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School farm annexation before LAFCO Friday
The 107.5 acres proposed for annexation. - photo by RYAN BALBUENA/The Bulletin
The ball is now in the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission’s court for Manteca’s most controversial annexation in decades – 107.5 acres that include the Manteca Unified office complex, bus garage, and school farm along with 18 homes.

The issue is before the commission during their meeting this Friday at 10 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors chambers on the seventh floor of the courthouse in Stockton, 222 E. Weber Ave.

A number of impacted residents are rankled by the fact they don’t have a say in whether the annexation proceeds via the ballot box and that the city has pre-zoned land that is now an orchard behind them to allow for apartments.

The annexation is taking place because the City Council refused to extend municipal water and sewer services to the 68.23-acre Manteca Unified complex on the northwest corner of Louise Avenue and Airport Way without the land being annexed to the city.

The district got itself in a bind building the $14 million project without first securing a source of drinkable water or addressing sewer needs. The district’s water supply has such a high level or arsenic due to contamination from an old adjoining magnesium plant that district office personnel and students at the school farm have been barred from drinking it for years.

Drilling a new well may not have been wise due to the odds it could be contaminated as well. The equipment needed to reduce arsenic levels - that were up until a few years ago was acceptable under federal standards at several Manteca municipal wells - may cost an average of $200,000 to put in place. The district’s problem, however, is much more severe. The district started building without making sure it had adequate water or sewer service.

The fire suppression system installed in the three-story building also may not have been effective with well water unless a big holding tank was put in place.

Several school board members balked at annexing to the city over concerns about the future of the school farm.

The city has repeatedly assured the school district that they are a “right to farm” city which requires anyone purchasing property within the city limits to sign a disclosure statement saying that farmers have the right to farm using acceptable practices which means complaints wouldn’t trigger enforcement. Trustees also were concerned about development pressures that could generate complaints directed at the school district over the school farm. It was pointed out that could happen whether the school farm stayed outside the city or was annexed.

Because annexing the district property would create an island of unincorporated land – a triangle bounded by Louise Avenue, Airport Way, and the railroad tracks – current state law means the city has to force the annexation of the 44.15 acres as well.

In years gone by protests by other property owners such as those who own the 18 homes and two almond orchard parcels could have blocked the annexation. That isn’t the case now as the state wants to prevent islands or pockets of unincorporated areas being created such as Joseph Road off North Main Street in Manteca.

There is no disadvantage to annexing to a city when it comes to taxes. The tax rate will remain unchanged although they would have municipal police and fire services available after annexation.

Most of the homes are located along Louise Avenue behind a sound wall and a frontage road that was the original Louise Avenue.