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River Islands approach keeps park upkeep costs down
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The growing cost of public employee retirement won’t be a burden as the years unfold for River Islands at Lathrop homeowners when it comes to park and general area maintenance.

That’s because all of the work to maintain 2,206,000 square feet of park, 776,000 square feet of pocket parks, 2,842,000 square feet of landscaping parcels, 1,900,000 square feet of road area landscaping, 3,600 trees, 226,500 square feet of street sweeping and 21,360 square feet of sound walls currently in place is awarded to a private contractor through the bidding process.

As a result the River Islands Public Financing Authority supported by community facilities district levies capped at 2 percent will not create pension burdens and such for homeowners when it comes to park and landscape maintenance.

Susan Dell’Osso, president of River Islands Development, said the overall design of how the 15,001 home community was planned — including ongoing costs for homebuyers — was to provide the most robust community lifestyle while keeping costs down as much as possible.

That commitment included providing retail electric service through the Lathrop Irrigation District at rates that are currently 5 percent below PG&E. The savings margin is expected to reach 15 percent or more as more homes are occupied and PG&E keeps increasing rates.

The approach contrasts sharply with some cities like Manteca.

Actually Manteca at one time did what the River Islands Financing Authority does. All of the landscape maintenance district work in the city was put out to bid and awarded to private contractors that often paid many of their workers minimum wage. The city, just like the financing authority on River Islands, monitored the quality of the work of the contractors.

When Manteca dropped the awarding of bids to private firms in 2010, it wasn’t to save homeowners money nor was it because of work quality issues. It was to save city jobs.

The Great Recession created a major funding shortfall for the city forcing them to consider cutting jobs. They saved a number of positions by having city park workers perform LMD work and bill the time — including payroll costs — they worked on them to the specific LMD.

In the initial years the city took over LMDs annual reports to the council shared how they were able to reduce manpower needs to work more efficiently without impacting the quality of the work. That was needed given city workers were at the time paid 30 to 40 percent more than private sector workers employed in landscape related work

The shift from private firms to city workers never addressed unfunded California Public Employment Retirement System (CalPERS) costs that have become an issue in recent years.

Assuming that cost is being saddled proportionately on LMDs, there will come a point where current level of assessments even with capped annual increases will not be able to cover all costs.

That means those neighborhoods with common area landscaping and even park maintenance covered by a separate assessment will likely eventually face service level cutbacks or would have to vote to assess themselves and neighbors at a rate exceeding annual inflation adjustments.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email