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Illegal fireworks & neighborhood- based government

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POSTED June 20, 2013 11:38 p.m.

It was an incessant noise.

Every weekend for a month the sound of revving motorcycles non-stop drove me crazy. It went on for hours at a time.

I live a block from the railroad tracks. The trains had become background noise. But that wasn’t the case for a handful of stunt riders who had illegally taken over a parking lot over a half mile away in the Manteca Industrial Park to practice their tricks.

I never called the police but many neighbors did. Manteca Police did go by but they were limited on what they could do under the law. The parking lot wasn’t barricaded nor was it posted. Eventually the property owner put barricades up that made it clear the parking lot was off limits.

As bad as it was, it wasn’t as jarring as what a number of Manteca residents are experiencing often night in and night out with the discharge of illegal fireworks.

The drone of the motorcycles can drive you nuts. But in terms of kicking your ear drums or spooking pets, it doesn’t come close to matching the illegal launching of fireworks.

Fireworks are only legal to discharge in Manteca from seven days before July 4 to midnight on Independence Day. It is clear that what is going on is illegal, clear that is to everyone except the perpetrators.

Manteca Police do what they can but unless they catch them in the act they can’t make arrests. It is a frustrating game of cat and mouse. Folks in one neighborhood report some success at making their neighborhood more like one in a peaceful city instead of Beirut. They did so by working with each other and found ways to put pressure on offending culprits.

It wasn’t vigilante justice. It was neighbors working in concert to address a mutual concern.

Noise pollution, illegal fireworks, and panhandling are all quality of life issues.  Speeding traffic on neighborhood streets can fall into that category as does high weeds and housing blight.

Police don’t ignore quality of life issues although they aren’t a top priority if more serious crime is occurring. At the same time, police have limited ability to make the problem go away. And even if they were able to station 30 officers in a neighborhood to track down illegal fireworks, it is difficult to get the culprits prosecuted.

If we want a solution Manteca has to start treating such quality of life issues as a neighborhood problem and not just a police problem. That means empowering neighborhoods to tell the city what the concerns are and to work with each other and municipal staff to devise solutions.

Manteca started exploring the community-based government model that San Jose has used successfully but then budget woes terminated that effort in 2010.

The approach to how Manteca could serve neighborhoods involves sessions with frontline municipal workers that could end up making city government more responsive to the people they serve.

And in doing so, it is likely to get results, reduce the cost of solutions and ultimately the cost of government.

It is similar to what San Jose put in place years ago when leaders were worried that as the city grew — it is now more than a million residents— that City Hall would become more and more disconnected with the true needs of a neighborhood.

Yes, some of the effort might require people to step up.

Consider the areas that routinely flood with the initial rains in the fall or before the end of January when leaves are still a major issue. Rest assured the ears of city workers have been bent more than one time over the perennial flooding caused by clogged storm drains.

The solution could be organizing the neighborhood to help keep storm drains clear as many are in front of homes or elderly residents who have limited mobility. The city may kick in extra help things as simple as dropping off green Toters every so often when storms are expected so the volunteers can place leaves into so then so leaves don’t get pushed by runoff or the wind back into the storm drains.

Does this mean the residents are doing the city’s work? Yes and no. Even in good times Manteca lacks the manpower to make sure all storm drains are clear. By working together flooding issues that include people walking and driving through standing water could be addressed before they happen.

Community-based government has a lot of potential. It could make it possible to open a youth/community center in Southside Park to address the influence of gangs. The city could provide the structure plus equipment and the community the manpower through volunteers.

Given the fact 80 percent  of government’s cost is manpower and the fact such solutions serve neighborhoods that those involved have a large stake in, about the only way Manteca can improve the services it provides is by engaging the people that the neighborhoods belong to in the first place.

As one neighborhood has discovered, working together may not eliminate quality of life issues but it definitely can make real headway at reducing them.

Community-based government is a step in the right direction.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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