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Hernandez, Moorhead get high marks for not being political hacks

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POSTED March 14, 2009 5:51 a.m.
Debby Moorhead and Vince Hernandez are examples of the type of elected leaders we need representing us in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

The two on Feb. 17 voted against the one-stop permit center project at the Manteca Civic Center that was being proposed to streamline permit processes for businesses seeking use permits, home owners wanting to make improvements and developers. Both had been long-time supporters of the one-stop permit center and Moorhead – in her role as chief executive officer of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce – had led the private sector push to get the city to do something to speed things up. Time is money for both businesses and homeowners alike.

Spending $1.3 million as staff originally envisioned struck the entire council in January as highly inappropriate. They directed Community Development Director Mark Nelson to “think out of the box” and rework the one-stop center.

Nelson returned Feb. 17 with a plan that cost $430,000 instead of $1.3 million and had the added bonus of being able to get lower lease costs for the information technology division that is located off campus in a Cherry Lane office building where human resources was being moved to avoid much of the cost of the original estimate as there is a space issue at City Hall.

The change in the votes cast by Moorhead and Hernandez  on Feb. 17 when they said “no” was driven by the fact since the one-permit center was last before them the city had asked the 400 plus municipal employees to take a pay cut plus do more work with less staff.

Knowing it would come back up again, both Hernandez and Moorhead started researching the issue further so they could defend their vote and try to persuade a third council l member to join them or – if it made sense – to change their vote.

In doing their due diligence, both council members noted at the March 3 meeting that the money being used was collected from new development and restricted by agreement for use only on public facilities  and couldn’t be used for labor costs, construction costs have dropped substantially,  work quarters are cramped at the Community Development Department, the city had already spent at least $160,000 – on the council’s direction – to move toward implementing the one-stop system, further reworking staffing issues to reduce costs by another $80,000 annually, and that it would increase staff efficiency as workload is increasing.

Moorhead, who made two visits to the Community Development Department, was particularly struck by how cramped the work quarters were.

Moorhead, by the way, astutely pointed out several times that one-stop permitting is about training and attitude as well as the process. Both are now being implemented on a time schedule to match the completion of the physical work by July 1.

Moorhead, who made it clear she’d by fine with just the process and change in staff attitude, came to the conclusion Manteca needed space but just as important the city shouldn’t sacrifice long-term efficiency in physical operations just to pinch symbolic pennies.

There is also a legitimate issue brought up by Ben Cantu who finished third in the November balloting for the City Council.

He is absolutely correct that the city has been all over the road about what to do with future city hall needs. As the city grows, space becomes an issue.

The shifting of operations off campus is a band-aid approach at best but then again it may be the start of a different way of looking at things.

If the Manteca Police Department goes ahead and moves off campus to the building the redevelopment agency has already bought at 555 Industrial Park Drive, it frees up a good 20,000 square feet. At the same time, it is likely the office market will be soft for at least two to three years.

It would make sense to review options now so that when things start picking up the city has a plan to move forward. Staying on site would work especially if the Cherry Lane office building – which could be purchased – is factored into the equation. Hernandez’s proposal to team with AKF on Yosemite Square for one of the five multi-story buildings that could be acquired in lieu of development bonus bucks also needs to be explored.

Also, a satellite office – especially for the finance office for a location somewhere in downtown Manteca to bring in foot traffic for people who pay monthly bills – makes sense. The internet and computers are an amazing thing in giving you flexibility. It also would represent a city investment in downtown Manteca to bring people back down there plus it would allow residents to combine errands.

That is why the time is right for a citizen’s panels to explore broad-based physical options for city hall’s future instead of hiring yet another consultant out of the box. Consider it an extension of the Vision 2020 Task Force. As City Manager Steve Pinkerton noted this past week, the community’s input for level of services needs to be a top priority. It hasn’t been in the past on city hall proposals that have since found their way to the proverbial dusty shelf.

Cantu, by the way, would be a solid choice for such a panel having worked at city hall.

Our leaders need to keep their heads in these trying times. Simply digging in and saying “no” or “yes” to doing something because it has symbolic meaning – read that political advantage – is a disservice to this community and its 66,000 plus residents. There is honor in changing your position as long as it gets this community to a better place. Manteca doesn’t need a return to the days where everything was a proverbial line in the sand and no one considered anything but political expediency when casting their votes.

It is why Tracy and other nearby cities were living high on the hog in the mid-1990s while Manteca floundered.
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