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Residents fear Manteca growing too fast?
Citizens questioning number of homes being built
Crews work on building new homes south of Woodward Avenue. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Growth – specifically the building of homes – is  drawing rumblings from more Manteca residents.

During the debate over whether to continue to suspend the collection of bonus bucks from developers in exchange for sewer allocation certainty citizens who spoke out at the council meetings, in emails to elected leaders and in letters to the Bulletin all questioned whether growth was straining the city’s ability to deliver basic services such as public safety, street maintenance, and other municipal endeavors.

It is the same cry that proceeded a movement 29 years ago that led to Manteca adopting the Central Valley’s first growth cap management.

That growth cap, unlike most others, is tied to sewer allocations and not an actual number of homes ghat can be built in a given year. It has a rollover clause for unassigned allocations plus exempts age-restricted and affordable housing from the count.

“The building of new homes in Manteca has become a viscous circle,” Sandra Ahrens told the council during Tuesday’s meeting. “The city has to keep building more homes to get more money for the new ones as well as the ones already here and still we have a $12.8 million shortfall.”

Mayor Willie Weatherford questioned where Ahrens got the $12.8 million number. She got it from the city as that is the amount of bonus bucks the city has used over the past decade to plug holes in the general fund caused by adding staff to serve growth as well as provide pay raises when there wasn’t adequate funding to do so. The  city on Tuesday essentially opted not to collect any more bonus bucks for at least another 27 months. Bonus bucks are what saved the city from going into the red or reducing staffing prior to the Great Recession by plugging the accumulative $12.8 million hole in the general fund budget.

“Why do we need to enlarge our population?” Ahrens asked. “Who cares if developers build somewhere else? I’m sure most of the citizens of Manteca hope they do. More is not always better. With more homes comes more parks for the homeless, more crime, more traffic, higher taxes, and less water in times of drought such s now.”

Councilman Steve DeBrum clearly understood the general frustration was with growth in general and not exclusively bonus bucks prompting him to take a middle ground.

DeBrum referenced population projections for the next 35 years indicating the city can’t ignore growth as it essentially is coming. He advocated planning for wise growth so the city could develop in the best possible manner.

Even Ben Cantu who is challenging DeBrum for mayor on Nov. 4 agreed that growth is inevitable.

“I support the building of new homes,” Cantu, a retired municipal planner, told the council.

The city’s existing growth cap calls for taking the number of housing units in Manteca  at the end of each year and multiplying it by 3.9 percent to determine how many residential sewer allocations will be allowed in a given year That number is currently about 960 homes a year. Manteca is currently building just over 250 homes annually as age-restricted homes at Del Webb are excluded from the cap.

Twenty-nine years ago there were three distinct groups arguing over the proposed growth cap number. On were residents concerned that the city had dded almost 1,300 homes in one year and lacked the money to open a fire station, buy new police cars, and had only $1,000 in the bank. Citizens groups pushed for caps of 2 and 5 percent tied to sewer allocations plus they did not advocate a rollover of allocations or exceptions for infill, age-restricted and affordable housing as allowed under Ordinance 800 after it was amended last decade.

Developers, on the other hand, wanted no growth cap.

The council at the time came up with the 3.9 percent cap tied to sewer allocations as a compromise. The adoption of the growth cap headed off a movement to place the matter on the municipal ballot.