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Bill Perry’s vision & determination shaped Manteca

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POSTED January 29, 2009 2:12 a.m.
Bill Perry stood outside the main entrance to the shuttered Spreckels Sugar plant 11 year s ago this March.

An estimated 10,000 people had gathered that day to watch the demise of what had been a symbol of Manteca’s economic strength for decades. The CHP closed the Highway 120 Bypass as a precaution in case the implosion of the four 15-story concrete sugar silos went awry.

Perry was asked about his thoughts on what was going to happen next as Manteca had lost 220 jobs at that point for ever including 120 full-time positions.

“It’s going to be better,” Perry said. “You’ll be amazed.”

A bystander listening to the interview made a derogatory remark directed at the then mayor telling him in no uncertain terms that he thought he was an idiot and was doing nothing to stop Manteca from being destroyed.

Perry remained pleasant as he declined to take the bait. It wasn’t the first time that critics in Manteca had gotten into his face about decisions he made.

The other biggie was casting the deciding vote against allowing Yellow Freight to build their South County freight terminal near Woodward Avenue and Main Street. His opponents viewed Yellow Freight as the answer to the lack of jobs in Manteca. Perry wasn’t against Yellow Freight locating in Manteca, just at that location. He had a vision for Manteca that saw the Highway 120 Bypass as a job and sales tax magnet. Perry and those who sided with him on the council unsuccessfully tried to steer Yellow Freight toward Airport Way. Yellow Freight said no way; it was Main Street or they’d go to Tracy.

Perry took the attitude that no developer was going to dictate what the city thought was best for its future and said so. His enemies painted Perry as a job killer after that. In coming years his most vicious opponents would use the simplistic line it’s about “jobs, jobs, jobs” when trying to paint him as ineffective and short-sighted.

Politics and the reaction to challenges can be incredibly myopic.

The passage of 19 years since the Great Yellow Freight debate dominated council meetings for the better part of a year showed that Perry indeed had vision. By “saving the South” as developer Mike Atherton likes to say Perry opened the door for the 52-acre Woodward Park. Family-style neighborhoods and even the lifestyle mall and Bass Pro Shops. None of that would have happened if the 120 Bypass had been turned into a series of trucking and industrial sites as his opponents insisted in 1989 was essential to bring better paying jobs to Manteca.

Spreckels Park rising from the dust of Spreckels Sugar like an economic phoenix added incredible muscle to Manteca. It would not have happened without redevelopment agency help that Perry not only played a critical role in making happen but he also withstood non-stop hurricane-force political attacks for years about “corporate welfare.”

Spreckels Park had a straight $1 million injection to make Home Depot happen by paying for Commerce Drive. It also involved $7 million in loans that were repaid ahead of time with interest to put in key infrastructure such as trees, sewer and water.

AKF couldn’t get anyone to seriously look at the site without those components in place. Making matters worse, AKF has pushed itself to the limits after risking $1 million in toxic testing alone. No bank wanted to touch the project because of the toxic risks which didn’t materialize. They also were skeptical of the concept.

The sale of the 166-lot Curran Gove subdivision to Porter Homes out of Lodi literally saved AKF and the project.

So did the infusion of RDA money.

Today, that RDA investment has been repaid 50-fold in terms of job generation, sales and property tax revenue and making the RDA muscular enough to undertake a wide variety of projects across Manteca including the Big League Dreams complex.

There was a lot more to Bill Perry than what he did to shape Manteca into what it is today.

When everything is all said and done, though, it was his vision and confidence that made the Manteca Miracle materialize and positioned the community for prosperity.

It is quite a legacy for a man who loved his hometown.
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