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If people want a train quiet zone let them decide whether to tax themselves for it
A train crosses Louise Avenue along the Union Pacific tracks.

I live a block from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

I also sleep with my windows open. I do not use air conditioning.

The train noise — from engine horns to the sound of thousands of tons rumbling over tracks at 50 plus miles per hour — doesn’t bother me.

I was well aware when I bought my home in Powers Tract 11 years ago that more than 40 trains would pass by on any given day. 

I’m not going to lie. The first week or so in the house, I heard every train. I also heard every dog in the neighborhood, limbs brushing against the roof, and people walking down the alley. Eventually that all became background noise except for a few choice folks who apparently babysit dogs for other people and leave them in their yard when they leave so that every time I’m in my backyard I get to enjoy non-stop barking.

I also have lived in places in Manteca where the train noise was off the hook. Specifically it was when I lived in Park Place Apartments on Crom Street off Union Road in the early 1990s. Several months after moving in the “coal train” started running through Manteca twice a day. The daytime run was uneventful. However, the return trip to Utah with over 80 empty hopper cars was another story. It zipped through Manteca like clockwork at 2:30 a.m. at speeds approaching 70 mph. The train horn was not the problem. It was the sound of the empty cars responding to every slight imperfection on the rails and the vibration it was creating. I was in a second floor apartment and used a traditional futon inches off the floor. It literally shook me awake and I was in one of the apartments farthest from the tracks. It almost managed to trigger a dozen or so car alarms in the complex each and every night until the manger stepped up and required tenants to adjust their alarms if possible or turn them off.

And while it is not exactly the same, I stayed for almost four years in Laurel Glenn apartments off Button Avenue facing Highway 99 in a second floor unit. I did intentionally rent a unit that had three redwood trees in front of it. That said the constant whizzing of traffic and sound of the occasional Jake brake created the proverbial white noise much like the sound of a soothing stream rushing slightly downhill. In the summer I’d often sleep on the balcony. The freeway noise just over 100 feet away with only low-rising oleanders to baffle it did not keep me from drifting off to sleep.

I don’t really have a lot of empathy for those that buy a home within a block of train tracks and then not only complain about the noise but want the entire community to bankroll a solution.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Buying a home is the biggest purchase virtually anyone is going to make so you’d better go into it with your eyes wide open. There are noises that irritate me but I’m not going to push for everyone else in the community to pay for the city to hire six more animal control officers so there can be 24/7 coverage driving the streets to ID and cite renters and homeowners that have barking dogs.

The City Council this week indicated it was willing to hire a consultant for up to $10,000 to zero in a bit closer on what costs are involved from annual insurance premiums and such to ongoing maintenance to the actual cost of necessary improvements needed to make a legal quiet zone. The idea is to target the “worst” crossing or — to be honest— the ones that the city gets the most complaints about. 

This will instantly create a dilemma. If the decibel levels from train noise are roughly the same at a home in mid-Manteca that backs up to the tracks where the city isn’t getting a lot of complaints as it is those from the almost new McKenzie Grove neighborhood in the triangle bounded by the tracks, Louise Avenue and Airport Way what will the city do? Go ahead and put the quiet zone for the squeaky wheels or do it for both areas?

There is a solution that makes sense for everyone.

Once the consultant comes up with the rough true cost of implementing a quiet zone at a specific crossing that covers upfront and ongoing expenses, the city needs to determine an area of benefit.

When the area of benefit is established, then property owners within the affected area can be asked to vote “yea” or “nay” on the formation of a community facilities district for the expressed purpose of taxing themselves to create and maintain a quiet zone.

The tax would be collected just like landscape maintenance district taxes. 

If the needed majority concur that it is worth somewhere between $200 and $400 a year depending upon the number of parcels that are included to have a quiet zone then they will have their quiet zone.

However people need to keep in mind a couple of things.

There are 14 at-grade crossings in Manteca. Sound does travel and not in necessarily the ways that you’d expect.

There are places in Manteca where people are a mile away from railroad tracks or freeways who will swear that it is a lot nosier than being closer. Some of that has to do with the “right” conditions in terms of wind and such and some of it has to do with perception.

Simply converting one, two or three crossings into quiet zones may not do the trick.

Then there is the not-in-my-backyard syndrome.

There are 117 homes in McKenzie Grove sandwiched between two railroad crossings — one at Airport Way and the other at Louise Avenue. Are those who live in the northwest portion of the neighborhood going to be onboard for the ultimate quiet zone solution for Airport Way? It involves building a $22.6 million bridge across the tracks. Will homeowners closest to the bridge be happy that motorists whizzing by on Airport Way will be able to see into their backyards?

Manteca is not flush with money. No one forced anyone to buy a house in a specific location whether it is next to an airport, adjacent to a freeway or along train tracks. There was no grand scheme to deceive anyone given real estate disclosure statements and the obvious that people can hear and see.

That is why creating an area of benefit to see if a community facilities district will fly makes the most sense.

It is much like a neighborhood park. Others may benefit occasionally that live outside of the neighborhood when they use it but those that get the most use are those that live in the neighborhood. It is why in recent years homeowners in new neighborhoods like McKenzie Grove pay for the park maintenance and enjoy a better level of service in terms of upkeep than neighborhood parks in other parts of Manteca.

Train noise is fairly far down on the list of priorities that need to be addressed in terms of issues that address the community as a whole. Even crossing safety and traffic blockage created by trains rank higher than train noise yet the city hasn’t made any movements on either issue.

The use of an area of benefit that also requires those it helps the most to pay for the quiet zone makes sense. The only real question is whether they are willing to pay for it.