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1980s: Battles shape Manteca’s growth

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1980s: Battles shape Manteca’s growth

The Rochdale General Store was started as a co-op in 1906 in the 200 block of W. Yosemite. When it began to fail, it was taken over by Joshua Cowell who made it succeed enough to give all of the in...

Photo courtesy Manteca Historical Society/


POSTED December 30, 2009 1:47 a.m.
Editor’s note: The following is part of a series recapping Manteca history as the first decade of the 21st  century draws to a close.

The Recall.

The 3.9 Percent Growth Cap.

Bay Area Transplants.

Yellow Freight.

The 1980s was the era of major issues in Manteca where clashes became proper nouns due to the intensity of the debates.

It started with a bitter recall of three council members who terminated a popular longtime police chief in 1983 and ended with political graffiti as messages “BATS go home” were scrawled on an underpass and makeshift signs popped up along roadsides.

It wasn’t a pleasant time as Manteca started completing a painful transition from Central Valley farm town to “bedroom community.”

The dismissal of Police Chief Leonard Taylor for personnel reasons triggered a firestorm of backlash. In the end, Manteca’s first woman mayor and first-directly elected mayor Trena Kelley who had ridden strong popular vote into office, was recalled along with Bob Davis and Rick Wentworth.

The fallout from the recall continued unabated in Manteca politics for almost a decade. There are still people today who trace current clashes and political alliances back to the cantankerous 1982 recall.

The three targets of the wrath didn’t hang their heads. They continued on courses of community services and business success that has successfully made the recall more of a footnote in their personal histories than a defining event.

Davis, who proudly said “Maan-tee-kaaaa!” along with a stand-in for his wife Shirley in numerous TV commercials promoting Manteca Trailer, built one of the most successful RV businesses in the state. Davis’ business savvy and marketing expertise was so overwhelming that Manteca became forever embedded in the minds of many as the undisputed RV sales capital of Northern California.

Kelley continued her service to the youth and elderly. She built a solid reputation as an advocate for troubled youth through her work in traditional community endeavors and as a court appointee to serve as an ombudsman for the county’s juvenile justice system.

Kelley’s 1980 election as mayor underscored political activism that included Manteca becoming among the nation’s first cities to outlaw cigarette vending machines to keep smokes out of the hands of children.

Wentworth didn’t let the recall stop him. He went on to gain election as the San Joaquin County Superintendent of Public Schools. Wentworth has built county support programs for alternative schools and has worked to marry public schools with the private sector for job training opportunities that has earned praise up and down the state.

The rapid growth caused by Bay Area workers squeezed out of the housing market west of the Altamont Pass sent growth soaring in Manteca. Entire subdivisions such as Mayors Park on the southwest corner of Louise Avenue and Union Road went up literally in a matter of months. Growth was in the double digits.

The result was a showdown between pro-growth forces and anti-growth forces, many of whom blamed Manteca’s woes on newcomers from west of the Altamont that they dubbed “Bay Area Transplants” or BATS for short.

The “blame the BATS” crowd was small but vocal.

It was from the battleground over Manteca’s future that the compromise 3.9 percent growth cap was adopted in 1985. Some wanted rates as low as one percent and others wanted a rate approaching 10 percent.

In the end, 3.9 percent was adopted and sewer allocations were used to ration building permits.

But after the explosive growth of the early 1980s, the pace slackened. City experts expect the 3.9 percent cap to finally be reached for the first time in 2000 as home building is projected to surpass 650 units.

The 3.9 percent growth cap set the stage for a series of planning decisions that included going south of the Highway 120 Bypass to annex additional land.

City adopts plan for geocentric growth
The “right to farm” ordinance was adopted and a series of regulations were put into place designed to direct growth instead of just letting it brazenly consume farmland.

The concept of “geocentric growth” was pushed and leap-frogging development discouraged.

The growth cap fight gave birth to community activists who often ended up having a bigger impact than some of the politicians they challenged. Mike Barkley is one example. He’s been credited with leading the charge for storm system improvements and set the tone for the city’s aggressive graffiti abatement efforts. He would often drive around Manteca in his VW Rabbit pick-up truck loaded with paint cans to personally abate graffiti. Barkley was of the strong belief graffiti is a cancer that triggers economic decay.

The growth debate gave strength to the Manteca Rural Committee headed by an activist whose name is sometimes more recognizable than elected officials. Georgianna Reichelt organized those questioning Manteca’s growth policies and went toe-to-toe with city leaders almost on a daily basis.

The fight over Yellow Freight virtually flipped the community around 180 degrees. Pro-growth people were arguing the decision to locate a Yellow Freight terminal near the southeast corner of the Main Street and Highway 120 interchange was bad planning. Many who had worked relentlessly toward slowing down growth were strident backers of the project.

Home prices hit record $135,000
The council tried to steer Yellow Freight to the Airport Way industrial corridor. Yellow Freight said no, dropped Manteca and headed for Tracy.

As a result, “Yellow Freight” became part of the political vernacular and was used whenever someone wanted to argue Manteca’s leaders were chasing away other jobs.

Growth reached a crescendo in 1989. Many resale homes were selling within days of going on the market. Offers on homes were made on the hood of agents vehicles just seconds after a prospective buyer first saw the home even though they never had inspected the inside of listings.

Housing prices soared nearly $20,000 in less than 30 months as the median prices of resale homes shot through the roof to a record-high $135,000.

Manteca was flying high. The euphoria ended with a jolt. More precisely it started a downward plunge in early October of 1989 when the Loma Prieta Earthquake laid waste to a large chunk of the Bay Area, cracked foundations and patios in Manteca and sloshed water out of swimming pools throughout the Family City.

By the time the final days of 1989 were nearing, Manteca and the rest of Northern California had started a downward plunge into the roughest economic downturn since the Depression.
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