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Trash talk: A way to enhance city’s ‘business’ image

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POSTED July 23, 2010 2:40 a.m.
There is a trash enclosure behind the Manteca Bulletin with so-called privacy slats.

It effectively screens off the municipal recycling and garbage bins that the newspaper uses.

The enclosure almost didn’t happen due to incorrect and unintentional missteps in communication involving different city departments. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is as it illustrates a weakness that not only the city has but businesses as well. However, in the case of the city such missteps can result in discouraging private sector investments and efforts to try to upgrade the overall looks of the community.

The Bulletin was ready to move forward with replacing a badly deteriorated asphalt parking lot that was also a bit of an eye sore with concrete. It seemed like a good time to screen off the dumpsters that have been exposed to passing traffic for the past 60-plus years to help improve the looks a bit more. And since cement was being used, the poles for the fencing had to go in place when it was poured.

Solid waste sent folks promptly to look at the site. They blessed several possible locations for their trucks to access the proposed enclosure. They were then asked about the design “standards” that should be used. They noted it simply needed to enclose the two dumpsters and allow easy access but if additional information was needed to stop by solid waste or the one-stop permit center.

This was less than a week before the parking lot work was to be done.

The one-stop permit center staff was courteous but believed rules for new development would apply. That would have meant a much more expensive masonry enclosure than the basic cyclone fence that was being pursued.

A public works employee was called in who mentioned there could be an exception depending upon the site plan. It turns out there is no site plan as the Bulletin’s downtown location and building dates back to the 1910s. At that point it was noted an internal review for a possible variance to the requirement could be done and they would speed up the process so an answer could be made within two to three weeks.

At that point it was a polite thanks but no thanks as anything that jeopardized finally getting the parking lot work done was unacceptable. The initial reaction was to simply leave the dumpsters out in plain view and unscreened except for several concrete parking blocks to prevent the bins from rolling around.

However, it was decided that was a bit insane given that it was a simple request. It took a couple of calls to an elected leader and management staff that then brought a call from solid waste again emphasizing that the Bulletin – as well as anyone else in a similar situation – were free to do the fencing as we are in an area of the city that predates the zoning code requirements of a masonry structure.

It should be made clear that everyone involved was professional and courteous. It is just that once erroneous information was given it could have lead to no screening which would have meant the garbage dumpsters would have been visible to everyone entering the downtown area for another 60 years.

No one is saying every employee needs to be well versed in all aspects of zoning rules off the top of their head. And quite frankly had the follow up question been directed at solid waste it never would have been a dilemma.

It almost seems an ombudsman or someone who can guide applicants with code-related requests through the system would be a more effective way of doing business. Given times are tight, that may require further rethinking of staffing deployment on the city’s part. But that is precisely why it should be done. Times are tough and people could very easily be discouraged from spending to improve the looks of neighborhoods and business districts even if it is to a small degree such as screening off dumpsters.

Ironically the city has shown a can-do attitude with projects such as the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Ironhorse Deli in downtown Manteca that would have been killed if the city had a death grip on municipal codes and regulations including parking requirements.

Councilwoman Debby Moorhead was inspired in part to run for office due to the complications and months delay that arose from her simply trying to install a patio cover in her backyard.

And council hopeful Richard Behling also has a similar experience when it comes to how effective the city is in imposing and enforcing municipal property use and maintenance codes.

In the end, it isn’t just how Manteca deals with the big things that count. The true measure of how effective a city is in serving a community is how they sweat the small details even if it is a simple proposal to fence in dumpsters.
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