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Fight over traffic bulbs continue to set tone of talks on downtown

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POSTED May 1, 2009 2:37 a.m.
The debate over downtown Manteca’s future is once again creating a divided house.

A presentation Tuesday night by city-hired consultant Kristen Cowell-Schubert prompted several merchants – including Brenda Franklin who has been extremely vocal over the subject – to voice their displeasure with some of the proposals but they were even more upset about what the proposals left out.

The critics painted the situation as one of those who have made the historic district their home for generations that just wanted to see their original proposals taken seriously against having “high-priced” consultants brainstorm ideas that the property owners don’t want to see.

“This all started about taking the (traffic) bulbs off of Main Street,” said Franklin of Tipton’s Gift and Stationary. “We went to the City Council and we all needed to speak about that, and somehow our comments turned into this survey.”

According to Franklin, the cost of Cowell-Schubert’s study if allowed to continue could end up costing the city somewhere in the neighborhood of the $300,000 to $400,000 range – a large investment, she contends, considering that there are merchants that have been meeting for over a year to figure out the best way to deal with the traffic patterns and the bulbs that many merchants feel cut down on their available on-street parking.

Actually, the redevelopment agency hired the services of the consulting firm at about a 10th of what Franklin said the amount could balloon to if they are allowed to continue. The single propose of the study was to determine if property owners downtown were willing to tax themselves to put in place marketing and other improvements aimed at making the central district more competitive with new shopping area. Essentially, it was to see whether there was the support for forming a self-taxing Business Improvement District.

Several council members have indicated if the downtown can’t come to an agreement on some course of action they will be extremely reluctant to put any more money into downtown.

And it isn’t just the merchants that have a problem with the current traffic flows.

Manteca District Ambulance chief executive officer Dana Solomon pulled no punches when he attended a meeting last year where he said that the bulbs create backups along the major thoroughfares that should be the quickest route to an emergency. Instead, Solomon said, his ambulance crews often take the side streets to bypass the traffic – many of which have uncontrolled intersections.

Solomon was not present at the City Council meeting where the new study was being discussed.

Not everyone in attendance, however, was opposed to the study that some feel might actually correct the traffic problem that has only grown as more and more residents use the two-way downtown streets to navigate the city and get downtown.

One resident likened the new proposal to what was done in East Bay cities like Walnut Creek where the quaint downtown continues to thrive thanks to a heads-up engineering approach at handling the massive quantities of traffic that flood the streets daily.

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