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Manteca must improve landscape district transparency & consider more costs
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Transparency requires clear communication.

To that point, the City of Manteca can do a much better job when it comes to informing new home buyers of exactly what to expect with a landscape maintenance district (LMD) in clear English and in such a manner all of the variables are covered especially since more and more things are being covered by LMDs in new neighborhoods.

The philosophy behind the LMDs is straightforward. It is to provide the city with revenue to pay for costs directly associated with the upkeep of a new neighborhood’s common landscaping and park maintenance. And while other people can enjoy the landscaping and use the parks that are typically three to five acres with a storm retention basin, the vast majority that uses neighborhood parks are buyers of the homes in the neighborhood.

It also assures buyers of those homes that the park and landscaping will be kept up which means it will be an asset and not a drag on the value of their property and quality of their lives.

And - let’s be honest - it is also to make sure there isn’t a popular uprising to block growth from people who already live here because growth isn’t paying its own way and further draining the general fund budget. In other words, the LMD assures people buying new homes that they will have the opportunity to buy new homes in Manteca or anywhere else for that matter where city leaders are concerned about the ongoing sustainability of municipal budgets.

At the same time it assures that new neighborhoods have amenities that many older neighborhoods don’t have - a neighborhood park within a half mile walking distance of each new home. As a result Manteca is fairly unique for a community its size with more than 50 neighborhood and community parks for a city of just under 70,000. That is an attraction for new home buyers.

A developer can’t get a map approved without guaranteeing they will form an LMD which is baced on who owns the lots and not just on each lot that a home is already built on. The policy in place simply assures the city will get what they need to maintain the parks but also allows the developer to start selling home before all details of the LMD are known and therefore can’t be fully disclosed.

In the future, the cost of the LMD should be computed out before a home can be sold and that cost made clear in a disclosure statement at the time of purchase. The disclosure statement needs to be specific in clear language on what the money is going for and what the annual cap a buyer can expect it to be plus how any increase or decreases in the rate comes about.

There are some who believe this could create a problem at escrow as it may bump some out of a loan. But then again, it is a burden the home buyer must carry. And with some LMD costs approaching $100 a month per parcel - which can be a healthy chunk of the monthly cost of buying a home in today’s market - it needs to be crystal clear of what expectations are upfront.

It isn’t good enough for the city to simply say the buyer is made aware of the LMD in escrow. They must be provided with as exact information as possible with clear language required by city ordinance and not simply left up to the developer’s selling agent. Manteca has done it with adopting language in the Right to Farm ordinance that is signed at every escrow and they can dictate the LMD wording as well.

At the same time as the language is made clear and more precise costs are provided before anyone buys a new home in a new development, the city needs to take a serious look at collapsing other expenses into the LMD such as the cost of electricity for neighborhood street lighting and long-term maintenance on the storm system segment that serves a specific neighborhood.

Both ideas came up through a staff report on a specific subdivision over a year ago but were quickly swatted down by the council as needing more thought.

Given the ongoing budget crisis the time for more thought - and giving current and future residents as clear a picture a possible on why the city does things and what it costs - is now.