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Living beyond our needs: When will we ever learn?
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The houses that dropped the most in value — and took the longest to bounce back — during the Great Recession triggered by liar loans were the McMansions.
In the earliest stages of the recovery people who were looking to buy a home to live in rather than as an investment were passing on the homes with footprints in excess of 4,000 square feet. The reasons they gave real estate agents were simple and to the point: They cost too much to heat and cool, because they are bigger they cost more to maintain, and it was more space than they realistically needed.
It’s too bad we don’t always use the same approach with how we spend money that we do in tough financial times.
A case in point is the City of Manteca.
Like virtually every other city in California and likely the country as well, Manteca has a pressing backlog of street maintenance. Surveys done by pavement experts indicate the 200 odd miles of streets in Manteca need roughly $60 million worth of maintenance work done in the short-term to avoid having to spend close to $1 billion that would ultimately be needed to replace all existing streets if they completely deteriorated.
That means if for the next two years Manteca stopped spending on police, fire, parks, and general government it would be able to get streets into the condition they should be.
Before you start slamming city leadership, let’s make one thing clear — Manteca is far from alone. You have to look no farther than Ripon, Lathrop, Escalon, Tracy, Modesto, and Stockton to find cities facing the same dilemma. The only difference is their backlog dollar amount that essentially reflects a city’s size.
So how do you remedy it?
That’s a tough question. What isn’t tough, however, is finding a way to reduce maintenance liability moving forward.
Some jurisdictions have toyed with the idea of having new neighborhoods pick up the tab for ongoing residential street maintenance through a special taxing district.
The easiest — and least expensive way — though is to reduce the potential problem by making new residential streets narrower.
We’re not talking about thoroughfares like Atherton Drive or Union Road or collector streets like Buena Vista Drive, Powers Avenue, Daniels Street, and Crom Street. Instead the streets that need to get narrower are streets designed to serve the residents that live along them. Shave 10 to 15 feet off of them and you’ve cut long term maintenance costs by roughly 20 percent.
If you think this is a bad idea, guess again. Go drive down Pine or Fir streets that run between Fremont Street and Powers Avenue. These streets are a good 15 to 20 feet narrower than new subdivision streets going in today. With cars parked on them, they seem crowded. That explains why you rarely see people exceed the 25 mph speed limit. In fact, most drive slower and actually will slow down when a car approaches in the opposite direction even though there is adequate space for both to pass.
That addresses a big complaint people have — speeding in residential neighborhoods.
The narrower streets do not impede emergency vehicles or solid waste trucks.
It also has the added bonus of using less land to build single family homes. By having a residential street 10 feet narrower, you could build 132 homes in same area you are now building 120 homes based on 6,000-square-foot lots.
That can further reduce the burden of ongoing maintenance by having 10 percent more taxpaying households to generate fees and taxes to cover the upkeep tab.
Going forward for the next 200 miles of roadway added to Manteca the ongoing tab between reduced surface area to maintain and more households to absorb the cost could possibly reduce long-term maintenance costs by 30 percent.
We can talk all we want about how we got to this point citing what happened in 1965, 1981, or 1995 but at the end of the day it is something that can’t be undone.
Going forward and not clinging to 20th century wants and instead going with 21st century sensibilities and needs can reduce the future cost of government.
That’s the name of the game for businesses that survived the Great Recession and are now thriving as well as households that have done the same thing.
The secret is reducing costs while meeting basic needs.
We got it right in 2008 in the darkest days of the Great Recession.
Too bad we’ve forgotten what we learned the hard way.

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.