Manteca has earned Tree City USA honors for the past three decades.
It’s a nice honor for a city that plants a certain amount of trees, has a dedicated tree care program, and accomplishes similar checklist items.
In reality that means Manteca just got a passing grade when you examine the criteria. The award is a nice show just like a beautifully restored 12-cylinder 1974 Jaguar XKE that only fires on four cylinders in the real world.
And as far as the real world of Manteca, the city’s tree effort is a tad anemic. Do not misunderstand. It is better than a lot of cities in the valley but why shouldn’t it be a “lot better” than other cities in the valley?
What prompted this reality check is the earth-shattering revelation by Potomac politicians that the creating of heat islands by expert urban planners that can trace their apprenticeships days back to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s is contributing to climate change.
One doesn’t need a roomful of amateur climatologists parroting the latest Chicken Little narrative du jour on social media to understand what farmers for generations as well as valley and foothill dwellers from past eras know to be true: The strategic planning of trees cools houses and reduces air temperature.
Every notice that homes on farms are surrounded by real trees that grow big and tall in this climate and soil while homes in subdivisions have “ornamental trees” that make stock investors in air conditioning manufacturers rejoice. Not only are such trees basically puny and stunted even after two decades but there is typically only one wannabe tree per house that is more of a stick tree than one with a high and generous shade canopy.
Farmers that still live on the land they farm create mini-woodlands to cool not just their homes but the surrounding outside area families and friends enjoy. Such plantings also temper wind, combat dust, enhance privacy, and improve visual aesthetics.
There is a reason real estate professionals note healthy, large and well-established trees add to a home’s resale value.
What Manteca — and too many other valley cities have created through growth — are endless acres of homes devoid of meaningful shade while adding endless miles of concrete sidewalks and asphalt street that not only increase ground air temperature but actually stores heat that is radiated back as the day fades into evening.
Meanwhile to stay cool no one living in air-tight boxes opens their windows to take advantage of the cooling effect of a well-positioned tree that is not limited by tree DNA and/or the Manteca climate or even to welcome the cooling Delta breeze that kicks up almost every night.
People for generations lived in the valley without having to take out a second mortgage to pay PG&E in order to cool their homes in summer.
The federal government says they now have a way to help combat climate change. Essentially it’s stop turning cities into concrete and asphalt jungles devoid of meaningful natural shade.
Manteca going forward needs to rethink its “environmental” game instead of being content to say the city has checked off a list of minimal requirements to earn a gold star from Sacramento bureaucrats or the Arbor Day Foundation.
This may require mandatory tree plantings in the front yards of new tract homes of species that can produce generous heat reducing canopies.
The lower neighborhood temperatures the less energy needed to cool homes. That means less stress on the power grid, the less need for carbon-based energy generation, and less upward pressure in the cost of living.
The city needs to start requiring all landscaping areas along sound walls to resemble what now passes as the gold standard in Manteca — the landscape maintenance districts near Woodward Park including just south of Woodward Avenue on Main Street and much of those along Woodward between Van Ryn Avenue and Main as well as short stretches on Van Ryn and Wellington avenues.
Much of the tree canopy is of decent size without making the sidewalk look like the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
There are three reasons why this has happened after the first tree was planted over two decades ago. Much of the referenced LMDs are wider than in subdivisions built since then. As such trees were able to be properly planted deep and with a comfortable distance from sidewalks. And the real clincher is the trees in the early years of extending their roots were clearly watered enough that they went down to seek water first instead of creeping out near the surface in search of moisture.
There is one place in Manteca where the city outdid themselves in the last 20 years that was not in a cookie cutter neighborhood park designed by bureaucrats with apparently an eye on low maintenance. That place is Woodward Park especially in and near the northeast corner.
Take a look at the soaring sycamores the next time you drive or walk by. Better yet, plop down on the grass on a mid-August afternoon and soak in the cool feel of the grass. Then spend a little time on open grass at Woodward. Better yet head to any number of post-1998 city parks in Manteca and compare sitting in the grass beneath trees you’ll find there.
Such parks often sport grass burn areas created primarily by the city cutting the grass a tad too short for our climate while ignoring the reality we are in a period of extreme drought.
The best yardsticks are those neighborhood parks that went in 20 years ago at about the same time the city secured a federal urban forestry grant that allowed it to take delivery of several truckloads of sycamores to plant at Woodward Park.
Sycamores clearly stand the test of time in Manteca’s climate as evidenced by the stand in Library Park and along nearby streets that are more than half a century old. This is also true of Northgate Park and a line along East Union High.
Sycamores do extremely well in Manteca. But rest assured a decision was made at one point they might not be as cheap as to maintain as trees that stunt nicely in Manteca’s harsh late spring and summer climate. There is little doubt they shed bigger and more leaves than ones with shade canopies only a Lilliputian can enjoy. Bark also peels off on an annual basis.
The right trees and trees planted strategically make a big difference.
Thirty years ago when Spreckels was still squeezing sugar out of beets in Manteca the company maintained an almond orchard on the southeast corner of Yosemite and Powers avenues. Like any almond orchard you could walk through it on a 100-degree day to enjoy a reprieve from the relentless beating of the sun as well as a drop of 6 to 10 degrees in the air and ground temperature.
For nearly 23 years the 166 homes of the Curran Grove neighborhood has replaced the almond orchard. Walk across the Curran Grove Park today and it feels a lot hotter than back then. The nice thing is there is less dust.
There are shade trees around the edge. You can’t help but wonder how much better it would have been if trees such as sycamores that may not be as pretty but are more suited to reach their maximum potential in the Manteca climate had been planted instead.
Perhaps the next time you want to seek respite on an unforgivingly hot Manteca summer day and you’re not close to Woodward, Library or Northgate parks, perhaps the city will let you borrow a flag or two from its collection of 30 Tree City USA flags it has received over the years to create a more effective shade canopy at a park near you.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org