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The right way to protect rural south Manteca
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There’s no nice way to put this.

The rural Manteca residents who want to protect their farmland and lifestyles from future urban encroachment need to shake the victim mentality and fight for what they believe in.

The way to do that is to stop playing the game by the rules laid out by the City of Manteca. The real issue isn’t the alignment of the proposed McKinley Expressway or the dry levee. It’s the Manteca sphere of influence adopted by San Joaquin County in close collaboration with the city.

Just as there is no law barring the Planning Commission from declining to adopt any alignment for the expressway there is no law that says you can’t rollback spheres of influence boundaries. Of course, the rural residents could get the planning commission and perhaps the city council to go along with them now. But that would mean they won a battle, not the war.

Roll back the sphere of influence and you eliminate worrying about robotic textbook planning that essentially induces growth.

There are a few things to keep in mind.

First, planning staff is doing what planning staff does. Nothing more, nothing less. They are not the people you have to convince nor is it the city manager. The only people that count when it comes to policy decisions such as this are the five elected council members and the five elected county supervisors.

So here’s how you build the case:

•On Tuesday, city staff noted that a major road such as the McKinley Expressway is only cost effective if it loads traffic from both sides. Note that the road is near the existing southern sphere of influence line. That means down the road the sphere of influence has an extremely strong possibility of going even further south. It could one day reach the confluence of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers. Before you dismiss that as pie in the sky, future developers in 2040 might find it extremely cheap compared to potential returns - look at River Islands at Lathrop as an example - to build a parallel dry levee to those along the rivers given the price of land ultimately will go up. This in itself should be enough to rally farmers and environmentalists to the cause.

•Point out that Manteca - if it rolls back its sphere of influence - really doesn’t need a southern arterial as such for good planning. Once McKinley Avenue is added there will be four freeway interchanges - five if you count Highway 99 - a mile apart. It is the city’s intent to ultimately make those over crossings with four or six lanes of through traffic, meaning Manteca will have an unparalleled traffic circulation system even without a McKinley Expressway.

•Atherton Drive as adopted actually does the same thing as McKinley is proposed to do except it starts out as an east-west road and swings south through the envisioned 1,037-acre Austin Road Business Park as the fourth major north south route south of the 120 Bypass. It can - and should - be developed as a semi-expressway but with traffic signals.

•To discourage any future runs at going south, Manteca needs to establish a plan to install traffic roundabouts on both Union and Main streets south of Woodward Avenue. Since the city understands it saves costs, those roundabouts should replace pre-approved traffic signals at Woodward Avenue on Airport, Union, and Main. This will effectively discourage designs on mega-developments much further south.

•It needs to be pointed out that the $180 million price tag for a new Highway 99 interchange South of Austin Road will probably accelerate pressure for a McKinley Expressway to simply move vehicle traffic to a freeway. While staff points out the McKinley Expressway would likely happen after six lanes are put in place on the bypass, it is an assumption made in a vacuum as the 900-pouind gorilla here is the Austin Road Business Park with a daunting price tag on a 99 interchange that is six times the cost project for a McKinley Avenue interchange.

•Last, but not least, rolling back the sphere has got to be pitched as a cost saver. It avoids having to put in a major dry levee. It avoids the creation of a major road for the city to maintain. It gives the city some certainty on growth to the south so they can start gradually directing development to fade into the semi-rural neighborhoods along Peach and Fig.

The folks in rural south Manteca can control their destiny - and shape that of generations to come - but not if they don’t take the lead and change the objective. Make it about rolling back the sphere of influence and convincing people in Manteca there needs to be a limit to growth. Don’t let it simply be about an alignment for a future expressway or even a new dry levee for you will not win.