Yes, the bell has to be un-rung to kill the Raymus Expressway.
But it is a hollow bell that we are talking about.
The almost frantic effort by municipal staff to scare the Manteca City Council from going down the path of pulling back from a policy decision that no longer makes sense, inflicts damage to hundreds of people for no sound reason and will cost lots and lots of money that no one knows where it will come from is almost laughable if it wasn’t scary.
Tuesday’s council meeting saw staff roll out the only people that have benefitted financially so far from Raymus Expressway — traffic consultants — to essentially put the fear of the planning gods in the heart of every man and woman on the City Council that has to face Manteca residents long after city staff has departed to greener pastures in communities that don’t go by the motto, The Family City.
You will note that no one bothered to get the consultants that did the city’s general plan — the original sin if you may when it comes to long range planning — to subtly paint a picture that somehow yanking Raymus Expressway will cause the house of cards to collapse when it comes to responsible planning in South Manteca.
Raymus Expressway — aka McKinley Expressway — was not born out of the dream of forging a 1,050-acre multi-use project on steroids out of farmland that is now being replanted with almonds instead of being used as a lure to land the next job rich Amazon-style concern. That came later.
Instead it came out of a remedial, cookie cutter exercise that consultants get paid big bucks to repeat over and over again up and down California.
They drew some lines on a map. Next they assigned various colors representing zoning and housing density designations to sections of the map. Then they crunched numbers to determine how many acres were in the various colors and how much development that would generate in terms of things such as houses. That is where the traffic consultant comes in. They take the number of homes and plug in accepted standards such as the number of vehicle trips per day each home is expected to generate. They do the same for other colors on the general plan map. Then they look at existing roads and traffic counts before starting to draw wide black lines on the map to represent future arterials or major roads needed to handle all of the paper homes.
The original line for the expressway was done in a vacuum. It didn’t take into account flooding concerns because nobody told the all knowing general plan consultant to do so. Nor did it take into account reality.
Mike Atherton — arguably an individual much more versed in turning colors on a map into viable development than vagabond consultants — once astutely observed that the area northeast of Manteca would never see subdivisions on a large scale because it was too fragmented with acre to five acre country estates. It would require buying up numerous parcels and then clumping them together. It’s too time consuming and too pricey which means it is too risky. The same holds true for the area southwest of Manteca.
Yes, there are practical legal concerns about un-ringing the bell. But in reality they won’t be from developers and they won’t occur if the city council makes the right moves.
First ask yourself this question: How many developers that already have development agreements are going to sue the city if they are told they no longer have to shell out a boatload of money for a roadway and they can still build the same number of homes?
The real exposure is if the city allows development that doesn’t concur with the general plan.
The solution is simple. Change the general plan. And before anyone parades more consultants before the council, the city staff opened the door for that being a sound move for Manteca six years ago when they suggested reducing the targeted levels of service for traffic movements when they unveiled an eye-popping $200 million price tag just to build or enhance five interchanges.
There are many other very specific reasons why the expressway doesn’t make sense that you can rest assured opponents are going to remind voters of in the upcoming council campaign. In doing so it could very easily ignite a city anti-growth backlash similar to what Tracy dealt with a little more than 10 years ago.
But the three reasons that matter the most and can’t be ignored by this council are three that they have pointed out themselves.
uThere is no development moving forward that absolutely needs the expressway built to be successful.
uIt is an expensive proposition that defines overkill and carries a cost that a responsible steward of the public’s money would find unconscionable.
uGiven the reality of the 200-year flood zone that emerged after the expressway got traction in the “what if” world of general plan and traffic consultants, it isn’t needed.
The real question now is whether the council will add meaning to their words and act or whether they allow the final call to be made by consultants.
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.