Georgianna Reichelt — arguably the most high profile community activist over a 40-year period in Manteca — may soon be recognized by the City Council.
Mayor Ben Cantu who often clashed with Reichelt over a long list of growth and development issues when he was employed as a municipal planner wants to honor Reichelt. That honor, as outlined by Cantu at Tuesday’s council meeting, would take the form of a council certificate as opposed to the traditional council resolution. He also wants a now unnamed segment of former Louise Avenue east of Airport Way that is behind a sound wall to be officially christened at Reichelt Way.
Reichelt for 40 years was at the forefront of public-based efforts — and sometimes was the only voice — questioning council actions on everything from growth to a wide variety of other decisions such as the wisdom of executing the private-public sector deal that led to the city’s $30 million investment into Big League Dreams to whether previous councils were justified in being able to take lifetime health benefits for simply serving more than eight years.
She wasn’t just a regular at Manteca City Council meetings up until six years ago when health issues slowed her down. Reichelt was also a fairly regular attendee and voice at meetings of the Manteca Unified School District, Lathrop City Council, San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
Reichelt became a household name in Manteca in the late 1970s and 1980s when she brought neighbors and others in the community together to fight growth decisions that the city was making that was threatening the lifestyle of rural residents caught in the path of development especially west of Manteca.
That effort gave birth to the Manteca Rural Committee. During the mid-1980s when double-digit annual growth was swamping the city to the point more than 1,000 homes were being built a year while the city struggled to stay afloat, she was one of the primary instigators that forced elected Manteca leaders to adopt the first growth cap every put in place by a Central Valley city.
The group 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 placed 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 end result was adoption of Municipal Ordinance No. 800 in 1988 that limited residential sewer allocations to 3.9 percent annually based on the number of existing housing units in place on the last day of the previous year.
With the growth cap in place most other activists turned their attention to other things. That wasn’t the case with Reichelt.
When the City of Manteca decided an environmental impact wasn’t needed for the proposed 960-home Chadwick Square Estates in northwest Manteca, the Manteca Rural Committee led by Reichelt filed lawsuit.
They prevailed in San Joaquin County Superior Court only to have the city appeal the decision. Ultimately the California Supreme Court let the ruling stand by declining to hear an appeal by the city.
Manteca wasn’t Rechielt’s only legal entanglement. She teamed up with members of the San Joaquin County Sierra Club and filed repeated lawsuits against the forerunner of River Islands at Lathrop that was known as Gold Rush City in a bid to stop the proposed development of an amusement park and housing on Stewart Tract.
Cambay Group repeatedly prevailed in lawsuits. At one point they won a lawsuit against Reichelt and other persistent litigants. In Recihelt’s case it held in abeyance hefty legal damages providing she withheld criticism of the project until such time the last house was built.
Although some argued that it vindicated their assertions that Reichelt had a tendency to push the envelope beyond reason, it demonstrated how much Reichelt was willing to risk to fight for what she believed in.
For decades Reichelt appeared at every Manteca City Council meetings as well as Manteca Planning Commission meetings.
While some opted to ignore Reichelt, City Attorney John Brinton advised that it wasn’t wise to do so as often she would make points that would benefit the city to heed.
The segment of former Louise Avenue that Cantu seeks to name in Reichelt’s honor was created after she successfully fought back efforts to allow the developer of Villa Ticino to widen the street to four lanes using the historic center line.
Instead the developer was required to swing the roadway to the south to cut into property that would have been used for residential lots. The developer was also required to put the sound wall in place.
Staff indicated it would report back to the council with a certificate as well as advise them of the process that is in place to name streets. Typically it requires the fire and police departments to sign off to make sure it doesn’t sound too much like other existing street names.
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