Manteca’s future is much too important to leave in the hands of engineers and textbook planners.
The requirement for 200-year flood protection the state is mandating for Manteca and Lathrop and other communities in such flood zones doesn’t have to be sterile nor does it have to tear apart the fabric of the community. Nor does the envisioned Raymus Expressway have to be disruptive.
Instead both could serve as a well-landscaped buffer between rural and urban plus provide a true expressway.
It could be accomplished by an idea that Mayor Steve DeBrum is floating — put part of the expressway on top of part of the levee. You could align the expressway by one of the earliest far north alignments tossed about in 2010 just south of Oleander Estates where Raymus Homes is now building and north of Peach Avenue and use a gentle and sweeping S-curve alignment for both to send it south and then east.
At DeBrum’s request, experts have indicated a 70-foot wide roadway atop an eight-foot high levee would require a 210-foot base. Yes, it would add cost but consider this: Does it make more sense to spend $160 million and do something that isn’t a sore thumb, solves multiple concerns and creates a true buffer between rural and urban uses or else spend $150 million and get an eyesore that nobody is going to be happy about.
The right of way at the base on either side could be landscaped with thick wooded areas careful to have trees that branch fairly high off the ground while growing tall enough to mask both the noise and sight of the expressway traffic.
A separated bike path could run along the south side allowing it to swing onto the dry levee that goes farther west than the Raymus Express alignment when it curves north toward McKinley Avenue. That bike path would then connect with the network of bike paths already approved for the massive 1,675-home Trails at Manteca community near the end of West Woodward Avenue.
It would prevent the expressway from being growth inducive along its alignment — at least between Airport Way and Union Road. Due to being on top of the levee it is doubtful they’d be more than one connection between Union and Airport therefore protecting the intent of having an expressway.
It would preserve the rural character of the area to the south including many parcels that are probably too small to even be converted into a well-planned urban development anyway.
Such a strategy would avoid scarring the landscape with both a levee and an expressway.
As far as the farther southern route between Fig and Peach avenues is concerned it essentially makes small landowners and farmers de facto victims so future developers’ profit. Swinging the road that far south gives developers the ability to maximize the number of houses on their barren land by avoiding setting aside a 70-foot swath for a major road.
But in fairness to developers, they aren’t the ones drawing the line — previous consultants and bureaucrats did in the name of “sound” textbook planning. Look around California. There is a lot of textbook planning that may have seemed “sound” on paper but is anything but in reality. It is one of the reasons we have elected officials to ensure local input and values are kept intact.
DeBrum wants all options on the table and examined when it comes to flood protection. That includes a parallel levee to the existing one along the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers. It would eliminate the need for a cross levee if the area from Mossdale on the San Joaquin River to a point near Caswell State Park can be super sized.
River Islands at Lathrop protected 11 miles of levees for $70 million last decade effectively creating super levees without the need to go through a dozen regulatory agencies. The cost figure — even if no inflation was taken into account — would be significantly higher today south of Manteca. Not just because it involves additional miles but also due to the fact River Islands used dirt from the Stewart Tract by creating massive manmade lakes and grading over four square miles of land at one time. That means dirt would have to be imported.
Regardless, one thing is for sure. A decision on the alignment and what form the levee will take needs to be done way before July 1, 2016 so work can start on the actual design, cost estimates made and identify financing the mechanism by that time.
Instead of 17 months, the city has perhaps five months at most to make a decision as all work to date only allows what was laid out by the consultants or a variation thereof to take place. The expressway on the levee and parallel levees are major departures and take time to study and — if that is the route to be taken — to design.
The city could ignore the July 1, 2016 deadline and simply work until there is a solution but that would then stop all development in Lathrop and much of southeast Manteca — whether it is building new homes, stores and employment centers or an addition someone in the impacted area wants to make to their home — until the city finalized a plan.
It is doubtful that would fly for a number of reasons of which many are political and economic.
The bottom line is Manteca could take the easy way or do it the right way.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.