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Growth cap launched 28 years ago
GROWTH CAP1 01-13-08
Manteca has had a 3.9 percent growth cap that allows unused sewer allocation to be rolled over since 1988. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Manteca set the trend when it comes to controlled growth in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The 3.9 percent growth cap on residential housing permits that was tied to the number of sewer allocations that could be issued in any given year was codified in Municipal Ordinance No. 800 in 1988. It was years before any other jurisdiction in the region even started seriously toying with the idea of growth caps.

That, though, still wasn’t enough for some people.

A group known as the Concerned Citizens for Planned Growth rolled out a plan to put a 2 percent growth cap on the ballot and started collecting signatures. It was countered by developers who wanted a 4.5 percent growth cap instead.

That prompted then Mayor Jack Snyder to roll out an initiative plan that basically mirrored the 3.9 percent growth cap on residential housing. Developers backed down and ultimately the more stringent 2 percent growth cap didn’t qualify for the ballot.

The political skirmishes 28 years ago basically made it clear to elected leaders to resist any efforts by developers to mess with the upper limit on the growth cap. The city council, though, did make an exception 12 years ago for age-restricted housing — to accommodate Del Webb at Woodbridge — and affordable housing to have additional allocations in years the cap is reached.

The 1970s had ended with four strong growth years capped with a 12 percent gain in residents in 1980 that took the city’s population from 20,187 to 25,641 or an increase of roughly 25 percent in 48 months.

The growth rate slowed a bit but then it hit a record 12.1 percent in 1985 followed by a 9.2 percent jump in 1986 that took Manteca’s population up from 29,027 to 35,437 in two years. Manteca today — some 30 years later — has almost 75,000 residents.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the city’s inability to keep up with growth. Fees on growth were inadequate or non-existent for a wide variety of amenities such as parks and fire services.

The city was still recovering from a near-bankruptcy episode in 1980 when the budget reserve was a razor-thin $1,800. Manteca’s financial trials were heavy on civic leaders’ minds during the building boom of 1984 to 1987. They didn’t want a repeat of the 1980s experience which forced the city to leave the just completed Louise Avenue fire station unopened because they couldn’t afford to staff it while city police were using old CHP cars with excess of 90,000 miles on them when the city took delivery of them as primary patrol units.

Many residents shared the concern that Manteca was growing faster than basic services could keep up with. The sentiment was Manteca was growing too fast as neighborhoods such as Mayors Park in the triangle formed by the railroad tracks, Louise Avenue and Union Road seemed to develop overnight.

The ordinance — the first growth restriction of its kind in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — went into effect just as the economy started receding. It would take 12 years before the cap would be reached in a particular year to effectively stop issuing sewer connection allocations.

Tying into sewer allocations was viewed by legal experts and civic leaders at the time as the easiest way to implement a growth management plan.

Ordinance No. 800 was put into effect on Aug. 16, 1988 as the guideline for how the first phase of the municipal wastewater treatment plant expansion would be utilized to divide sewer capacity. It was subsequently extended in future years to govern how the second phase of the treatment plant would have its capacity parceled out. 

A percentage was set aside for every category in terms of how much capacity of the plant would be allocated to a particular use. Those percentages set aside 60 percent of the overall capacity to housing with no distinction being between apartments, single family homes, duplexes or mobile homes. The other categories — schools, industrial, retail and office divided the rest of the capacity.

Based on the intent and the actual wording of Ordinance No. 800, city leaders view the growth management plan as a success.

That, however, isn’t a universal view. There are those who believe the city has been growing too fast.

Legal counsel steered the city toward using sewer allocations and not actual building permits when the ordinance was implemented due to ease of tracking as well as the economic realities of moving any development project forward.

To determine how many sewer allocations can be issued during a calendar year, city staff inventories all housing units existing in the city and multiplies it by the 3.9 percent factor to come up with how many sewer allocations —  not connections — can be issued in a given year.

Any unused allocations can be rolled over in future years. That has allowed the city to legally grow once since 1988 at a rate faster than 3.9 percent when 1,074 homes were built. Today the growth cap allows almost 1,000 sewer allocations to be issued in any given year on top of any roll over of unused allocations.

Nearby cities such as Ripon and Tracy that have since adopted growth caps have tied the allowable number of homes to building permits issued and not sewer allocations. They also do not have rollover provisions like Manteca does.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail