Let’s be honest.
Manteca city government is not friendly toward apartments or anything that doesn’t resemble “at-market housing” which is a phrase for saying the easiest and most profitable homes for developers to build.
And to be fair, it’s not just the current council and municipal leadership that conveniently hide behind policy wonk wording mandated by the state in planning documents such as the general plan that is rooted in theory and not reality.
Simply drawing lines on maps or saying there is plenty of “opportunity” for affordable housing doesn’t cut it.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the city had exclusionary zoning. They allowed for apartments but the land density zoning was so low that it wouldn’t pencil out financially. Despite the best efforts of the council, two complexes did get built during that time — Parkwood Estates and Laurel Glenn. Both are on Button Avenue. Parkwood Estates consists of one-story apartments with plenty of grounds while Laurel Glenn has an expansive park-like setting. How this happened was simple. Button Avenue was on the “other side of the freeway” at the time on land that had low value since it fronted Highway 99. Cheap land made both work. Meanwhile the state moved to outlaw exclusionary zoning that was put in place by numerous California cities that viewed apartments as inviting blight on their cities catering to free-standing single family homes.
Last decade, developers such as Florsheim Homes in the middle of the red-hot housing market were convinced there was a need for smaller homes that would be somewhat more affordable. Suzanne Candini, who was overseeing the Stockton-based builder at the time and has strong ties to the Manteca community, knew they could sell at-market homes with no problem. But she was convinced that since the city’s general plan said it was needed, the council at the time was slamming developers for not building affordable housing, and that her company saw a clear need and local market for smaller, more affordable homes that they could make it work financially for them. Big mistake.
The first struggle was with staff. Florsheim proposed a development plan that ran counter to adopted city policies calling for single family homes to have 6,000-square-foot-lots, side setbacks wide enough to park an RV, two-car garages, and a whole punch list of items that added cost but also were catered toward at-market housing.
The staff and developer were able to come up with ways to make the project work while jettisoning some requirements and modifying others. Then it got to the council. Immediately the elected leaders had an issue with tandem two-car garages where the city rule was met but one vehicle was parked in front of the other. They were against not providing adequate RV access as if people who would be happy to have affordable housing could also afford to buy a $100,000 house on wheels to go with it. The homes were too close together and the lots were too small as they reduced on-street parking in front of corner homes.
The developer got the message.
Tonight the City Council is scheduled to give the final statutory blessing to a decision three weeks ago to allow Next Bay Properties to nix 192 townhouses and 280 apartments they had previously agreed to build to get additional land zoned for development in favor of building only single family homes — 1,178 of them — at Manteca Trails on the western end of Woodward Avenue.
The developer said it was tough to get financing for apartments in today’s lending market and staff said the city had enough land on paper set aside for apartments so it was case closed.
No one bothered to ask what happens when the market changes as it will do again given it obviously had in the five years that passed since the developer first proposed building apartments. (Or was that just a ruse to get the city to approve another 1,178 homes that added to an already swollen inventory of similarly zoned land and approved lots that can meet Manteca’s single family housing needs for the next 20 years and counting?)
Only one council member — Richard Silverman — questioned whether the state mandated guidelines for set aside were enough since it is clear that there is a massive shortage of apartments in Manteca given how the rental costs are rising at a clip almost twice that of the sale price of homes.
After all, it is the Manteca City Council and not the California Legislature City Council.
And what about other developers? Yes, it’s tough to get financing for apartments but why aren’t the likes of Bill Filios and Art Nunes throwing in the towel? They haven’t asked to convert 120 plus garden apartments proposed on the northeast corner of Union Road and Lathrop Road into single family homes because financing is tough to secure for the time being.
Nor have Filios, Mike Atherton and other partners asked to give up on building apartments on land on the northeast corner of Van Ryn Avenue and Atherton Drive in favor of single family homes.
They have plenty of single family homes yet to build. So does Next Bay with 1,178 approved lots. But Next Bay like the majority of the City Council sees no value in providing housing for all of the jobs that elected leaders are pushing Filios and his partners to bring to town via the Austin Road Business Park.
It is clear Manteca only cares about those who can buy at market single family homes.
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.