Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu cleared up a misconception some had during his campaign that he was somehow going to put the brakes to future growth or at least slow it down.
Twice in his State of the City address on Tuesday he made it clear he was anything but against growth.
First he was critical at how the City has been “eating away” at land around the wastewater treatment plant to limit future expansion.
Then he made it real clear that he expected Manteca not just grow to the south but to the north and east as well.
His wastewater treatment plant reference was to how the city has taken land attached to the plant and converted it to other uses. That includes 30 acres for the Big League Dreams sports complex, 30 acres sold to Great Wolf and nearly another 100 acres for development as a family entertainment zone. The current plant with the remaining property was designed to allow a simple redundant expansion to be able to treat wastewater for an ultimate population of between 120,000 and 140,000 residents. That means as things stand now based on the maximum treatment plant design Manteca can grow between 50 and 75 percent.
While Manteca has already started laying the ground work for more development north of Lathrop Road heading toward French Camp Road, the city has done essentially no long range planning that would encourage development east of Austin Road.
Cantu was absolutely clear that he wants that to change. He also said the city needs to decide where an expressway-style road to partially loop the city to more effectively move traffic must go as well as restore plans for Highway 99 interchanges at Roth Road and the proposed Raymus Expressway. He pointed to such road systems circling large Texas cities as being smart planning.
That means the mayor wants to create essentially a three-fourth expressway loop of the city with likely at least four lanes if not six lanes starting at Roth Road where it now T-intersects into Airport Way in north Manteca, head east across the 99, swing it to the south somewhere east of Austin Road and the swing it back west across 99 and then loop it back up to the future McKinley Avenue interchange on the 120 Bypass.
He also said the city and not developers should determine the alignment of the Raymus Expressway through south Manteca. Actually the city is the one that came up with requirements for new subdivisions they have approved in south Manteca to have right-of-way set aside in a piecemeal fashion for a future potential expressway that the have been swearing for going on 15 years that they have no specific alignment in mind.
The only other possible alignment now unless the Manteca City Council will have the stomach to use eminent domain to buy a large swatch of homes just built in the past four years is to swing it farther south into even more rural areas.
That creates a little problem with the cross-levee alignment for 200-year flood protection since the expressway needs to be built to the north of wherever that levee ends up going.
Send the levee farther south and you open up more land ultimately for urbanization.
But the real growth inducing proposal is not just planning on a map to head east toward Jack Tone Road but to pursue infrastructure — including a partial “loop road” — that would assure that it would happen.
At this point someone needs to ask the question do we really want Manteca to ultimately become a Modesto 2.0 with 212,000 residents with its creeping sprawl that is consuming farmland with the vengeance of the PacMan video game character in its never-ending quest to eat its way through orchards and cropland as it heads eastward toward the Sierra?
That is the discussion we need to have, not simply to declare we’re pushing to enable development in an area where those who develop large tracts of land for homes say that it is counter-intuitive to do so because the parcels are too small with too many rural-style small estates of an acre or less to be able to piece together any project large enough to justify the expense.
But if the city changes the dynamics and essentially comes up with an action plan to leap over what is now a semi-buffer up to a mile wide of such smaller parcels that most have homes on and plops down an expressway in the middle of farmland with trunk lines for sewer and water to match then it’s off to the races.
Some might by a bit surprised that Cantu might take such a stance. But he is an urban planner by training and by his personal philosophy. He has never misled anyone. He has made it clear that he thinks developers have to come up with even more money for the amenities that they would then pass onto buyers that would make homes more expensive but he has never said he wants to contain growth.
The only thing about his “go east, Manteca, go east” plan is that it undermines to a degree a solid point he makes that growth has to start going upward instead of spreading outward in a bid to make housing more affordable. As long as there is land that developers can build five homes or less to an acre that people with Bay Area paychecks that are being squeezed out of the Bay Area housing market due to it the price of standard new tract homes soaring past the $1 million mark with increasing frequency will buy homes here to assure the Manteca sprawl will continue unabated,
Unfortunately due to city requirements for a wide array of things — parking per housing unit to landscaping and open space to name a few — there are no constraints on development that would make higher densities or going up pencil out economically.
None of this is to imply Cantu’s idea or vision doesn’t have any merit. But before it’s too late to have the discussion Manteca as a community — through its five elected leaders — needs to decide where the city is headed. To paraphrase the mayor, they may all be dead by the time their decision bears fruit but at least Manteca will have taken a course that was planned and not market driven.
Cantu is an enigma to a degree on a lot of things but when it comes to his forte — planning — it is very clear where he comes from. Of course, none of that matters much if he can’t collect two other votes on the council.
That said city leaders need to decide now what future — if any — the city has going east of Austin Road given there are a lot of expensive components needed to be funded and to be put in place if they do to make sure that happens.
Again anyone who thought a vote for Cantu was a vote to slow growth was reading something into his campaign remarks that wasn’t there.