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Manteca needs to set interchange landscaping standard employing xeriscape
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Consultants - a genre that knows a thing or two about raising green as in big hefty fees - believe it will cost between $120,000 and $180,000 a year to maintain landscaping they envision for the new Lathrop Road and Highway 99 interchange breaking ground in the next few years.

That figure apparently doesn’t include the actual cost of water to keep the trees and shrubs alive. It includes up keep on shrubs and trees plus natural grass in the 23 acres that the landscaping plan encompasses.  That also factors in once-a-week litter removal plus set aside to replace trees or shrubs that are lost for whatever reason as well as addressing vandalism concerns that could happen such as graffiti on the brick-faced potion of the actual overcrossing.

It is insanity to think the initial landscaping with crape myrtles and other flowing trees will require more than one full-time equivalent to handle all of the tasks year-round even for 23 acres. The grass will only need to be cut once or twice a year. Trees and shrubs don’t need a whole lot of maintenance assuming you’re not trying to make it look like the San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden. As for the roses, why would anyone even consider such a high maintenance feature?

The answer is simple. The consultant hired by Caltrans isn’t exactly familiar with Manteca or even Caltrans’ own efforts at transforming landscaping standards. Just a couple miles to the south is the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 interchange where Caltrans has used a cutting edge design that employs extensive trees that do well in the Manteca heat. The end result is envisioned as a mini woodlands with hundreds upon hundreds of trees. The annual maintenance cost assigned to that interchange is a fraction of what is proposed at Lathrop Road and Highway 99.

The landscape architect was told to create an entrance to Manteca that makes a statement. The statement being made is one that ignores California’s ongoing water issues and need to be fiscally responsible and tries to impose what looks a heck of a lot like big city standards at the expense of small town sensibilities.

The Manteca City Council was absolutely right to balk at the design if it will indeed saddle the city with annual expenses pushing $180,000 a year.

Also, no one wants to see the interchange not landscaped. And it is doubtful there are many big fans of simply turning it into a rock garden accented with concrete.

Simply having staff tell the consultant to come back with something more reasonable isn’t asking for anything innovative that is truly cost-effective in the long run or makes a statement.

Perhaps someone should call up the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. They could probably put the city – and ultimately the consultant - in contact with water districts in the state that have successfully got customers to remove landscaping that is expensive to maintain and has high water use landscaping for xeriscape.

It is a lot cheaper to maintain and – surprise, surprise – it can look sharp and it is innovative. It also significantly reduces water consumption.

Manteca needs to make a statement that we are a 21st century city. That means making a good first impression on motorists passing through, keeping a lid on reoccurring costs, developing a pleasant place to live, and being a tightwad when it comes to using California’s most precious resource – water.

 What the consultant has come up with reflects the mentality of Los Angeles when it comes to water consumption and the mentality of Sacramento when it comes to the hit on the pockets of taxpayers.

The council needs to revisit the issue and make it absolutely clear that xeriscape is the way to go. The consultant should be given marching orders to make the 23 acres a model of what one can do to create beauty without the need to use massive amounts of water to keep it flourishing or excessive tax dollars to keep it maintained.

This column is the opinion of managing 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.