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It’s time to focus on Center Street & forget Yosemite

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POSTED January 3, 2009 12:03 a.m.

Here’s a prediction for 2009.

The $40,420 the Manteca Redevelopment Agency is spending on trying to get a consensus in downtown to form a district where business and property owners agree to tax themselves for the common good is going to go nowhere.

The facilitator being hired for the bucks — Kristin Lowell — has about as much a chance of succeeding as Neville Chamberlain’s efforts to stop World War II.

The downtown squabbling in Manteca is legendary. It killed efforts 30 years ago to bring one-way traffic to Yosemite Avenue and Center Street to improve traffic flow. The downtown Greek chorus then chastised the city for doing nothing. The city proposed a solution to improve traffic in the 1980s and they were thoroughly beaten up once again.

Then they slammed the city for doing nothing. The downtown improvements you see now are a minor miracle given the infighting that took place during the effort to get a reasonable consensus.

When the City Council was ready to put four lanes through downtown on Main Street and ban parking, they were beaten up by the downtown Greek chorus. They then kept it two lanes and put the landscaping bulbs in and the same people then beat them up for not having four lanes of traffic.

The paraphrase the famous Pogo comic strip line, “We have meet the enemy and he is us,” aptly applies to downtown Manteca.

Rest assured that Lowell will earn her $40,420. She’ll interview all of the stakeholders and will fashion together a report that says whether a downtown improvement district has support. And given the record of previous efforts downtown, if the majority are in agreement when they talk with Lowell, the majority will be against it when it is brought up before the City Council. It’s just the way downtown has been working for decades.

So what’s the best thing the City Council can do? If this exercise ends up being as futile as the rest, it is time to pull the plug on the political fantasy of trying to have the city partner with businesses and property owners along Yosemite Avenue between Lincoln Avenue and the railroad tracks and a block on either side.

If they want to do anything, they should have the redevelopment agency work with property owners and businesses along Center Street and points north to cobble together projects to transform that street into the new heart of Manteca.

It has fewer limitations physically. The street is wider. There are older homes — mostly rentals — that ultimately could have property owners enter into RDA partnerships to create shops, dining, offices, and even second floor living units.

There are no major physical boundaries such as the railroad tracks. It doesn’t have property owners who have been treated as if they are essential to Manteca’s future for the past 90 plus years.

Remaking Center Street as the heart of the city doesn’t do excessive damage to the Yosemite Avenue corridor as it is still adjacent and would benefit from any spillover impacts.

And — most important of all — it doesn’t disregard major efforts of the city to pump new life into the central district as Center Street is still tied to Library Park, the library, and the Tidewater Bikeway and is just two blocks from the location of the transit station going in at Moffat and Main.

It is also still in the heart of the city as growth takes place in all four directions.

Perhaps more importantly, it is a street that doesn’t double as a major east-west connection from one end of Manteca to another.

Shifting attention to Center Street doesn’t abandon what passes as downtown today. Instead, it would actually benefit it by encouraging new infusion in construction and other projects that simply can’t take place on much of Yosemite Avenue do to wall-to-wall buildings built right up to the sidewalk.

It is foolish to believe what was defined as Manteca’s exact downtown 90 years ago when the city was incorporated and even 30 years ago when a parking district was formed still adequately addresses the cultural and speciality retail needs of a city that now has 66,000 residents on its way to 125,000 plus people.

When the effort fails to get momentum going once again — as it most assuredly will — the City Council needs to stop recycling plans to help downtown and instead toss everything into a brown Toter. They then need to get serious about making sure Manteca has a vibrant central district and start concentrating efforts on a long-range plan to transform Center Street and points to the north as a healthy heart for the community instead of one that is limited by years of myopic politics.

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