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Cantu wants different path for Manteca

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Behind Ben Cantu is a section of city-owned land along the Tidewater in downtown Manteca that he contends is a better fit for a community center/veterans hall.


POSTED August 13, 2014 1:30 a.m.

Ben Cantu believes Manteca’s city government has a legacy of not thinking things through, kowtowing to developers, failing to act to address dire situations such as the drought, has never seen a consultant they didn’t like, and has a tendency to study things to death then create a report that they put on a shelf somewhere before ordering yet another study.

And the way be believes that can change is for him to be elected mayor on Nov. 4.

“A lot of people have asked why I am running for the council instead of mayor,” Cantu said. “I want to change things.”

Cantu said the mayor is in a position of changing the focus and culture at city hall by serving as an effective bridge between the council — the policy makers — and the management staff that runs the city and executes the policy of elected leaders. Cantu noted that having a mayor in a position to work with staff and top management by essentially being a part of the process is critical since the department heads — save one —don’t have a big stake in Manteca except for their jobs. While Cantu isn’t knocking the fact that the city’s key non-elected management team except for City Clerk Joann Tilton do not reside in Manteca, he believes they don’t have the same perspective as if they were residents and could have their ears chewed off going to the store, dining out, jogging around town or going to their kids’ activities.

He believes back in the 1970s a previous council after the departure of then City Manager Dick Jones understood that by pushing for a directly elected mayor to counter staff straying away from effectively executing the direction of elected leaders. 

Cantu stressed he understands the city manager runs the city and carries out policy directions but he believes the council often doesn’t communicate clearly what they want done and as a result things such as the Woodward Avenue crosswalk, the purple pipe for recycling, a new library, street maintenance, and even moving downtown forward linger for years.

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Believes VFW Hall was proposed at bad location

Cantu points to the proposed civic home for the Veterans of Foreign Wars post as a prime example. It has been put on hold after signing a lease with the VFW because bids have come back $1 million over the $990,000 price tag staff placed on it.

The retired municipal planner said the community center/veterans hall was proposed for the wrong location to begin with. 

“It’s off the beaten path” Cantu said of the Moffat Boulevard/Industrial Park Drive site that is not near the center of any activity except BMX races across the street on weekends.

Cantu said the city has plenty of property downtown that is the same depth directly across from the $7 million transit station facing South Main Street. The property in question stretches all the way to Yosemite Avenue between the back of businesses along the Tidewater Bike Path that parallels the tracks.

“Its right where a lot of other activity is taking place and it already has parking,” Cantu said.

But that isn’t the best answer, in his opinion. Taking a holistic approach Cantu believes the city should build a new library and civic complex in the general area northeast of Moffat and Main. The library then could be converted into a veterans’ hall/community hall and pump new life into Library Park. The existing Civic Center on Center Street would become a community center with the council chambers serving as a small theater for productions and concerts. Existing city offices could be converted into recreational uses for everything from dance studios and art classes to rooms to rent for gatherings.

Cantu contends it is a cop out to say there is no funding available or to simply wait on the state to pony up money.

“There are a lot of funding mechanisms out there including bonds,” Cantu said.

Cantu believes if a comprehensive plan was put together to address quality of life community facilities and voters were allowed to consider it that a lot of things that have been promised for decades would finally get done and in relatively quick fashion.

“It should not have taken 30 years to build an animal shelter, it shouldn’t have taken 60 years to build a vehicle maintenance building,” Cantu said.

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Says developers have too much of council’s ear

From his perspective, part of the problem is that developers have too much of the council’s collective ear. That, he believes, has resulted in growth fees not being high enough to cover all impacts of growth.

He notes the development community as a whole has blocked attempts to put fees in place such as ones that would finance the type of library the community wants. He said that even includes critical fees to cover interchange work along the 120 Bypass of which the need was identified as crucial five years and 1,000 new homes ago. Homes already built can’t be assessed any fee retroactively meaning the city is in even a deeper hole financially when it comes to funding interchanges. In the case of library fees, the development community through the Building Industry Association of the Delta sued Manteca because they thought the fees were too high and not justified.

The clout the developers have with the council is why Cantu believes Manteca lacks workforce housing that people who work in Manteca and want to live here — store clerks, warehouse workers, and even nurses — can’t afford to do so.

He said developers can build more affordable smaller homes 1,100 to 1,500 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms but they don’t want to as they can make more money building  larger homes to sell to those being squeezed out of the Bay Area marker where they work.

As a result, people who work in Manteca are forced to move elsewhere to live.

“The reason why many young people leave town is they can’t afford to buy a home or live here,” Cantu said.

He noted Ripon has made headway with the housing issue by requiring all new developments to build 20 percent of the homes so they are priced for the workforce.

Cantu contends the city’s budgeting process is what created the need to slash 12 police officers, not the recession. He said a commitment to public safety as the No. 1 priority would also have made sure that spending is kept within the city’s means. 

The mayoral hopeful contends structured deficits — where more money is spent in a given year than is taken in to run day-to-day city operations — is a dangerous financial strategy that puts the city in a vicious cycle of boom and bust. 

He points to how the council will often spend months if not years and invest thousands of dollars deliberating over whether a citizens’ request for a $400 stop sign should go forward but then spends “just minutes” publicly discussing and approving multimillion dollar expenditures.

• • •

City failing on simple water conservation

As for water conservation, Cantu said the city is failing its citizens.

“There are a lot of simple things they can do that are effective,” Cantu said.

His list includes making it easy for homeowners to install gray water systems using shower/bathtub water to irrigate landscaping, requiring all new homes and existing homes when they sell to have “point of use” water heaters given that an estimated 10 gallons per person a day are wasted by people waiting for water to get hot, and push for more water efficient turf grasses and landscaping in front yards.

“Right now the city requires all new homes to have grass,” Cantu said of the largest single water use for a typical Manteca home on a 5,000-square-foot lot or larger.

Cantu indicated perhaps one of the biggest ways to save water is to actually follow through on investments and use purple pipe to distribute water the city spends big bucks on to make clean at the wastewater treatment plant to irrigate landscaping and parks.

“Purple pipes (for distributing recycled wastewater) have been talked about since the 1970s,” Cantu said “Except for one case (the Eckert’s line) nothing has been done except talk.”

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