Senate Bill 5 — Sacramento’s knee jerk reaction to the Hurricane Katrina levee disaster in New Orleans — is supposed to save us all from an epic flood event that has a 1 in 200 chance of happening in any given year.
It doesn’t mean such an event will happen only every 200 years. It may not occur for another 2,000 years or a decade from now there could be two such floods over the course of four years. They are simply odds made by people who make a living in what today might aptly be called the Climate Change-Environmental Perfectionist-Politically Correct Complex. As such they say there is a 1 in 200 chance of such a flood happening in 2017. Their brethren in the Las Vegas bookie business, by comparison, put the odds of the San Francisco 49ers winning the Super Bowl in 2017 at 75 to 1.
By coming up with their one-size-fits-all edict Sacramento has sealed the fate of a significant number of Central Valley residents to suffer more flooding as the years go by. There are essentially only two areas in the valley that have had persistent and serious flooding issues from the time man started taming the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers with levees to today. There are Marysville-Yuba City and south to the rural farming area near Arboga on the Feather River as well as the Lower San Joaquin River between Lathrop-Manteca and the confluence with the Stanislaus River.
Senate Bill 5 was not a pure flood protection mandate. The mandate wisely prohibited new construction in any 200-year floodplain in California unless new buildings were taken out of harm’s way via more effective levees or by placing homes on mounds or having a concrete block re-enforced first floor devoted to parking and such. It includes the proviso that levee upgrades must not make it possible for more land to be urbanized than was previously envisioned.
Because of that, Senate Bill 5 is as much a dictate from Sacramento on how local communities grow as it is about flood control.
On one hand it does create rural areas that would be immune from development as long as the state-nation of California stands. But it also meant resources would be directed in what is arguably not the most optimum flood protection investment.
The 300-foot super levees put in place on Stewart Tract in Lathrop where River Islands is now building the first of 11,000 homes obviously does not address the big issues with the levees on the Manteca-side of the San Joaquin River and the Stanislaus River.
The 11 times floods of various degrees have happened since 1928 to all or a small part of the region south of Manteca below Woodward Avenue have been because of levee boils that ultimately triggered breaks, not levees being breached.
Strengthening the levees along the Stanislaus and San Joaquin south of Reclamation District 17 that protects Manteca, Lathrop and parts of Stockton would have a tremendous positive impact at reducing flooding period and not simply hedging against an event that has 1 in 200 odds of happening in a given year. Doing so, though, would have opened the area to future urbanization
Most of RD17 that is urbanized — southwest Manteca, Lathrop, Weston Ranch and French Camp — is at a lower elevation than where the much vilified dry levee will be bulked up and extended. The lowest spot in all of the county is behind tract homes in Weston Ranch backing up to the French Camp Slough.
Drawing the line at the dry levee protects the urbanized area and meets the non-growth inducing provision of Senate Bill 5. The area north of that levee includes more than 30,000 people whose lives and homes would be imperiled by an epic event. The area also includes San Joaquin County’s only major trauma center, the sheriff’s department and jail, and a host of other vital services not to mention at least seven school campuses.
Existing political boundaries — city limits and reclamation district lines — are driving the location of the “last stand” for a 200-year event as much as land elevation of the land.
In short, it is how Sacramento crafted its mandate that sealed the fate of perhaps as many as 500 people and farms in rural south Manteca that will still be subject to fairly routine flooding as well as significantly more damage during a major event.
The Manteca City Council and those on the Lathrop and Stockton councils have a fiduciary and moral responsibility to look out for the safety and best interests of the 30,000 plus people within their jurisdictions that are in the 200-year floodplain. That means a fairly large swath of land will be protected for development given protecting the area in question as required by the state would continue to make developing feasible.
The one silver lining for those living and farming south of the dry levee alignment is significant: It will create a steadfast urban development boundary between rural Manteca and future city development.
Council members and municipal staff still clutching on to a traffic circulation plan adopted before the Senate Bill 5 mandate need to drop the Raymus Expressway completely and not simply put it on the backburner. It is clear it will never go south of the dry levee. It is also clear that it can’t go through Oleander Estates homes that are being built meaning the only area left is the semi-rural area that will be protected north of the dry levee.