Ripon, more than a decade ago, repelled the barbarians at the gate.
Walmart wanted to build a store a tad larger than Manteca’s in an almond orchard just north of the Flying J Travel Center.
Many Ripon residents saw it as an assault on their sense of community and lifestyle. If Walmart established a beachhead for big box retailers, the reasoning was downtown was doomed, growth would surge, traffic would explode, and crime would go up.
Ultimately the community was “saved” thanks to careful legal maneuvering capping the size of future retail ventures.
Now there is a growing fear that Ripon may have won the battle but ultimately will lose the war.
And the reason is not because of some bottom-line driven corporation headquartered 1,500 miles away in Bentonville, AR but because of a next door neighbor they grew up with together.
The City of Manteca over the years has annexed land to the southeast. It included a large swath of acreage that is within the boundaries of the Ripon Unified School District. As ludicrous as it might seem, the Manteca High campus is within three miles of tract homes in the Ripon Unified School District. At first, this did not please buyers of many of the homes that were literally within a two block walking distance of Woodward Elementary School because their children had to be bused roughly 10 miles one way to elementary campuses in Ripon.
That happened not simply because 120-year old school district lines drawn up when you could have put the population of both communities into today’s Ripon High Abeyta-Horton Gym and still have empty spaces in the bleachers. Last decade a previous Ripon Unified School District Board gave the thumbs down to a developer’s proposal to switch the land they were building homes onto to the Manteca Unified School District.
It was a decision driven in part by the need to secure money to keep the Ripon Unified system on solid financial grounds. The money that pays the bills is doled out by the state based on average daily attendance.
It was also driven by a sense of community pride.
To get an idea of the price that will be paid for that decision, the next time you are in Ripon and driving north on Highway 99 toward Manteca, look off to the left where the line of palm trees leads your eyes to the ultimate McMansion — the 30,000-square foot Hat Mansion.
Development plans are in motion to replace the estate and mansion with 800 homes. Or if Manteca civic leaders are crazy enough it will be more like 760 homes surrounding the Hat Mansion that would have a severely shrunken estate footprint.
The area between the Hat Ranch and the freeway is zoned — based on previously approved development plans — for 4,198 housing units. Of those, 58 percent are within the Ripon Unified School District boundaries. Standard yield rates mean those homes will generate 1,150 more students. Add in the Hat Ranch and existing housing and the number of students living within the City of Manteca and attending Ripon Unified schools will likely reach 2,000. Currently Ripon Unified has 3,144 students.
At one point, Ripon Unified will build elementary campuses within the City of Manteca. While that will shift Manteca students from existing Ripon elementary schools eventually, it doesn’t mean at some point in the future Ripon Unified will get back to essentially what it is today. There is the issue of what could end up being 600 or so students living in the City of Manteca roaming the halls of Ripon High.
Besides ever changing funding and educational edicts controlled by the state, it is clear such growth will change the character of Ripon schools.
This doesn’t mean a deterioration in quality per se. It’s just that Ripon has a good chance of experiencing what Manteca schools did when growth started to surge significantly back in 1970.
The City of Manteca, at the time, had 13,855 residents or 4,000 less than present-day City of Ripon population. Schools had excess capacity but not for long.
The first thing to go was smaller class sizes and smaller elementary campuses such as what Ripon Unified enjoys today. Then as the district scrambled to try to build new schools, double sessions entered the picture.
The end result is a district that once targeted 400 or so students to a K-8 campus today either has — or is heading toward — elementary schools with 900 to 1,100 students.
The three comprehensive high schools within the city limits — the district has five overall when Lathrop and Weston Ranch are taken into account — are now housing 1,400 to 1,600 students. They are all being prepped to cap at 2,250 students.
Today Ripon High has less than 900 students.
Given new high schools from scratch can set you back $140 million, don’t get your hopes up that a second one will be built anytime soon in the Ripon Unified School District.
This means Ripon High will be getting bigger — a lot bigger. The reason is simple. The City of Ripon is also adding more subdivisions.
This does not have to be the fate of Ripon Unified.
Property value — once the biggest roadblock in getting neighboring districts to either horse trade territory or to let areas go that are more logically served by an adjoining district — isn’t a factor in determining how much money a school district receives for day-to-day classroom education. It does, however, play a key role in bonding to build schools.
Pressure to have the current board to go through established procedures involving the county office of education to “de-annex” territory won’t work. That’s because the county would never give it traction as it would create an island of existing Ripon Unified students
That would mean an even more cumbersome process would have to be tried — de-annexation requiring an election of the impacted households that exist in Manteca.
The real question the Ripon community, and not the Ripon Unified school board, has to ask themselves is what do they want for Ripon and what price are they willing to pay to achieve it or protect it?
Not only does it have to be a community-based decision to make such a move but it requires the community appealing relentless pressure if it stands a chance of happening.
Back during the Walmart Supercenter battle, those pushing to draw a line in the sand where warned Ripon could pay a big price in terms of the loss of future sales tax to support city services. Judging by how things have gone the worst case scenarios have not occurred.
Of course growth can never be stopped given where we are located. That said a handful of California jurisdictions gave managed to significantly slow it while knowing full will the cost would be less robust local shopping and employment opportunities and lower tax base for city services.
And while jettisoning the City of Manteca neighborhoods existing or planned by turning them over to Manteca Unified may slow Ripon Unified’s march to 5,000 students by two to three decades, it would have one lasting effect.
Regardless of what size the school district grows to with only one city to serve there would only be one unified community known as Ripon.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org