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City should worry about existing residents
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

The July 23 article, “Chucking 4-lane plan?” discussed reconfiguring Woodward Avenue near Airport Way, either as four lanes of traffic with a center turn lane, or just widening the current two lane road.

At its last meeting, the Manteca City Council certified the Environmental Impact Report for Machado Estates, a 500-home proposed development on the southwest corner of Airport Way and Woodward Avenue. The EIR focused on the effects of a four lane road, but since no actual development plans were adopted the city has the option to change the requirement to merely widening the two lanes on Woodward Avenue. The article noted existing Woodward Avenue residents’ concerns about how a four lane road would negatively affect their lives, including taking so much of their property that there would not be enough driveway space to park their cars. Another significant factor is the increased noise level due to additional traffic on the proposed four lane road. The city’s EIR consultant admitted that the over 65 decibel noise level would be mitigated by providing sound walls for the new development, but that this mitigation would not be “feasible” for existing homes because of their driveways. So, while home buyers in the new development would be taken care of to ensure that traffic noise would be lessened, existing Woodward Avenue homeowners are on their own. I have a real problem with this.

I am not saying that this development should not occur. Farmers need to be able to sell their land and make a profit as they see fit. But the city should take the resulting consequences into serious consideration, especially “quality of life” issues of the existing residents. Too often it seems that city leaders are only responsive to how much money a new development may bring into the city coffers, without fully taking into account the cost in terms of providing adequate police and fire protection and amenities or the undesirable adjustments existing residents must face. What happens? Existing homeowners must enter into land deals with the city (or face the possibility of eminent domain) to give up part of their property for “the greater good.” Somehow, this “greater good” always seems connected to big development and big money.

Past examples include widening Union Road to improve traffic flow in a shopping center area or providing a faster route for fire and emergency vehicles in South Manteca. Before approving development, why not look at options that don’t adversely affect existing residents? In previous cases not all existing homeowners affected by the city’s decisions were unwilling participants. Some have had positive experiences with the city (and even had streets named after them!) But the current Woodward Avenue residents should be valued as much as proposed new developments.
The city sent a resolution to Caltrans protesting a proposed highway on/off ramp that would have aligned Southland Road with Northgate Drive because the Southland Road residents would have been negatively impacted by the change. But when big development promises the city profits, the city seems to turn a deaf ear to existing residents’ concerns. The mindset is apparently to “buy off the homeowners” because a few dozen existing residents can’t compare to the lucrative deals of 500 homes as well as the even more extensive proposed developments in Southwest Manteca.

Well water contamination or source consumption are other important issues. Residents fear that extensive development will lessen the quality and availability of their well and irrigation water. Some do not want to be forced, if city annexation occurs, to hook up to city sewer and water lines. The mayor assured them that this wouldn’t happen and they were “free” to make repairs on their wells, if necessary. That was an odd word choice, because repairs on wells are far from free - usually they are costly endeavors. If existing residents had to repair or replace their wells, such as paying for deeper wells to be dug in order to receive a sufficient quality and quality of water due to the new developments, is that a fair expense for the homeowners or should the developers be held accountable?

My point is that future development must take into account its effects on current homeowners and minimize negative impacts as much as possible.
When people question or criticize growth, they are labeled “NIMBYs” (not in my backyard) and accused of believing that they have a right to live here, but no one new can. I look at it as an “elevator capacity” analogy. If an elevator can safely hold 15 people and 30 try to get on, is that really in everyone’s best interest? Is the person who refuses to let additional people ride labeled a “NIME” (not in my elevator)? If there is land and water capacity for a project that doesn’t create traffic nightmares for existing residents or ruin the sanctuary of their homes and private property, then it can be supported. But city leaders need to look beyond the “cash cow” of development and acknowledge the ramifications on nearby residents and on the city as a whole. Are there sufficient head-of-household jobs for new residents? Will police and fire resources be stretched too thin? Are we losing too much prime agricultural land? These questions require answers. If we, as existing residents don’t support the concerns of our fellow residents, it will soon be our turn to be dismissed as mere impediments to “progress” and the money-making juggernaut of big development.

Karen Pearsall
July 27, 2009