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Bill Perry, titan of Manteca politics, dies

Led 1983 recall, architect of Manteca’s 21st century economy

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Bill Perry, titan of Manteca politics, dies

Bill Perry, center, is flanked by AKF partners Bing Kirk, left, and Mike Atherton in 2002 while discussing the success to that point of the Spreckels Park project made possible by an infusion of re...

Bulletin file photo/

POSTED January 29, 2009 2:35 a.m.
Managing editor of the
Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin
Bill Perry – the man credited with being the driving force behind the two key decisions that shaped Manteca’s economy and growth at the dawn of the 21st century – passed away Wednesday.

The former Manteca councilman was the deciding vote that stopped Yellow Freight from building a terminal near Woodward Avenue and Main Street in 1989. He was mayor when he worked behind the scenes with staff and a deeply divided council to harness redevelopment agency resources to turn what was viewed as Manteca’s darkest hour - the closure of Spreckels Sugar in 1997 - into a multi-use economic juggernaut that literally transformed the community’s economic fortunes.

“Bill had the backbone to stand for what he believed in,” said Jack Snyder who served 26 years on the council. “He’d take tough stands and say what had to be said.”

Developer Mike Atherton of AKF Development noted Perry’s successful stances on Yellow Freight and Spreckels Park literally was the catalyst that brought “Manteca into the 21st century.”

“What you see out along the 120 Bypass today wouldn’t have been possible if it was for Bill Perry,” Atherton said.
The decision to not let trucking terminals develop along the freeway in what is now the heart of Manteca has allowed Manteca to attract a much higher caliber of development and paved the way for the lifestyle mall and Bass Pro Shops. Perry’s steadfast refusal to succumb to the doom-and-gloom that prevailed when Spreckels Sugar called it quits after over 78 years as Manteca’s highest profile employer and to harness the RDA for a critical $1 million investment in Commerce Drive and a subsequent $7 million loan that was paid back ahead of schedule in full is credited with Spreckels Park’s success.

No private lender was willing to partner with developers in trying to turn the sugar plant into other uses creating the very real possibility that the city’s highest profile interchange -Highway 99 and the Highway 120 Bypass – would be a monument to blight and a failing business climate.

Critics at the time – and they seemed to make up the majority of Manteca – slammed Perry and the council majority relentlessly for letting 120 “good paying” full-time jobs plus 90 seasonal jobs slip away. Perry, who repeatedly noted that there was nothing the city could do to save the jobs given the sugar beet industry and California’s business climate  that drive up the cost of everything from labor to air quality on a product that was being imported for significantly lower cost, contended the number of new jobs that would be generated would be 20-fold of the ones that were lost.

A dozen years later, Perry’s vision for Spreckels Park has proven to be more than 100 percent accurate while Tracy is still trying to clean up the blight left behind when Holly Sugar finally folded.  Perry’s argument about how an RDA investment done right can leverage massive private sector investment and trigger other improvements for a city also was on target. The initial $1 million that was an outright grant to get Commerce Drive in to lure Home Depot ended up creating more than 2,000 jobs and expanding Manteca’s property tax base by nearly $200 million. It also strengthened the RDA to the point it was able to pay for improvements such as the Big League Dreams sports complex and the infrastructure needed to lure two major shopping centers – the Stadium Retail Center and The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley.

Recall election started Perry’s council service
Perry entered the Manteca political stage as a leader of the successful recall in 1983 that took out the city’s first directly elected mayor, Trena Kelley, as well as council members Rick Wentworth and Bobby Davis. Perry was driven by his personal belief that the council majority had done popular Police Chief Leonard Taylor a severe wrong by firing him. Those three council members steadfastly refused to share with the public the reasons for Taylor’s dismissal noting it was a personnel issue.

Perry a real estate agent, never-the-less, set in motion a successful recall whose aftershocks reverberated through Manteca politics for 20 years.

If the recall changed the course of Manteca politics, it was two decisions concerning Yellow Freight and Spreckels Park with Perry’s hand prints all over them that literally shaped Manteca’s economic fortunes and growth patterns at the start of the 21st century.

“Those were two landmark decisions,” noted developer Mike Atherton of AKF Development. “He paved the way to bring Manteca into the 21st century.”

Perry was first elected in the recall election of 1983. He served for 11 years as a council member before successfully running for mayor in 1994. He served as mayor for four years and oversaw the council during a 2.5-month long deadlock that had put then City Manager David Jinkens on ice while two factions on the council bickered openly.

Councilman John Harris, who was on the council during that decisive period, calls Perry “a real gentleman” who always kept his cool running the meetings.

“He wasn’t about politics,” Harris said. “He was about doing the right thing.”

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