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Growing wrong way means Manteca can dig itself into long-term financial hole
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Manteca is growing itself to death.

Except for the Austin Road Business Park’s mixed housing component, all of the residential development lining up for the next big growth surge will end up pounding a stake into the long-range economic viability of the city.

More than 80 percent of the more than 10,000 housing units in various stages of approval are nothing but variations of the five homes per acre development pattern first started in the early 1970s.

Manteca’s future generations simply can’t afford for the pattern to continue.

It costs money to maintain streets and deliver municipal services. The lower density means fewer residents per mile of streets as well as sewer and water lines. The more you grow out and not up the more pressure put on emergency response times. That in turn increases costs in both manpower and facilities.

If Manteca continues to require developers to make sure there is a neighborhood park within a half mile for every housing unit, the city - when it hits 125,000 residents -  could easily have more than 110 neighborhood parks to maintain. Look at the number of parks in Modesto and Stockton - cities two an 2.5 times larger than 125,000 people. They have nowhere near 110 parks and they’re struggling to keep them maintained.

By building more homes within a half mile of a park - attached patio homes, condos, duplexes, and - heaven forbid - homes 1,000 square feet or smaller on 4,000-square-foot lots - the city would have more people using fewer parks and more homes to assess to maintain them.

Then there is the issue of who can afford to buy homes built five to an acre. When the housing market started taking off in 1999, Manteca residents who worked in the valley were getting squeezed out of both buying and renting. Manteca became the de facto affordable housing for Bay Area cities.

There’s nothing wrong with By Area commuters. Their paychecks help create jobs here. It isn’t an issue of not building homes in order to not attract people from the Bay Area who still work there, but to provide a greater mix.

The standard reply from bureaucrats is that isn’t what developers want to build. And developers will say they are meeting market demand.

That’s not exactly true. Market demand is driven by a number of factors including what lenders are willing to underwrite. A Bank of America white paper on California growth in the late 1990s noted that the lenders’ own policies were creating suburban sprawl that is expensive to maintain.

Banks, though, will loan primarily to developers building homes that sell the most - and have the biggest margins. Banks, in other words, prefer two-car garages, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and bigger when they finance subdivisions. The reason is simple. They believe - and they’re partially correct - that those homes are easiest to sell should something go wrong.

But now we know many buyers have eyes bigger than their pocketbooks.

Local government doesn’t help either. Try to suggest building a single-car garage or homes with alley access. Planners - including those over the years in Manteca - have virtual coronaries because it is a departure from the norm.

Imagine what it would be like is someone proposed a single family neighborhood with no home above 1,200 square feet and carports instead of garages on lots of 3,500 square feet?

Sustainable growth has been defined as that where people can access jobs, schools, and amenities without driving miles and miles.

It really should be defined as growth that can be maintained financially in terms of ongoing upkeep of public and private property, providing municipal services, as well as what people can afford to live in.

And until Manteca alters its development patterns, it will continue to slowly grow itself into a financial hole.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.