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Will homeless chase farmers market from Library Park?

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POSTED September 9, 2017 12:32 a.m.

The Manteca Chamber of Commerce’s farmers’ market — a marquee event that brings thousands of people each summer to downtown Manteca — may go elsewhere.
That’s because of the perception of Library Park not being family friendly any longer due to the number of homeless and questionable characters hanging around the vicinity is keeping a number of people away from the Tuesday evening events.
“We really don’t want to leave Library Park,” noted Chamber Exceptive Director Joann Beattie.
Beattie said the chamber is discussing making a move after feedback from residents that aren’t returning to the market or who haven’t ventured out to it are doing so due to concerns they have about homeless and other issues around Library Park.
The drop in numbers Beattie said is hurting the vendors that put a lot of effort into the certified farmers’ market that has been dubbed Market & Music at Library Park for the past three years.
“Library Park should be the best place (for the farmers’ market),” Beattie said. “It’s been difficult getting people to come to Library Park.”
Beattie said the chamber is weighing other possible downtown locations for the market including the outdoor plaza at the transit center. In the past, the chamber looked at shifting the market to The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley after similar issues came up.
There weren’t any significant issues this year as Manteca Police have made their presence know during the Market & Music. The last time a homeless individual became belligerent and was aggressive was at the start of the 2016 market. Police stepped up their presence after that. Several months after Manteca Police rolled out its community resource officer to address the homeless and related crime issues.
Downtown merchant Brenda Franklin told the Manteca City Council Tuesday that it doesn’t matter that Library Park is kept free of homeless and other issues during the farmers’ market — or even during the rest of the week — as people driving by the other six days of the week see large numbers of homeless with their belongings and other vagrants across the street at Wilson Park behind the Post Office as well as hanging around the eastern end of the library. From that people will conclude going to an event at Library Park such as Market & Music isn’t something they would feel comfortable doing with their families.
Manteca Police have made a concerted effort to get the homeless to voluntarily gather in the much smaller Wilson Park that historically has gotten minimum use and steer clear of the playgrounds and other areas at Library Park.
Unless they are committing a crime — that includes intimidating others, aggressive panhandling, and such — or an infraction such as camping, the homeless have a legal right to be at Library Park as anyone else does.
City efforts to make Library Park less appealing for the homeless — including cutting off power to outlets at the gazebo where homeless plug in their smartphones  and locking Library Park restrooms, were some of the reasons four homeless individuals listed for suing the city in federal court.
And while Library Park is legally closed to anyone overnight — as are other city parks — it is not unusual to see homeless bedded down on the gazebo.
What makes Library Park a major sticking point in efforts to address homeless issues is the fact its expansion and upgrade for more than $1.2 million that took eight years to execute primarily due to land acquisition issues that included closing a street and swapping property was sold as a way to create an enhanced gathering place that the city working with the private sector could use to leverage a rebirth of downtown.
Ironically, before the final vote taken to proceed with the Library Park expansion, then Councilman Jack Snyder threw a wrench into the process by saying he wouldn’t vote to spend tax dollars at the park if homeless issues, prostitution, and drug issues weren’t addressed first.
That led to a crackdown under then Police Chief Dave Bricker as well as the solution advanced to have surveillance cameras installed. The issues went away, the park work started, and then after it was completed they resurfaced.
The cameras promised in 2005 to allow police to keep a remote watch on Library Park and Southside Park were budget for but never put in place.
Three years ago then City Manager Karen McLaughlin ordered the Library Park restrooms locked except for special events after the homeless were sleeping in them overnight. City workers routinely found used condoms, feces, and drug needles on the bathroom floors when they cleaned them in the mornings.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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