It doesn’t take a high-paid consultant to tell you where the next community park is going in Manteca so why bother with a park master plan?
It is clear that community park fees collected on growth for the foreseeable future are going to the family entertainment zone (FEZ) envisioned to have Big League Dreams and Great Wolf Resorts as its bookends.
The city wants to create nine multi-use playing fields, two additional BLD baseball fields, a recreational lake (think Lodi Lake) and indoor sports facilities plus adjoining parking lots.
The city years ago identified $2 million in a redevelopment bond sale to go to community parks. That was long before the FEZ was even conceived. The idea at the time was that it would help finish Woodward Park where things such as an amphitheater and tennis courts have been proposed or possibly secure land for a new community park east of Highway 99.
The FEZ also requires a lot of infrastructure such as sewer, water and storm drain systems not to mention streets, lights and other things. It’s going to cost money, lots of money. The $2 million in RDA funds is a drop in the bucket. Public improvement facilities fees from growth won’t cover the tab with all of the other major projects around Manteca that the city has indicated they would use that funding source to help construct.
That leaves only one fairly reliable source of funding to complete the FEZ’s public-owned recreational components — community park fees paid by growth.
While the city could develop a master plan and identify other projects such as an aquatics center to have fees collected to pay for along with the FEZ fields, the odds are it would be too high of a per home cost.
Not only does Manteca historically not have the stomach for high fees on growth but they are also collecting growth fees on new homes for everything from major streets, schools and fire facilities to county facilities fees and standard fares such as water and sewer hook-ups that cover system expansion. And future homes built in specific areas of Manteca will also likely have a flood protection assessment.
The pie is only so big. And if you make it too expensive, less people will buy new homes in Manteca because they simply won’t be able to afford to do so. And without growth you don’t have the fee revenue to complete various projects.
None of this is to say the community park component of the FEZ isn’t the right thing to do. It’s just that when the FEZ master plan is adopted in the coming months and tied in with the economic development of some 100 plus acres of city-owned land it will for all practical purposes render a large chunk of the park master plan worthless or a mere rubber stamp. That’s because the City Council — months ahead of the park master plan being finished — is expected to adopt an overall plan in June that gives Manteca not just a Great Wolf Lodge but also the FEZ.
So if public workshops for the park master plan reveal a groundswell of community support for an aquatics center, a community center for everything from dance and art classes to recitals and concerts, or even a second senior center it isn’t going to happen.
That’s because the FEZ project must be built. Once you start it, there is no turning back. Plus there will be other demands for community park fees such as finishing Woodward Park.
If you think the city can fund two community park initiatives — the FEZ and another major dollar undertaking — think again. The city only got the 52 acres for Woodward Park because a developer sold it to them for a dollar. If it wasn’t for the now-defunct redevelopment agency, the city couldn’t have built the 30-acre sports complex complete with two indoor soccer arena that cost $30 million.
As a community park, the FEZ is kind of limited. First, the community can use it when there are no scheduled tournaments booked to draw people into town. It’s like that with Woodward Park right now as well as the BLD fields (that can be used before mid afternoon on weekdays) and at Northgate Park.
But what the FEZ community park model does is guarantee Manteca will have more of the same — soccer and baseball fields. And while the soccer fields are multiple use fields and could be converted to sports such as field hockey and lacrosse, those uses are kissing cousins. An aquatics center, as an example, is an entirely new ball game.
Yes, a manmade lake is a game changer. But that is being made ahead of a park master plan that is supposedly shaped by community input from folks concerned about community recreation instead of being driven by an economic investment.
Also, while the FEZ has great freeway access for out-of-town folks it isn’t conveniently located for most Manteca residents. Not only is the nearest neighborhood more than a half mile away but there is no safe way for kids to reach it. There is no separate bike path along Daniels Street and the likelihood of a connector along Airport Way to Woodard Park with a protected bike lane across the 120 Bypass isn’t on the radar any time soon.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.