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Foreclosures, freeways & fish

Looking back at Manteca’s top ’08 stories

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Foreclosures, freeways & fish

More than 7,000 people were on hand for the opening of Manteca's Bass Pro Shops on Oct. 15 including these people trying to snag a free T-shirt.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED December 31, 2008 10:30 p.m.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
— Charles Dickens in “The Tale of Two Cities.”
 

Charles Dickens could have written the epithet for Manteca in 2008.
 
Foreclosures dominated the news — and the economy — in Manteca. Just over 1,000 homes that went back to bank ownership during the year were sold at prices averaging $180,000 less than they were purchased for three to four years earlier.
 
Yet for every story of someone losing their piece of the fabled American Dream, there was another story of someone who never thought dreams of home ownership would ever come true thanks to tumbling prices that made homes affordable for the first time in decades for people who live and work in Manteca and nearby valley cities.
Median prices of existing homes dropped over $116,000 in Manteca during 2008.  They are down $181,000 off the market’s peak of $429,000 in 2005.
 
At the start of 2008 when foreclosures started shaking many people’s confidence in the economy, The First Assembly of God Church under the leadership of Pastor Mike Dillman did what qualifies as a leap of faith and a modern-day economic miracle all wrapped up into one.
 
They had bought a home on North Grant Street that had become the poster home for the foreclosure mess. Vagrants had taken the house over, ripping apart cabinets for firewood, stripping copper from the walls, and urinating on the floors. Walls were marked with graffiti. The neighborhood was under siege.
 
The congregation bought the home vowing to fix it up, resell it, and spend the proceeds on charitable undertakings.
 
People thought they were nuts. There was no way the house could be worth the effort. Some even called the Bulletin saying the pastor was leading his church down the wrong path and into financial ruin.
 
By mid-spring the miracle had taken place. The house had been repaired, updated, spruced up and sold for a tidy profit.
 
Where everyone else saw disappear, Dillman saw hope.
 
“This is truly an opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime,” Dillman said after the church bought the home.
 
That, in a nutshell, is the bottom line of the foreclosure crisis in Manteca. Bad news for some has turned into good news for others.

• Bass Pro Shops opens at the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley
There were some 7,000 people who attended the opening evening at Bass Pro Shops.
 
It was in stark contrast to the economic jitters that had been rolling through the retail sector including the closure of Mervyn’s department store.
 
A day hasn’t gone by since its opening in early October that the 120,000-square-foot sportsmen’s paradise — complete with a live trout stream in the middle of the store, a replica of Half Dome and a scaled down General Sherman serving as the entrance — isn’t buzzing with buyers from places like Oregon, Nevada, San Jose, Redding, Napa Valley, Sacramento and Fresno. Opening shortly afterwards was Kerasotes Showplace 16 screen cinema — the first all-digital movie house in California.
 
Best Buy and JC Penney are heading toward a spring 2009 opening.
 
It wasn’t the only retail of major consequence to open in Manteca. Costco’s largest store in Northern California — 135,000 square feet — opened in the fall as did Office Max and a host of smaller stores.

• Manteca Unified talking about closing schools.
The statewide foreclosure mess — that triggered a drop in property taxes as well as ultimately sales tax – helped undermine California budget revenue, which in turn hurt local school districts.
 
Manteca Unified School District is working on ways to save $14 million from its budget for the start of the 2009-10 school year on July 1.
 
The Manteca Unified board by year’s end had already made $5.25 million in cuts including 14 vice principal positions.
 
Other possible cuts on the table is the elimination of class-size reduction teaching staffing, closing Sequoia Annex, Lathrop Annex and possibly McParland Annex as well as five elementary schools — Nile Garden, Joshua Cowell, New Haven, French Camp and Veritas — plus Lathrop High.
 
Calla High and Manteca Day School could be folded into the New Vision High campus in Weston Ranch. Students also could walk farther to school if bus routes are changed to save more money while programs such as freshmen sports are at risk of being cut as well.

• Debby Moorhead elected as fifth councilwoman in city’s history.
The City of Manteca is no longer governed exclusively by men.
 
Debby Moorhead took the oath of office Dec. 6 to officially become Manteca’s fifth woman council member following her election four weeks earlier.
 
The last time a woman served on the Manteca City Council was 2002. That’s when Vince Hernandez defeated then incumbent Denise Giordano.
 
The late Trena Kelley was the first woman to gain election to the council in 1980. She did it in a big way by becoming the first directly elected mayor in Manteca’s history.
 
The other women who have served on the council were Jeannie Keaster and Jeanne Dowhower.
 
Moorhead is the executive director of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce. She currently serves on the San Joaquin County Airport Task Force and on the Doctors Hospital Board of Directors. 
 
She served as administrator of West Lake House, later becoming Leisure Manor, for five years before her selection as the chamber of commerce executive director.

• Changing of the guard: Bob Adams steps down, replaced by Steve Pinkerton.
Bob Adams stepped down as Manteca’s city manager on Jan. 31.
 
Adams’ 11 years at the top municipal bureaucrat started following a turbulent period in Manteca’s political history after a split council fired David Jinkens as city manager the same week that Spreckels Sugar announced it was closing the factory that had been synonymous with Manteca’s economic vitality for more than 75 years.
 
His successor — Steve Pinkerton — inherited a much different Manteca. The city has gone from the brink of what many thought would be an economic disaster with the closure of Spreckels Sugar and no land prepared for employment center development to one that is on the cusp of becoming a major force in retail, office, and business park growth in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. There are also a lot more Manteca residents today — 22,000 more.
 
Adams helped oversee the city’s side of negotiations to lure Bass Pro Shops to Manteca, the Spreckels Park RDA project, Stadium Retail Center, and Big League Dreams among others.
 
Pinkerton, who took over as city manager in June, earned his “PhD” in economics the hard way.
 
He was working as the redevelopment agency director in Long Beach dealing with 12-hour days as that city tried to rebuild after being devastated by riots. At the same time, his wife opted to open a large bakery and cappuccino shop.
 
He credits the first-hand experience of what business is up against in dealing with government regulations and struggling to make a profit with helping round out his education in his chosen field of government service in municipal government.
 
The city manager, whose highest actual conferred degree is a masters from the University of Southern California, said the Long Beach experience is how he “earned his PhD.”
 
Pinkerton, 48, had his approach to civil service shaped by his family and experiences growing up.
 
He oversaw the transformation of downtown Stockton that he played a key role in shaping from 1994 to 2008 as that city’s redevelopment agency manager. It has gone from a decayed city center to a strong start on rebirth as a major gathering point through such projects as the City Cinema and Weber’s Point.

• Furloughs tossed out as possibility in upcoming budget year.
Furloughs — forced days off for city workers without pay — could help Manteca bridge a looming $8 million deficit projected for the fiscal year starting July 1.
 
City Manager Steve Pinkerton has been leading “open book” discussions with municipal worker union representatives and management to brainstorm ideas of how to reduce costs while working to avoid layoffs.
 
Other ideas being tossed about include closing offices during Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks during 2009 as well as closing offices every other Friday.
 
One way that furloughs could be a “wash” is for the hour cutbacks to match the cost of living increase negotiated in multi-year contracts signed by employee groups.
 
The $8 million deficit includes the projected cost of living increases.
 
At the same time, municipal leaders are rethinking proceeding with the $1.5 million remodeling to put in place a one-stop building permit center at the Civic Center.
 
It was noted that while the council made it a high priority, the elected leaders are sensitive to what it would look like spending $1.5 million on what is essentially remodeling City Hall facilities to improve customer service at the time they are asking employees to make sacrifices in a bid to balance the budget and help people keep their jobs. Money for the $1.5 million project was earmarked from funds collected from growth restricted to building government facilities only as well as bonus bucks paid by developers for residential sewer certainty.
 
The city has 400 employees. City leaders said furloughs — if they happen — wouldn’t impact front-line police and firefighters for public safety reasons. The goal is not to disrupt garbage collection, sewer or water services. While the last three services are enterprise accounts — where fees pay for the services delivered —staff and union representatives are exploring ways to treat all employees the same if and when it comes to furloughs.
 
Management is scrutinizing every vacancy that becomes available through retirement or someone leaving for another job. The position is left vacant if the city can find a way to cope without it and not cripple the delivery of services.

• New Lathrop Road/Highway 99 interchange on the way?
Is having Lathrop Road as the future interchange on Highway 99 worth $10 million to the people of Manteca?
 
It is the question the Manteca City Council needs to answer in the coming year after a series of workshops conducted by Caltrans brought out over 600 people interested in the interchange’s possible design and location.
 
The project team looking at alternatives for an interchange as part of the Highway 99 widening project that starts in 2012 has added Lathrop Road as a possible solution to compete against proposals for a Northgate Drive extension connecting with Southland Road or swinging Main Street in a curve across the freeway.
 
Lathrop Road originally was not advanced as a viable alternative because land acquisition and design could easily add $10 to $12 million to the cost of the replacement interchange project.
 
Caltrans must bring the entire freeway widening from Yosemite Avenue in Manteca to the Cross-town Freeway in Stockton under budget in order to make it work with Proposition 1A bond money. The directive was for minimum land acquisition costs as not to make the project expensive or slow down the construction timeline.
 
Initial public response against the Northgate extension and Main Street option prompted the planning team to re-examine the Lathrop Road alternative.
 
If Manteca’s leaders favor the Lathrop Road alternative, they must be willing to cover any extra costs that may occur.
 
An independent panel examining the Lathrop Road interchange proposal has concluded there could be significant savings to bring the project within budget. Those cost-savings options are currently being reviewed for feasibility with the final answer expected by years’ end.
 
Council input is being asked now to prevent delays in the process.
 
The Lathrop Road option would:
 
• cement Main Street as a key commercial corridor giving it direct freeway access in the north at Highway 99 and in the south at the Highway 120 Bypass. The Lathrop Road interchange design has southbound off ramps feeding directly into Main Street.
 
• not create the potential for truck and other traffic is to take short cuts through neighborhoods to reach Highway 99.
 
• would not increase traffic on street used by students walking to and from school.
 
• would not disrupt the country residential character of Southland Road.
 
• allow the Rossi project between Highway 99 and the Northgate Drive/Main Street intersection with its medical office complex, retail, and senior citizens housing to proceed.
 
• allow easier access for truck traffic from existing and future business parks and distribution centers along the Airport Way corridor.
 
Caltrans’ current safety standards do not allow such close spacing of interchanges as they did back in the 1950s when the Main Street and Lathrop Road interchanges were built on Highway 99. That is why when a new interchange is built the other must be closed.
 
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