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The case for a 2.5% growth rate for the City of Manteca
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A lot has changed in the past 30 years.

Ameritech — the cutting edge high tech company of it its day — handled the first commercial cell phone call made from a clunky device weighing more than 2.3 pounds. The company no longer exists.

Gas was $1.09 a gallon. American auto companies were still hell-bent on making bigger and more powerful cars that guzzled more gas.

Manteca in the mid-1980s had just surpassed 40,000 residents when a still record 1,200 plus homes were built in one year.

Not only was the community being overwhelmed by an influx of new residents that were being absorbed into the social fabric all at once but the city was ill-equipped to service new residents.

The new Louise Avenue fire station was built but sat empty because the city couldn’t afford to hire firefighters. Police were forced to replace failing patrol units with used CHP vehicles that typically had 90,000 miles on them when they were put into service on the streets of Manteca. And the city instead of having millions in reserve in various accounts had just $1,500 left over at the end of the fiscal year.

This is when the community — and not the council at the time— decided enough was enough. They started a movement for a growth cap that gained enough credible steam that everyone was confident a petition would qualify it for the ballot.

That is when the council pulled the 3.9 percent growth cap out of the hat. It was hailed as a compromise between developers — who didn’t want one — and those that wanted a 2 percent cap.

Manteca’s growth cap was the first in the Central Valley. It also is the only one of its type. Growth caps in Ripon, Tracy and Escalon are tied to a set number and/or a percentage of housing permits that can ever be issued in a given year. Manteca’s is tied to sewer allocations with a clever footnote — at least from the development community’s perspective.

All unused sewer allocations roll over into future years. So if the growth cap allows 900 housing permits to be issued in a given year and only 300 are issued, the remaining 600 can be used in subsequent years. That means instead of roughly 960 housing permits that can be issued this year under the municipal ordinance’s rollover provision more than 3,500 homes could be built. That’s because less than 220 units that count were built per year in the last five years since age-restricted housing and affordable housing — the new apartments on Atherton Drive — are exempt from the tally.

Essentially, we have no growth cap in Manteca.

Developers know this. It is why they have no problem pushing the envelope with non-state mandated development fees. In short, Manteca is on the verge of returning to the mid-1980s when excess growth was creating hernias on the community’s social, economic and municipal service fabrics. The growth cap repaired the tears and made Manteca stronger. The fix, however, has run its course.

Part of the cure that kept the growth cap viable in terms of allowing Manteca to cope effectively with growth was the addition of bonus bucks 15 years ago.

A number of developers love to say how they’ve never seen such a concept anywhere else in which they had to offer up money for discretionary use by the city in exchange for being able to make a profit by building homes in their city.

Technically, they are correct. But the concept of bonus bucks is employed in every city in California that isn’t falling apart at the seams. Look down the road in Ripon. They don’t have bonus bucks per se. Instead they extracted out of developers eager to build in that city where they can pocket as such as $100,000 or more than the same home built  in Manteca. Money for things such as two massive water towers and a new library.

It is no different. As an aside, it should be noted a builder gets on average $40,000 more for a  typical new home built in Manteca than they do in Stockton or Modesto. Could it be that the citizens of Manteca have added value to their community and as such shouldn’t allow developers to profit from it without ponying up bonus bucks for all the new residents they are bringing that represents a profit to them?

A 2.5 percent growth cap based on houses allowed in any given year would mean developers could build a maximum of roughly 600 homes this year. That compares to the current 3.9 percent growth rate with rollover provisions that would allow 960 homes plus whatever wasn’t used in previous years.

That means there is no pressure for developers to share with the community. And let’s be honest. It is about sharing. Most developers build, take their money and skip town leaving Manteca trying to cope with the additional population.

They built here during the housing collapse not because bonus bucks were dropped. They did it for three reasons: First, they needed to sell homes to extract $40 million stranded in the ground in the form of infrastructure. Banks had issued them loans for the work that needed to be paid back.  Manteca had bankrolled the expense of putting in place long-term investments in water and sewer infrastructure to accommodate growth. And most important, Manteca was marketable as opposed to building homes in Firebaugh.

To be honest, a hard-fast 2.5 percent growth cap might still be too liberal.