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Memo to Manteca planners: When pandemic ends it won’t be a return to business as usual
home teaser
Pandemic will alter future growth patterns.

There will be a morning after.

And the question is will we be ready for it?

It is clear the pandemic has accelerated retail shopping trends. That doesn’t mean the demise of small scale brick and mortar ventures or even a death blow to physical chain locations.

But it does mean things will change.

Yet here is Manteca entering the third year as usual of what should be an 18 month or so process to approve a new general plan, inching ever so closer to a final council vote to set in place land use plans and such for the next 10 years.

If you say about its time, it’s the wrong answer. Manteca leaders will be pondering a decade-long planning blueprint through a period where Manteca is likely to add between 20,000 and 30,000 people and increase roughly a quarter in size using premises ignoring the most seismic event since the end of World War II in terms of how communities grow. The same holds true for Lathrop that is also going through the general plan process.

The current consultants will not be of much help. But then again neither will most any consultant given how they have a nasty habit of giving their all for their first clients and then using that work to form the base model for every other job they land. They might tweak what they do a bit here and there, but that is it. They are glued to their comfort zones.

It wouldn’t be as bad if most cities were nimble to begin with or were able to make tectonic shifts when teens do emerge.

An example of how employing forward thinking and then putting it in place can be found in the Manteca Unified School District. While it isn’t a perfect example, MUSD in some ways is light years ahead of many other districts in the area and even cities. They made one decision — heavily criticized to boot — more than five years ago to take one-time money from the state that was to make up for “deferred funding” as is happening now with the pandemic, and invested $30 million plus in putting devices all at once in the hands of 23,500 kindergarten through 12th grade students. It was not without hiccups.

First, they were lulled into Microsoft’s siren song as the devices had a lot to be desired. But they did two things ultimately right. They made use of devices universal without supplanting more traditional education tools. In doing so it required everyone to be on board. And instead of handing decrees down as to how that would happen, they encouraged — strike that, mandated — collaboration from those on the frontline on how best to use the devices.

It is why Manteca Unified moved much more seamlessly from in-person to distance learning overnight than most public school systems.

The second thing was they put in a robust and closed system which was not cheap to do.

Just before the pandemic hit, Manteca Unified was also preparing to gear up to offer a 100 percent online academy that is to distance learning what speed walking is to strolling. They use the same limbs and muscles but how much you are immersed in those movements and how they are used to get from Point A to Point B differs greatly.

The district’s online academy was always going to be run by Manteca Unified professional teachers using the district’s resources to offer students a much more robust education experience. Students are able to participate in home school extracurricular activities such as sports, dances, clubs, JROTC and such to build key social bonding skills.

The online campus on West Yosemite Avenue will serve as learning labs once the pandemic disperses.

While there is no doubt some enrolled in the online academy did so in a desire to be away from the classroom during the pandemic or to avoid a possible yo-yo of switching back and forth from in-person to distance learning, most are there because it works best for them.

The 1,522 students represent 7 percent of the district’s 24,000 students.

Keep in mind these are students in addition to those who have already opted out from Manteca Unified classrooms such as parochial and private school students, charter schools, other online academies, and home schooling.

The 1,522 students represent a collective net of two elementary campuses that don’t need to be built at $30 million a pop. The student teacher ratio is also higher at 1 to 40 as opposed to 1 to 30. While the Manteca Unified Online Academy has more robust support services that exist in the form of home schools and the possibility everything from science labs to libraries could be accessed after hours when the traditional school hours are over, costs will still be reduced.

How this applies to the City of Manteca is the need to rethink how commercial — not to mention residential — is destined to be shaped from trends emerging as the pandemic eventually withers away and strong growth continues.

For Manteca Unified, it isn’t a big guessing game. They’ve already geared up for online learning as opposed to distance learning. They also had already rethought elementary and high school sites. Not only did they adopt a master goal of enlarging campus capacity by adding classrooms to make efficient use of existing support facilities or modern up-to-day ones with adequate space added via Measure G, but they rethought use of existing space by rolling out school resource centers for pullout programs instead of tying up a 900-square-foot classroom.

All of that tied in with the healthy growth in Manteca and Lathrop means it is more likely the district will not get behind the growth eight ball. It also means new campuses with costly facilities to be built and maintained may not be needed for 10 or 20 years is that.

Clearly distribution center demand will accelerate which the city is prepared for in the new general plan assuming no one derails efforts to annex land to the north.

You can also shift residential density well in advance of tentative maps being submitted in areas such as the future north annexation.

But what you can’t do as easily is make excessive commercial land developable.

It is much easier to get land developed as growth is going through an area as opposed to an infill endeavor years down the road.

You need to look no further than the northeast corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road for excessive commercial capacity and how it can sit for 40 years and counting and do nothing.

The city needs to look at a new zone such as they are doing for the groundbreaking overlay zoning they are working with the state to devise for major shopping centers such as Orchard Valley to allow the addition of apartments and condos where parking lots are today.

Such a zone could apply to any commercial area existing or proposed. It would allow denser than now allowed residential density for apartment and condo zoning for commercial. The catch would be the creation of retail space for neighborhood uses that are integrated into the design of apartment complexes and such or even high density zero-lot or Z-lot freestanding residential neighborhood projects.

This would assume things such as Uber, making it easier for people to walk or bicycle and even more robust public transit can justify a substantial reduction in parking requirements.

The less parking and the more development you have reduces the cost of extending sewer and water lines as well as streets.

It also makes it more plausible that people will walk. And barring that it is pretty clear that not only is ride sharing here to say but independent neighborhood jitney-style services of yesteryear will logically unfold as the next big thing.

In short, the development pattern born after World War II we’ve been tweaking is about to change significantly.

Manteca needs to plan for that and not adopt warmed over development trends to help frame growth for the next 10 years.