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Manteca rejects bid to freeze growth in floodplain
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Manteca’s elected city leaders — opting to stay the course to enhance flood protection for 8,000 existing residents on the dime of the buyers of future new homes — unanimously rejected a request to suspend building in the 200-year floodplain.
The request made by rural residents to freeze growth in southwest Manteca until such time as all flooding impacts have been identified and mitigated didn’t exactly fall on deaf ears during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Councilwoman Debby Moorhead, whose sentiments were echoed by her elected colleagues, said she understood the fears rural residents have that reside south of where a more muscular and longer dry levee is being pursued to ratchet up 200-year flood protection in Lathrop, southwest and west Manteca, Weston Ranch, and French Camp.
“We have a lot more on the other side (of the dry levee) to protect,” Moorhead said of the 48,000 residents that includes Lathrop and Weston Ranch who already live in harm’s way under modeling when conditions align for a 200-year flood event. A 200-year event isn’t one that would happen every year but rather a flooding scenario than has a 1 in 200 chance of happening in any given year.
Moorhead added “that doesn’t diminish” the situation the rural residents are facing.
The area south of Manteca has flooded 11 times since 1929 due to levee breaks along the San Joaquin River and Stanislaus River. That included 1997 when water lapped at the top of the existing dry levee south of Woodward Avenue that was considered touch and go for 48 hours. That prompted state emergency services to plug the McKinley Avenue underpass of the 120 Bypass to serve as a potential backup levee.
There are now several thousand new homes in the floodplain southwest of the 120 Bypass with at least another 4,012 units already approved in the 200-year floodplain.

Rural residents want
to know: where is the
water going to go?
Dairy farmer Ray Quaresma who has had to deal with floodwaters and protecting 6,000 head of cattle during the 1997 levee break  asked the question that residents in the area have asked for months of the city and agencies they are partnering with enhance the dry levee.
“Where’s the water going to go?” Quaresma asked. “Who are you representing?”
Answering his own question, Quaresma told the council they are hurting the greater Manteca community that includes rural residents as well as people who buy the homes that will be built.
Rural residents cite their anecdotal knowledge of how that area drains after levees break and logic that a higher dry levee in a 200-yard event will back up more water increasing how high floodwaters will rise to exacerbate flood damage south of the dry levee.
The council’s action, based on comments before they voted, was that they weren’t representing developers but the 48,000 residents in Manteca and nearby communities already in harm’s way should a 200-year flood event overwhelm levees.  That also includes eight schools, Manteca’s wastewater treatment plant, and numerous commercial and industrial properties plus San Joaquin General Hospital among others.
The coalition of the cities of Lathrop, Manteca, Stockton, San Joaquin County and Reclamation District 17 have yet to adopt an exact alignment for the cross levee. It is a work in progress that will require a full environmental vetting and hydrology study before it can move forward.
Councilman Richard Silverman noted Senate Bill 5 passed in 2006 was a wake-up call as it required jurisdictions to look at 200-year flood concerns and to take steps to address how to prevent a flood from happening instead of one day such an event happening and the homes of 48,000 people damaged.
“I don’t want a flood,” Silverman said.
He noted he wanted to pressure federal and state officials to dredge the San Joaquin River between the confluence of the Stanislaus River and Mossdale Crossing to remove silt build up to increase the river’s flow capacity. Silverman also want to see the levees south of the city made bulletproof. The levees, however, are outside the jurisdiction of Reclamation District 17 that protects the city and Lathrop as well as part of Stockton.

Manteca is conforming
with state law requirements
The city is conforming with state mandates as they had a general plan and funding mechanism in place to address the 200-year levee building process as of July 1, 2016. That allows the city to continue approving development. Senate Bill 5 grandfathered in entitled projects on the books prior to that date.
Actual construction on flood protection improvements must be underway by July 1, 2025.
Manteca’s share of the overall $176 million tab to enhance 200-year flood protection won’t be on the back of existing property and homeowners thanks to fees now in place for construction in the 200-year floodplain.
The fee adds $3,145 to the cost of a new home. Fees have also been established for commercial, industrial and multi-family developments in the 200-year floodplain that is within the city’s limit. The fee is $1,417 per 1,000 square feet of commercial, $1,096 per 1,000 square feet of industrial, and $904 per unit of multiple family complexes.
If there was no new construction to put in place 200-year flood protection the owners of property in the impacted area of Manteca would have to pay the tab. If the improvements weren’t made, mortgage firms could require expensive flood insurance before they’d issue loans for the purchase of homes within the 200-year flood plain.
The area in question is already certified by the state and federal governments as being protected against a 100-year flood event.
Attorney Michael Babitzke representing the south rural group conceded Manteca was following state law.
But he argued the city was doing everyone a disservice by just doing “the minimum required.”
He wanted the city to take a breath, stop construction, and make an assessment with environmental documentation now to make sure they were doing the right thing before allowing more development to proceed.
The discussion on 200-year flood protection came ironically on the same day California officials announced the current winter so far is the third driest on record as much of the state heads back toward drought conditions.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email