By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Council wants refund of fees to Union Ranch property owners
Two bicyclists cut across the Union Ranch Park on Wednesday. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Union Ranch homeowners a year ago left a Manteca City Council meeting with assurances a neighborhood  park they were being assessed $496.31  apiece per year to maintain would be in place by now.

Instead of wide expanses of grass, trees, a picnic area with a 35-foot wide canopy, drinking fountains, a basketball court,  two playgrounds and trees there is just concrete work involving sidewalks and a pad for picnic tables in place plus four security lights standing guard on 7.37 acres of weeds and barren dirt.

With less than 60 days left before the end of the fiscal year and new assessments scheduled to be adopted for all landscape maintenance districts within Manteca, the is no chance that the park will be finished. In fact, it is doubtful any of the residents who have paid the park maintenance fee since November will be able to use the park at fall this summer.

That prompted the Manteca City Council Tuesday night to direct staff to look into refunding payments in excess of establishing a six-month reserve as required under state law. The reserve would be based on the cost to maintain the park once it is completed hopefully sometime late this year.

Councilman Steve DeBrum asked the council to re-examine the Union Ranch Park after growing frustrated with lack of progress.

Neighborhood resident Bruce Lownsbury brought up the issue of refunding the money homeowners have paid into the landscape maintenance district while addressing the council.

“(The city) taxed us for a whole year without any benefits,” Lownsbury pointed out.

He also noted that at least one family that had been assessed for the park maintenance recently sold their house and moved away meaning they paid fees for something they never got a chance to use.

Sharon Lewis, who also resides in Union Ranch, criticized the city for allowing “inexpensive looking lights” to go in at the park when they were promised what city staff described as “decorative lights” in park-related documents. Street lighting throughout Union Ranch is the same Tidewater-style light poles found in downtown, near the Stadium Retail Center, in a loop subdivision of Daniels Street, and in Del Webb at Woodbridge.

The four security lights installed in the center of the park are modern-style lantern lights.

“They’re cheap-looking lights,” Lewis said. “(We were told) they were supposed to be something special about them.”

Councilman Vince Hernandez said as a homeowner who had bought a home in another community before moving back to Manteca a number of years ago he was in the same situation as the Union Ranch residents.

“When someone is paying for something they’re not receiving service for it is really disheartening,” Hernandez said.

The work on the park was supposed to have been done a number of years ago by the developers under agreements made with the city.

“We didn’t hold anybody’s feet to the fire,” Mayor Willie Weatherford said before suggesting staff put in place a mechanism to make sure such a snafu didn’t happen again.

The $1.2 million park project for the 425-lot subdivision is being paid for with growth fees also includes 3.3 acres of linear park improvements. It includes a bike path that will eventually connect to the Tidewater Bikeway. Park improvements include two playground areas - one for preschoolers and another for those 5 to 12 years of age. The playgrounds will flank a picnic area with a 35-foot octagon canopy. There will be tables under the shade structure as well as outside of it. Several barbecues will be put in place along with a basketball court, drinking fountains, decorative security lighting, benches, and trash receptacles.

Since all of the facilities weren’t expected to be in place this fiscal year, the assessment for the initial fiscal year that started July 1, 2011 was $496.31. Staff has said it will end up being closer to $784.14 annually once all improvements are finished.

There are at least four other neighborhoods in Manteca that have the park maintenance collapsed into their landscape maintenance district assessment.

The city in the past has explored adding the cost of maintaining the storm run-off system in each neighborhood as well as street lighting to the cost of future LMDs.