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Cantu running for Manteca mayor’s job

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Cantu running for Manteca mayor’s job

Ben Cantu is running for mayor of Manteca.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED March 22, 2014 1:07 a.m.

How is the current Manteca City Council doing?

“I was in the library the other day and it literally stunk,” noted Ben Cantu. “It was designed for a city half of Manteca’s size. It has a feel of a second-hand store.”

Cantu said downtown has the appearance of being in decay from his perspective with deteriorating parking lots and alleys as well as sidewalks peppered with chips and cracks.

He added that buckled and broken asphalt at one of Manteca’s front doors — southbound Main Street at the 120 Bypass — is reflective of what is happening to streets in neighborhoods and commercial districts throughout Manteca.

That’s a short list of symptoms that Cantu says underscores that all is not well in Manteca.

And Cantu believes he knows why the city is failing, in his opinion, to keep up with community needs. For Cantu it boils down to fiscal mismanagement.

It is why he’s opted to run for mayor against Steve DeBrum in the Nov. 4 municipal election. Cantu and DeBrum are the only declared candidates so far for mayor meaning they have filed necessary papers to collect campaign contributions under California law. The filing period for the office actually doesn’t open until July.

Incumbent Willie Weatherford has indicated after he finishes his third fourth-year term as mayor in November that he’s stepping down. This is Cantu’s fourth run for a Manteca City Council seat of which the mayor is one of five.

“I’m running because I think this city council and previous city councils have failed to set enough money aside to maintain infrastructure and maintain the quality of live for existing Manteca residents,” Cantu said.

He noted during the 34 years he worked with the city as a planner before retiring in 2006 Manteca has gone through four boom and bust cycles. Each time a recession hit the city‘s course of action was the same — reduce services and reduce staff.

He said his tenure with the city has provided him with a strong working knowledge of the budget and municipal finances.

Cantu believes the council has concentrated too much attention and resources to growth and chasing “the next big thing” to generate tax revenues that they have ended upon doing what be  believes is neglecting neighborhoods and the heart of the city.

At the same time he faults the city for not having enough money for amenities such as a new library and community center by failing to make sure that growth pays its own way.

He pointed to two studies — one in 1999 and another in 2008 — involving the need to have new development contribute toward interchange work along the 120 Bypass and the Highway 99 corridor. Neither time did the city establish a growth fee for the purpose of funding interchange improvements. Since 2008 when it was last discussed, roughly 1,500 housing units have been built. If the city had established a $500 fee per home they would have $7.5 million on hand today to go toward work on the three existing interchanges on the 120 corridor a to widen them plus create a new one at McKinley Avenue.

Cantu said he is generally supportive of the Great Wolf Resort proposal but wants to see if McWhinney Development— the firm pursuing the project — is willing to step up and help Manteca with infrastructure such as possibly helping fund a new library.

Cantu said if he is elected he intends to establish regular office hours at City Hall that would make him more accessible to citizens.

“If I’m elected mayor it’s not just going to be a twice-a-month job for me,” Cantu said.

He also plans to spend time working with staff to change “the culture” so it becomes more responsive and friendlier to citizens.

Cantu said one of the first things he would do is remove the walls in the finance department that separates the public from the staff to create a friendlier environment.

Cantu, 63, was born and raised in Manteca. His family first moved here in 1953.

He attended Lindbergh and Lincoln schools before graduating from Manteca High.

He worked on his family’s sugar beet farm helping to harvest the crop that was processed at Spreckels Sugar. He learned to drive a tractor to help out on the family farm when he was in grade school and was driving trucks when he was 14.

He earned degrees at Delta College and then the University of San Francisco.

While working for the city he also ran his own trucking business that included five trucks hauling steel to Los Angeles. He also ran several other businesses including a T-shirt screen print shop, a small coffee shop he built himself in the Manteca Industrial Park, and a mail-order model railroad business.

He is a two-time president of the Manteca Kiwanis service club and currently serves as lieutenant governor for Kiwanis Division 27. He serves on the Valley CAPS board, is treasurer of the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is the administrator for the Downtown Manteca Bushiness Association, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and business agent for the Tidewater Southern Model Railroad Club.

He currently runs his own business, BC Planning.

Cantu is married with two adult children and two grandkids.

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