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Want sewer? Two chances to get it
Home builders can now seek allocations twice a year
Developers will now have two times in a year they can seek sewer allocations for homes they want to build. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Manteca’s magic number might just be 3.9 as in 3.9 percent.

That’s the arbitrary percentage municipal leaders selected 26 years ago for a cap on annual residential sewer allocations in response to growing community concerns that Manteca was expanding too fast.

Manteca was the first Central Valley city to adopt a growth cap by at least a decade. The 1986 ordinance slowed down Manteca home building four times when market demands could easily have doubled the number of homes built in that particular year.

Manteca under the growth cap could have issued just over 900 housing permits this year but no one applied for them. Manteca has been building just over 300 new housing units annually for the past four years. The sewer allocations they have used were tied up in development agreements inked in previous years.

One of the primary mechanisms that make the growth cap work - the annual awarding of allocations once a year in March - hasn’t been used since 1999. That’s when 13 developers with projects containing more than 1,700 building lots were slugging it out for about 650 annual sewer allocations being awarded by the City of Manteca. To avoid suing each other they agreed to enter into development agreements and started bonus buck payments to the city that generated well over $30 million in windfall municipal revenue in exchange for sewer allocation certainty over multiple years.

Virtually all available sewer allocation except around a couple dozen allocations a year reserved for those building one home or just a couple were tied up in multiple year development agreements. They essentially awarded all available sewer allocation for years in advance. That meant the annual allocation process has essentially been dormant until this year.

Manteca has not entered into development agreements with the most recently approved residential projects. The builders have the option to apply for allocations through the growth management ordinance but could only do so in March.

Also, the Community Development Department has received a quest for 16 sewer allocations for the remaining 16 lots in the 24-lot Westport Plaza subdivisions north of Daniels Street between Airport Way and Fishback Road. The project was approved in 2004 and a development agreement approved in 2005. the developer built on 8 of the 24 lots prior to the expiration of the development agreement in 2008. A builder wants to buy the finished lots to construct homes but they do not have sewer allocations attached to them. Under current rules, the buyer would have to wait until March of 2013 to acquire sewer allocations.

The City Council this past week gave final approval to a staff recommendation to add a second application date during the course of a year in October. That would accommodate Westport’s buyer that wants to start building before the end of the current year.

What spurred the 3.9% growth cap

The 1970s had ended with four strong growth years capped with a 12 percent gain in residents in 1980 that took the city’s population from 20,187 to 25,641 or an increase of roughly 25 percent in 48 months.

The growth rate slowed a bit but then it hit a record 12.1 percent in 1985 followed by a 9.2 percent jump in 1986 that took Manteca’s population up from 29,027 to 35,437 in two years. Manteca today - some 26 years later - has 70,000 residents.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the city’s inability to keep up with growth. Fees on growth were inadequate or non-existent for a wide variety of amenities such as parks and fire services.

The city was still recovering from a near-bankruptcy episode in 1980 when the budget reserve was a razor-thin $1,800. Manteca’s financial trials were heavy on civic leaders’ minds during the building boom of 1984 to 1987. They didn’t want a repeat of the 1980s experience which forced the city to leave the just completed Louise Avenue fire station unopened because they couldn’t afford to staff it while city police were using old CHP cars with excess of 90,000 miles on them when the city took delivery of them as primary patrol units.

The 3.9 percent growth cap was codified in Municipal Ordinance No. 800 in 1986. It was years before any other jurisdiction in the region even started seriously toying with the idea of growth caps.

That, though, still wasn’t enough for some people.

A group known as the Concerned Citizens for Planned Growth rolled out a plan in 1990 to put a 2 percent growth cap on the ballot and started collecting signatures. It was countered by developers who wanted a 4.5 percent growth cap instead.

That prompted then Mayor Jack Snyder to roll out an initiative plan that basically mirrored the 3.9 percent growth cap on residential housing. Developers backed down and ultimately the more stringent 2 percent growth cap didn’t qualify for the ballot.