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It’s time to draw the line in the almond orchards when it comes to future growth
A farmer harvests alfalfa south of Manteca.

It’s time to draw the proverbial line in the sand.

And since we’re talking about Manteca and growth, that line should be in the almond orchards.

There were stormy conversations last month over growth and protecting farming.

Much like dry lightning doesn’t bring life-giving rain, the words uttered or angrily typed out on keyboards won’t result in anything but a lot of thunder.

It’s because like with almost everything else these days, attention spans are about as non-existent as the grunt work needed to get solutions in place.

Still, the flap over the general plan between the City of Manteca and Delicato Vineyards offers a rare opportunity for Manteca to have “the talk.”

And that talk is about making sure agriculture and growth can co-exist with both being viable and well-executed.

The battle for the north is where the latest skirmish has broken out.

But it isn’t the real battlefield that “the talk” needs to address before things get too far down the road.

It’s east of Manteca.

There needs to be a limit on how far urbanization ultimately will go.

Doing so would create certainty for both farmers, the city, and everyone else.

Arguments against such a move center around it being too far into the future to be an issue.

But that is exactly why urban limits should be established now.

When growth starts in earnest on Manteca’s eastern flank, it will be too late to put in meaningful solution that benefits everyone and doesn’t cost anyone in terms of long-range decisions they make regarding land use and the value that land holds.

The current plan has land use  that — based on zoning — can accommodate 211,003 residents.

Even if Manteca grew at 3.9 percent — the maximum allowed by city ordnance on an annual basis but has never gotten that high — for the next 20 years, the city would add around 60,000 people over the next 20 years.

That, combined with Manteca’s current population of 90,000, brings the city up to 150,000 with zoning to still another 61,000 people.

But that is only half the story.

Manteca’s sphere of influence includes land noted as agricultural or urban reserve overlay that are both holding patterns for future development.

If all of that were to end up being turned into housing, it could easily translate into the ability to add an additional 60,000 residents.

The bottom line is as the general plan stands now — updated version or not — of the entire sphere of influence became synonymous with the city limits, Manteca would be able to accommodate almost 280,000 residents down the road.

Yes, Manteca could grow to 280,000 residents but it would take a long, long time.

To put it in perspective, Modesto in 1967 had as many residents as Manteca does today at 90,000.

Modesto in the 1960’s was growing at an average rate of 9.18 percent a year. California during the same time period, grew 1.67 percent on an annual basis.

Modesto then dropped to a growth pattern that was slightly more robust that took it 53 years to reach 218,459 in 2020 — or 7,000 people more than the  residential land zoning in the disputed general plan update would accommodate at full buildout.

The bottom line is simple.

Manteca is unlikely to reach 211,093 residents for another 50 years or so even in the rosiest growth scenario.

Taking the eastern boundary and northeastern boundary of the city’s current sphere of influence  and casting it in stone as the end of the earth for Manteca urbanization, still leaves land that is now in reserve or agriculture to take the city’s population almost to 300,000.

The northeast boundary is French Camp Road, and the eastern boundary is about a mile east of Austin Road.

That is more than enough area to grow.

And a city of 280,000 is large enough.

The urban boundary assures that the city doesn’t push beyond the current sphere of influence limits.

As an example, it may make more logical sense to the development community to urbanize along  the East Highway 120 corridor to Jack Tone Road as the years go by.

That is way beyond an envisioned urban limit. As such it would make Manteca’s footprint even larger.

The real danger in 100 years isn’t having wall-to-wall housing but a development pattern that is akin to a blob that keeps spreading.

Such a long-range horizon seems inconsequential but it’s not.

It allows the city to develop growth strategies where they know the exact needs — and costs — based on a set amount of land area that won’t be enlarged.

It gives farmers long-term security when it comes to growth pressures undermining agriculture.

You could also dial back an urban limits boundary to the east closer to Austin Road.

There is no need for an urban boundary to the west.

The City of Lathrop and the San Joaquin River have taken care of that.

The southern urban limit is the de facto cross-levee protecting against a 200-year flood event.

The state will not allow any development south of the levee.

And if you go farther east on the south Manteca runs up against the City of Ripon’s sphere of influence.

Manteca runs up against Stockton’s sphere of influence — generally along French Camp Road — in the north.

This is not an empty gesture.

It protects Manteca and agriculture for future generations.

And it does so without trampling on mid-range plans of landowners.

Yes, it is a long-term solution.

But it is also a clean solution.

It keeps in check urbanization from gobbling up more and more farmland.

And with the right transition zone, it creates a buffer that more efficiently insulates farming and urbanization from each other.


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