Go south along Union Road, Tinnin Road, and Airport Way just a little south of Woodward Avenue where narrow country roads carry names such as Fig, Sedan, Nile and others crisscross the south-north roads.
The rural area is dotted with real working farms and smaller parcels dubbed by some as hobby farms where folks may have a few cows, a couple of horses or several acres of almonds.
It is here where the fight for Manteca’s soul will take place.
San Joaquin Neighbors United that’s pushing for “sensible growth” is populated heavily by those that view their rural neighborhoods as God’s country. The group is ratcheting up in a bid to counter what they fear is a 21st century version of Sherman’s March to the Sea. But instead of burning and demolishing everything between Woodward Avenue and the Stanislaus River to cripple an enemy, this march will transform rural Manteca into five McMansions per acre.
It is usually next to impossible to check the advance of a growing city fueled in a large part by refugees of the sky-high Bay Area housing market. That’s because many farmers— the key to keeping growth at bay — either get to the point they want to retire or else they do the math. The money they can get for selling their farmland to a developer in a hot market is often more than enough for them to buy an even larger farm much farther from growth and have funds left over to support their families in relative comfort.
But there is a new weapon in the fight to save rural South Manteca that counterparts waging the same battle elsewhere in California don’t have — Senate Bill 5 passed in 2007.
Senate Bill 5 requires jurisdictions provide 200-year flood protection — or make reasonable progress toward construction of such — by July 1, 2016 or else all new development ceases in impacted areas.
Manteca is part of a four jurisdiction effort to shore up Reclamation District 17 levees along the San Joaquin River. Also included are Lathrop, Stockton, and San Joaquin County.
This won’t be a cheap proposition. Preliminary engineering studies will cost $2.5 million. And if the expense River Islands went through to provide such protection for about half of their project within the confines of another reclamation district is any indication, it will be costly. Cambay Group spent $70 million creating super levees.
Manteca’s protection also depends on a dry levee or a cross levee running east-west south of Woodward Avenue starting at the river to a point somewhere between Union Road and Airport Way.
There’s already neighborhoods as well as development underway in the 200-year floodplain that will have to be protected. There is also the question of the fourth Manteca high school site the school district owns on Tinnin Road.
If the city just protected what exists and approved development, that dry levee would run parallel to Woodward Avenue about a half mile to the south.
But the city wants ideal traffic circulation for the Austin Road Business Park that includes 1,049 acres of homes, retail, and employment centers primarily east of Austin Road between Manteca and Ripon. The project is not in the 200-year floodplain.
To get that ideal traffic circulation a future road known as Raymus Expressway would have an interchange on Highway 99 midway between Ripon and Manteca and extend west and then swing north to connect with McKinley Avenue that is slated for an interchange on the 120 Bypass.
The bad news for those who want to keep growth at bay is the preferred routes designed by traffic engineers would align it so a large number of working farms and hobby farms would be north of the alignments. The good news is the city can’t build the road unless it has 200-year flood protection.
That means the citizens group could weld a gigantic sledge hammer by aggressively challenging any studies or engineering for 200-year flood protection that goes more than a half mile or so south of Woodward Avenue.
The four jurisdictions are under a tight time constraint. The area that would be included in 200-year flood protection that isn’t already part of Manteca isn’t owned by developers wanting to build homes.
That means there would be no counter pressure on elected leaders if the citizens group pushed hard to make the existing dry levee south of Woodward Avenue that held during the 1997 flood the DMZ for growth by shoring it up and extending it to the east.
It would require the city dropping plans to extend Raymus Express further west than the Austin Road Business Park’s western boundaries or extending McKinley Avenue very far south of Woodward Avenue.
In short, the mandated levee work isn’t simply about flood protection. It is also about putting in place a hard-fast line where urban growth will inch no further toward the confluence of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers.
There is a price to pay for those in rural South Manteca. If they elect to build future structures such as homes they will have to be out of the 200-year floodplain. That means they would have to be placed on elevated mounds much like the homes along Interstate 5 near I-205 in rural Tracy.
It also means those south of the dry levee will never be able to cash out in the sale of their land to developers.
Somehow, those seem like small prices to pay to protect a cherished lifestyle and — in the case of farmers — productive farmland that supports your family.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.