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Old-fashioned ‘barn raising’ for landscaping

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POSTED August 4, 2009 12:47 a.m.

East Highway 120 through Manteca – the stretch from the Highway 99 interchange to Austin Road – has defined Manteca in the minds of millions of travelers.

 It isn’t a pretty picture they painted for themselves. Typical was the comic strip Farley that once was a staple in the San Francisco Chronicle that portrayed Manteca as nothing but a series of mobile home parks, and trailer sales firms accented by asphalt and weeds.
You could understand how one would get that impression.

A commercial broker from the Bay Area trying to secure firms for Spreckels Park in the early going told of how he convinced the owner of a small firm he was trying to lure to Manteca to check out Spreckels Park.

The guy was more than reluctant as his impression of Manteca was anything but favorable when he drove to and from the Sierra with his family.
He finally convinced the guy to take a second look at Manteca. This was back in 2000.

The broker recalled the follow-up phone call. The firm’s owner said he came off the freeway with his family as they were headed to the Sierra on a ski excursion and decided to take a short detour to the left to check out what the broker was talking about. As they slowed down to a stop next to the weed infested interchange he was immediately greeted by a panhandler. They turned left under the antiquated 1955 overcrossing. He saw the tired old Tradeway Chevrolet dealership on the left and the equally worn-out Big Boy shopping center. Then he saw the new construction at Spreckels Park complete with a taco truck in front of the brand new Shell station.

That – the broker said – was enough for the client. In his mind not only was Manteca a hell hole but when they got something new they opted to apply no standards.

Manteca has since gotten tough on aggressive panhandlers and has relegated taco trucks out of commercial areas.

They also have transformed much of the private sector ugliness given Spreckels Park North (In-and-Out Burgers et al), Manteca RV and Trailer’s newer digs, and other improvements including the Strike Zone and the rest of Spreckels Park.

There still is one big mar on Manteca’s ability to make a good first impression. The un-landscaped Highway 99 and Yosemite Avenue interchange that  serves as the city’s front door based on the traffic volume that passes through it each day.

Travelers are left with the impression Manteca’s official flower is the weed and the city color is brown as in dirt.

It has been that way for 54 years and counting.

Manteca does have $400,000 in restricted Measure K funds to landscape the interchange but Caltrans is now throwing a monkey wrench into it. This isn’t a deliberate effort to torpedo interchange work as what happened when former Congressman Richard Pombo came up with the original $6 million in federal funds to get the project rolling without first kissing Caltrans’ feet. Things have gotten a heck of a lot better under the new Caltrans district leadership This delay is due to the state fiscal crisis.

Caltrans’s part of the bargain was to come up with the encroachment permit and supply the labor to plant around 1,000 shrubs and trees. They were planning on using California Conservation Corps work crews until that program got whacked back in the budget cuts.

Now the city has until Oct. 6 for the state to secure planting labor under an extension with the low bidder who is doing all the other work including installing the irrigation system.

The city shouldn’t risk losing the project waiting for the state.

‘It is time for an old-fashioned community barn raising style event.

Perhaps the Manteca Convention & Visitors Bureau or Manteca Chamber of Commerce could be approached by the city to organize volunteers.
I’d have no problem signing on. I’d even toss in $20 toward paying for Caltrans crews or whatever is needed to provide any lane closure or other warning devices needed during the planting.

Get enough volunteers and you can knock off the planting in one or two days.

This is way too important of a project to let slip though Manteca’s fingers. It is a matter of civic pride. It can –as the commercial broker’s story points out – be a detriment in trying to secure jobs for the community.

Hopefully the City Council understands this and tonight instead of simply extending the contract deadline they will instruct staff to set in motion a call for volunteers to get rid of the ugliest mark on Manteca’s image.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail

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