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Manteca: We’re living in a town that’s on the brink of being a city

If the city’s population gain in 2018 simply flat lines numerically going forward instead of increasing on an annual basis as it has for the past six years, Manteca will hit 100,000 residents in 2025.

The reason it is important are the seemingly endless grumblings Manteca is growing too fast. That’s a solid subject for debate if it were not for one little detail. Not only has the barn door been thrown wide open but the stampede started long ago.

Given the extreme high value of approved lots with attendant wastewater treatment and water supply in the Greater Bay Area, Manteca could probrably double its growth fees and not slowdown growth. Assume the proposal to erase 1,014 housing units already blessed for the southwest corner of Airport Way and Louise Avenue and convert it to a massive business park that would include a couple of 1.3 million square foot buildings for mega-distribution, Manteca will still have more than 7,000 housing units in the pipeline that based on yield factors will generate almost 20,000 more residents. It is quite feasible by 2040 Manteca will be pushing 135,000 residents.

If you think a revolution at the ballot box will somehow stop this from happening nagging basic legal doctrines such as vested rights will beg to differ. Investing in lawsuits that won’t change the outcome will then assure that we all get a Manteca that is more than lacking.

That’s right. The Manteca you or I know is not the Manteca we are heading toward every time you hear the grating noise of a circular saw, the pounding of hammers, of the crunching of trees as backhoes uproot an almond orchard for another crop of homes.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Manteca, the livable and family friendly town can be Manteca, the livable and vibrant family friendly city.

We need to double down on the institutions that have historically made Manteca family friendly and a place where people care about their neighbors. That means expanding support of churches, non-profits serving youth, recreation — city-based and community-based groups — service clubs, and such.

It also means making the decisions and sacrifices now to set the stage for a city of 135,000 in 20 years that will be more than just a collection of 45,000 or so homes, a series of commercial areas, and an overall growth pattern that is non-descriptive and borderline soulless such as the endless valley sprawl that east Modesto has become. Do not take that to mean Modesto isn’t OK. It obviously works. And while Modesto’s downtown is becoming more attractive and vibrant with each passing year, the sum total of Modesto differs little from other growing valley cities. That’s not a horrible thing but do we really want to replicate Modesto?

In some ways we are on a different path. Manteca with 83,750 residents already has five more parks than Modesto that has 75 with 214,000 residents. That said Manteca with 130,000 residents and perhaps a 100 plus parks will be a big disappointment if all we are doing is doing the same old, same old.

It is clear that we are nearing the point of synergy to be able to justify and secure amenities that a town of 45,000 would never dream of and/or could secure.

And the only way to do that after you hit the legal wall in terms of how much you can legally charge new growth is to finance wants and/or needs that are beyond what the current tax and revenue streams can generate is to pursue ways to underwrite amenities.

A good first start is exploring the idea of a community-wide taxing district on at least all new growth to reduce the pressure on the city’s general fund in providing police and fire protection as well as other day-to-day services. This is something the council brought up last week during a budget session.

If they want to avoid being “those council members and mayor” in 20 years that gets blamed for selling Manteca short just like some current council members blast their predecessors not being on top of growth fee charges, pursuing such a community facilities district needs to not just be a top priority but one that is fast tracked.

The envisioned $42 million parks and recreation bond that currently is taking shape as one that would build an aquatics center, community gym, and more sports fields is another. 

So the bond issue does not go down in flames, the temperature of the current council — which did not authorize the more in-depth drill down necessary to advance a bond issue as that was the previous council’s decision — needs to be taken.

The reason is simple. Trying to pass a $42 million beyond for anything is tough if the majority of the elected officials won’t lend it aggressive support that goes way beyond voting to call for a bond election. If the current council as a whole does not have the majority of its members on board for a specific amenity such as building an aquatics center because they have major reservations or belief there is a better project that’s worth the community going into debt, passing a tax measure would be about as easy as building a snowman in the heart of Death Valley on the Fourth of July.

To avoid stumbling through the next 20 years and waking up with 135,000 residents and not much to show for it except more of the same, there needs to be a framework of an action plan cobbled together from the general plan that serves as the blueprint for a community’s growth, and then implemented.

That framework can be tweaked as time goes on. What can’t happen is for Manteca’s leaders not to fashion a vision for a city of 135,000 and actually work tirelessly to implement instead of slapping themselves on the back once the general plan is adopted and then piling on more major undertakings on the staff just because the fancy strikes them to do so.

Mayor Ben Cantu and Councilman Gary Singh are right. Piling projects on staff is a big reason why things don’t get done in a timely manner or even done at all.

Our leaders need to have attention spans longer than a 5-year-old. You don’t mold growth by running from one fire to another to prevent the proverbial house from collapsing under its own weight. 

It requires a methodical and focused endeavor that requires five council members not to deal in absolutes in terms of it being their way or the highway. We need a consensus of what a Manteca with 135,000 residents should be like, delineate investments in resources needed to make that consensus turn into reality, and then for our elected leaders not simply to post on Facebook et al why people should support it but to lead the charge by committing to what is often referred to as “retail politics” by interacting with Manteca residents on a face-to-face basis to persuade them the value of financially support the vision for the city until they are blue in the face.

It’s easy to blame everything we don’t have in Manteca on a lack of staff.

It’s much harder to be in the trenches going beyond glad handing and being in perpetual campaign mode and to compromise when needed in order to make sure the Manteca we grow into is the Manteca we want and not the default growth model that places like east Modesto represent.

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.