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Preventing Oakland woes from taking root in Manteca

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POSTED March 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Oakland – the Detroit of the West – is once again going through self-examination.

It is a never-ending story: poverty, blight and crime.

Ron Dellums, a brilliant liberal ex-congressman, is now mayor and has the appearance of a deer caught in the headlights. It’s a different world being a big city mayor as opposed to serving in Congress. The garbage has to be picked up. The streets have to be safe. Being mayor isn’t policy wonk time it’s where the rubber meets the road.

His predecessor Jerry Brown is now serving as state attorney general and wants to return to the governor’s job. Brown tried the “fix it” approach instead of letting ideological views guide decisions and got hammered.

The best example was his decision to have Oakland start a military-style school to educate inner city youth. It was controversial from the start but had strong support in the poor neighborhood it was serving. Test scores were up. Violence and discipline problems were down. But the school didn’t survive. The ideological warriors – this time from the liberal left – and not the parents got the Oakland school board to pull the plug.

Against this backdrop we now hear the probation system is broken in the aftermath of the murder of four Oakland peace officers by convicted felon Lovelle Mixon.  His relatives said his parole officer was essentially a jerk and that much of the blame should be shouldered by the system.

Whoa. Mixon made decisions on his own even given his circumstances. There is DNA evidence that connects Mixon to the rape of a 12-year-old. (It is important to remember you are innocent until proven otherwise.)

Oakland Police over the years have been found guilty of a lot of transgressions including planting fake evidence in drug cases. It is important to remember in virtually all case of police misconduct it was the department itself that acted on complaints and led successful investigations that rooted out the bad apples.

The system works as well as we let it work.

That brings us back to Oakland’s never-ending cesspool of problems.

Why isn’t the system working? Some of it had to do with those who demand solutions be politically correct. One can’t have a military-style school even if it works because it simply isn’t PC. Some of it has to do with “The Blob” – California’s non-stop expansion of suburbia which makes it easier for employers to build on the outskirts of urban areas instead of re-investing in its core. And some of it has to do with disconnecting the community.

There is potential for Oakland in all cites.

Manteca leaders – in various degrees – are working to avoid such problems from besetting this community although there must be a more aggressive commitment.

Spreckels Park and Kelley Brothers are perfect examples of directing private-public investment dollars working as a team to redevelop core areas. Spreckels Park was a shuttered sugar plant and the brewery for 20 years was the burned out shell of the El Rey Theatrre. It is more cumbersome to do urban renewal projects initially since many problems are non-existent when you take flat farmland and build homes retail centers, and business parks.

It isn’t political correct in many circles for a prayer to be offered before a City Council meeting. If you look at the elected leaders they run a gamut of varying faiths. They are keen on harnessing the power of religious groups across the spectrum from Christians to Islamic to help improve the community. They are again supporting South Side Christian’s efforts to reach out Friday nights with a special center of sorts for youth in one of the poorest and most gang-prone neighborhoods in Manteca.

All of this is good but we need more. We need more investment in established areas to prompt rebirth that prevents blight but includes smaller, more affordable housing stock that would be in the price range of those who will be able to fill future private sector jobs that such an effort will bring. Not everyone is going to make $20 an hour and be able to commute 60 miles and live in a 3,000 square foot home. The type of jobs a rebirth may bring might pay $9 an hour and would allow a person to walk to work assuming the city can encourage non-traditional housing options of 800 square feet or less.

You will not prevent the Mixons of the world from surfacing. There will always be those who view personal responsibility as not being for them. You can, however, prevent others from falling into that trap by fashioning a local economy, social and cultural setting that fosters a wide array of jobs and housing opportunities on both undeveloped land and developed land.

The system doesn’t work when we either ignore the problem or whoever is in charge demands it is their way or no way.

It is not preordained that a Manteca becomes a Stockton or a Stockton becomes an Oakland in terms of how perverse and deep social and economic ills can become.

A community – as Police Chief Dave Bricker astutely points out – will always decide the crime level through how much it is willing to tolerant. That doesn’t mean dispatching an army of cops. It means taking an active role in not just serving as eyes and ears for law enforcement but taking the steps necessary to connect with people to their neighborhood and community.

The chronic problems Oakland suffers can take root anywhere. We have the seeds of all those woes here in Manteca. They will germinate and choke out the good if a conscious effort isn’t made to grow inwards as well as outward whether it is the physical community or our own attitudes.
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