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Mayor Cantu blames school fees for Manteca’s affordable housing woes
Since reduced school fees are favored by Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu that would result in more portable classrooms in a bid to encourage affordable housing in Manteca, perhaps he’ll push to cut growth fees the city charges for government facilities and go with a prefabricated office building like the one show to serve as the next city hall.

Mayor Ben Cantu wants school kids in Manteca — nearly 60 percent that qualify for free or reduced lunches — to be shortchanged so developers can essentially increase their profits when selling a home.

That is not exactly what he said Tuesday night during the City Council meeting when he repeatedly slammed Manteca Unified School District for pressuring the developer of Yosemite Greens – a 99-house project on the western edge of the municipal golf course along Airport Way — or help pay the subdivision’s fair share for school facilities.  But it is the end impact of what he said he wants to see done.

The Yosemite Greens proponent is a Bay Area developer who comes across as if he is going to save Manteca from itself and that the city’s existing 85,000 residents should kiss his feet for building homes that will increase congestion and stuff more kids into classrooms.

What the mayor clearly said was that the school district needs to reduce fees assessed against new construction to help pay for school facilities that growth creates a need for so that housing can be more affordable.

Cantu point blank stated that Manteca Unified should hit the state up for more money for schools as it wasn’t the city’s problem. It is true the city has no legal authority to require new subdivisions to join or form a Mello-Roos district to help only partially fund the school facility needs the building of new homes create. But it is also true previous councils that Cantu in the past 18 months has never missed an opportunity to express his disdain for managed to work with other developers to successfully impress upon them the need to build a community and not simply build, pocket the money, and run.

This is made all the more rich because Cantu apparently thinks the schools need to sacrifice for the city positioning itself purposely — including almost 30 years when he earned a paycheck as a city planner and to fund his retirement — by building infrastructure and such that growth is going off the hook here as opposed to Ripon or Escalon whose leaders and municipal staff clearly did not position their cities in a similar manner.

If affordable housing is the most overriding issue in Manteca from the mayor’s perspective, nothing is stopping him from proposing slashing city fees on growth that he has some say in. Why not half the government fees in the name of affordable housing? It may force the city to rethink what apparently their No. 1 priority is when it comes to facilities which is building a $40 million Palace of City Government. Perhaps the city can create an all prefabricated building complex for the new city hall much like Manteca Unified had to do for the Neil Hafley School campus 40 plus years ago.

That happened after the state — thanks to lobbying from developers with no ties to their communities such as the Raymus siblings and the partnerships that Mike Atherton and Bill Filios have — in the 1970s took away the one thing schools had to assure they would adequately be able to serve students generated by growth.

The ability to issue “no serve” letters as opposed to “will serve” letters when a subdivision was proposed than would generate more students that schools were able to accommodate without severely compromising the education experience was an effective way to make sure schools were not overwhelmed.

The “no serve” letter that had to be recorded and buyers made aware of was an effective killer of home sales. The school district still had to accommodate students from such new homes but buyers were made to understand it would not be an optimum experience and that they may face double sessions, year round school, or both.

That is what led to today’s mixture of growth fees and Mello-Roos districts that still don’t generate enough money to cover the cost of building facilities to accommodate growth.

Essentially asserting the schools are being selfish and greedy ignores the fact that the out-of-balance housing market in Manteca that took root while Cantu was earning a paycheck as a planner and continues to grow today with him as mayor has created a situation where in any given year the school district is expanding considerable resources and time to educate as well as address living situations that undermine learning for between 600 and 900 students that meet the federal definition of being homeless. It is a situation that is directly tied to the lack of affordable housing in Manteca where, proportionately, you will find more homeless kids than in Lathrop or Weston Ranch.

As for the Bay Area developer’s claim at previous meetings that having homeowners pay for Mello-Roos taxes would make the homes unaffordable, it is disingenuous at best.

Rest assured they will have no problem selling the homes with Mello-Roos taxes attached.

What will happen is it will cut into the developer’s profit margin because he wanted to use SCIP financing — a shorthand for a Mello-Roos District that pays for infrastructure such as streets, parks as well as sewer, water, and storm drainage lines in a subdivision by making home buyers down the loan for 30 years. If a Mello-Roos for schools is attached to the property, banks won’t chomp at the bit to underwrite a SCIP loan.

It is amazing that the Bay Area developer with all the answers who is going to tell the backwards people of Manteca a thing or two about the world didn’t know that for decades developers of integrity such as Raymus Homes, Atherton Homes, Floreshim Homes and others have paid for all of the infrastructure upfront and agreed to Menlo-Roos districts for schools. They did so with the ability to make profits that have allowed them not only to survive and thrive over more than 40 years but to spend millions on community-based endeavors.

The mayor is right that the school district got a tad heavy handed in trying to persuade the developer that they needed to put a Mello-Roos district in place for schools. The push for making sure kids had safe routes to school could be seen as such.

But the district has also made it clear that it intends in the future to press for safe routes to school where the city allows subdivisions to be built away from sidewalks and such that connect kids to neighborhood schools.

Given how unsafe it has become for pedestrians in recent years in Manteca based on the death toll you think that would be a good thing especially when the mayor himself has said as much.

Instead Cantu delivered a parting shot that the city should consider forcing the schools district to reimburse the developer for a study that the council requested under pressure from Manteca Unified to study student pedestrian safety issues the Yosemite Greens project generates before they would consider whether to approve the subdivision.

Obviously a majority of the council would have to agree to such a move to punish those that question their growth decisions even though the legality of it is questionable.

That said, the mayor’s threat — or if you prefer to soft pedal it, the mayor’s suggestion — sends a chilling message. Dare to oppose any plans for Manteca growth that elected leaders embrace and they will find a way to punish you.

Councilman Jose Nuño — a much cooler head on Tuesday — noted the study can be an invaluable tool going forward for the schools and city to work together to build a safer and better community.

That is how you forge closer working partnerships that benefits Manteca’s 85,000 residents who also pay taxes to support Manteca Unified School District endeavors.

Threatening and blaming the schools for affordable housing especially when the city is no closer to taking remedial steps they legally can to help ease the situation than they were 18 months ago when Cantu was elected mayor is counterproductive at best.