or otherwise — roughly 70 cents a year, it generates around two thirds of the Mountain House Community Service District’s $24 million annual operating budget.

Between that and property taxes Mountain House generates $900 per capita for municipal services.

That compares to Manteca with a general fund of $52 million that generates $593 per capital from various sources such as property and sales tax revenue to cover the cost of day-to-day city services each year.

With almost exactly a third of Manteca’s residents, Mountain House has more than half of what Manteca does to cover general fund services.

It is because of how heavily property is assessed. That special tax on the 3,400 square foot home that just sold for $2 million will generate $2,380 a year in taxes on top of what portion of the $20,000 property tax bill Mountain House receives.

At the same time a home that may be assessed at $650,00 under Proposition 13 rules that hasn’t  sold for years and also has 3,400 square feet would also pay $2,380 a year based on the 70 cent per square foot added tax on top of an annual property tax bill that would come to $6,800 and is split between the school district, county, Delta College and other agencies.

“The 70 cent per square footage assessment is probably why we don’t have a lot of commercial,” noted Mountain  House Community Services District General Manager Steve Pinkerton.

Pinkerton is a former Manteca city manager.

That said a Safeway store and other retail space is now under construction thanks in part to the buying power of residents that helps overcome the additional annual burden for having commercial space.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors in the 1990s purposedly set up Mountain House to not be a drain on the county budget. It is why the 70 cent per square foot tax was put in place before Shay Development turned dirt. There is an annual 4 percent cap on increases.

It means Mountain House — unlike most California cities — would not be reliant on taxes of retail sales to help cover a large share of municipal operating costs if it incorporated as a city.


Mountain House could be first

new California city in decade

That special assessment may also be the reason Mountain House may ultimately be able to incorporate as the state’s 483rd city. No new city has been formed in the last decade since the state changed how some revenues that is collected is divided between local jurisdictions and Sacramento.

Mountain House developers are getting ready to move forward with what are 5,000 more lots north of Byron Road.

A large share of the homes will be age-restricted to reduce stress on local schools. Mountain House Hugh already has 2,000 students.

If incorporated the community roughly five miles somewhat to the northwest from Tracy along the wind-swept lower reaches of the Diablo Range foothills nudged up against the Alameda and Contra Costa County lines would become the county’s fifth largest city behind Lathrop and ahead of Ripon.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors in the mid-1990s made a decision to award the Mountain House the privilege of being a master planned community in a rural area of the county.

The project was the victory in a three-way race for the opportunity the county was creating. San Joaquin County — in a bid to protect agriculture — years prior had imposed zoning that made it difficult to break 80, 40, and 20 acre parcels into smaller parcels. It was enough to thwart developers from trying to amass rural land to cobble together large subdivision projects.

The idea was to not simply direct urbanization into cities but to prevent pockets of urbanized incorporated areas such as Raymus Village to pop up wily-nilly across San Joaquin County’s 1,426 square miles that stretch from the heart of the Delta to the rolling terrain of the lower Sierra foothills.

It was an early version of “smart growth”. Instead of allowing growth demands to slowly break down larger parcels into smaller ones for housing or to create more pockets of urban areas away from urban areas well established to handle higher densities, the goal was to address growth pressures with minimum impacts on agriculture as well as existing cities.


Location protected prime

farmland, minimized impacts

of commute to reach Altamont

The supervisors back then with the likes of the late Bob Cabral, an almond grower from Escalon, understood the dangers of not just uncontrolled growth but also failing to plan to handle market and economic forces behind their control.

The goal was not to allow the Bay Area growth machine to run rampant through San Joaquin County while at the same time making life for those ended up living here something better than the mish-mash mess 1950s-1960s era growth created in unincorporated areas throughout the state such as Eastern Sacramento County, the Santa Clara Valley, and large swaths of the Los Angeles Basin. Such “smart growth” would also protect agriculture to a large degree.

The two planned community projects the supervisors rejected to secure the urbanization exception to county rules, speaks volumes about the soundness of their ultimate decision.

Both were on prime farmland as opposed to the marginal farmland around Mountain House. And both were far from the base on the Altamont Pass commute corridor meaning they would make commuter traffic even worse as the years unfolded.

The first home foundation was poured on Jan. 18, 2003. That first home in what some at the time described “in the middle of a windy nowhere” has since morphed into a bustling community on target to surpass 30,000 residents by next yea.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email