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Manteca can avoid a clash of the titans by sticking with general plan proposal
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Get ready for what could be Manteca’s ultimate Wiley E. Coyote moment.

A month or so ago during a joint City Council Planning Commission meeting, Mayor Ben Cantu led a charge to essentially toss out a year and a half of citizens committee effort to deep six a large chunk of work that came from 14 General Plan Advisory Committee meetings.

If the city follows through they will be pitting neighbor against neighbor, reviving an expense road project that falls dangerously close to the dubious overkill category, and set the stage for the clash of the titans — developers versus agriculture.

More precisely it will be home builders versus Delicato Vineyards.

What Cantu wants to do is extend Roth Road to Highway 99 to create another interchange that Manteca would have no idea how to fund. North of that extension was proposed for housing by the council-appointed citizen group that labored for 18 months after receiving input from most of the impacted landowners and weighing city growth objectives.

Cantu believes it should be all Industrial north of a Roth Road eastward extension.

That dovetails nicely into the game plan of Delicato Vineyards that essentially said they will sue if the council ultimately doesn’t toss out the plan for housing in a large swatch of the area Cantu referred to at the joint meeting. The threat of legal action was eloquently outlined in a letter dated April 12, 2019 from their attorney Steve Herum to Community Development Director Greg Showerman.

The City of Manteca expanding into adjoining farmland to accommodate growth hasn’t been a High Noon moment in the past. That’s because farmers who were “pushed out” were pragmatic almost to a fault. Even though they didn’t necessarily like the idea of growth they fell into two categories — those that saw it as an opportunity to sell orchards and purchase an even larger tract of land far away from the path of urbanization so they could not just continue farming but expand their agricultural operations and those who viewed it as their retirement ticket. A lot of farmers like dairymen can get into financial squeezes of being land rich and cash challenged. And if you don’t have a larger operation that can more effectively absorb the cost of water and methane regulations the odds of finding a dairy farmer who will buy you out is extremely slim.

Knocking on Delicato’s backdoor is a game changer. One simply doesn’t pack up one of the world’s largest wineries that employs 400 to 500 people year round and move to the boondocks. 

In theory Delicato shouldn’t fear development of any type. It is clear Manteca is a right to farm city when standard agricultural practices are used. The winery has no choice but to meet state regional water board requirements that their on-site ponds do not generate additional odors. Neighbors — the ones that will tell you Delicato is trying to devalue their property by making it a de facto buffer zone by city fiat that creates a light industrial zone that most commercial brokers doubt you will see developed any time soon — indicate there are no odors or noise problems. During the grape crush the prevailing winds carrying the smell of the first step in the creating of the nectar of the gods eastward across Highway 99.

Delicato, though, needs to deal in reality. In recent years buyers of new homes sitting right on top of railroad tracks have complained bitterly about train noise to the City Council demanding that all of Manteca foot the bill to create expensive quiet zones. One would have thought they would have noticed the train tracks that the builder took great care to have them sign a disclosure statement so they understood they existed before their home could close escrow. Their comeback is that they lived near tracks in the Bay Area and trains weren’t that loud, that frequent or that fast. As they say, you’re not in San Jose anymore.

Delicato’s concern logically flows from the illogical decision making of people who think Amazon creates burgundy in the bowels of the Internet and didn’t bother to wonder what that imposing tank farm was on the horizon behind where their dream home is being built. Nearly every small farmers and other landowners will tell you that they have had home developers come knocking on their doors but not a single light industrial park developer.

They are smart people. They can do the math. A business park zone means they likely won’t receive top dollar for their land or even find a buyer in the next 20 years. Unlike their counterparts that farmed or are farming in the path of growth south of the 120 Bypass the option of selling and moving to greener pastures will become limited if the Cantu vision moves forward and/or if the city retreats in the face of legal action by the landowner north of Lathrop Road that has the deepest pockets.

Several neighbors of the winery say they have approached the family-owned business about buying their land but it didn’t spark an interest.

That’s why it is understandable that they might think Delicato is trying to get the city to create a buffer for them at no cost. They point to Gallo Winery in Modesto — the world’s largest winery — and note there are homes around it.

Meanwhile those that back Cantu’s vision are living the “zone it and they will come” dream when it comes to business parks that create jobs.

Given the city has to have development finance major roads, infrastructure and a $30 million plus interchange, the business park-road extension plan that looks good on paper as sound planning doesn’t pencil out.

Herum in his letter to the city astutely points Highway 99 is a tremendous job magnet but points to the wrong honey pot. Roth Road would indeed be a great access for Cantu’s envisioned business park that Delicato Vineyards prefers. But if Manteca really wants to fast track snaring more employment centers the answer is the area they are zoning for a business park that can take large distribution centers is on the southeast corner of Highway 99 and French Camp Road. One reason is because there are only two or so property owners involved as opposed to dozens north of Roth Road. But the real kicker is the French Camp Road interchange has already been upgraded and whatever modifications are needed to make it viable to handle a large business park and its truck movements work it will cost dimes on the dollar compared to the cost of building a Roth Road interchange from scratch that could take decades to materialize.

The only developers that seem to have the patience to cobble land deals together are those that are primarily fueled by home development and have a long established commitment to Manteca. They are the problem solvers.

It was not all that long ago that a young planner was quoted by the Modesto Bee as saying Manteca would never go south of the 120 Bypass because it was a natural barrier given the expense of crossing over and under it with infrastructure. That may go down as one of the most errant observations about Manteca ever uttered in the 20th century given developers made it possible to do so.

What would make sense is to harness the patience, deal making, and vision of the long-time Manteca home developers. They were the ones that brought us the 52-acre Woodward Park for a dollar, not the city. 

Imagine what they could do if turned loose to come up with a palatable plan that would encompass the needs of all parties by piecing together land deals and possible coming up with a 50 to 100 acre regional park on the western and southern flanks of Delicato. Manteca will need a mega-community park in the not-too-distant future. At our current numeric growth rate Manteca will hit 100,000 residents in six years. Within 15 years we could easily surpass 125,000. That means more fields and open space will be in the coming years.

The city needs to find a way to fast track job generation, keep costs down, protect key employers and avoid litigation that is avoidable.

Put a framework in place for future growth north of Lathrop Road as the citizens committee hammered out and let the private sector make it work.