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Manteca must avoid a repeat of the Nightmare on Elm Street

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POSTED July 6, 2013 1:46 a.m.

The biggest embarrassment of the Manteca park system is also a monument to political expediency and prejudice.

Hate and prejudice worked in tandem for five years  portraying skateboarders as the lowest form of life as Manteca’s elected leaders in the late 1990s worked overtime to find a way to get out of a commitment they made to build a skate park. Finally they found a way to save political face by half delivering on their promise while appeasing their opponents.

They picked the least accessible piece of park property along the Tidewater Bikeway in the ugliest possible location sandwiched between a PG&E power substation and railroad tracks and then spent just a third of what they said they would. When it opened it did so without a water fountain, adequate fencing separating it from the railroad tracks, landscaping, restrooms or even benches. It was about as barebones as you could get.

City leaders wouldn’t have dared treat baseball, soccer, golf or other recreation sports constituencies in such a manner.

Skaters, though, were an easy target. They dressed different. They didn’t act like the Beav. They weren’t organized on teams. They often had long hair. And they had their share of jerks.

Every time a skateboarder barreled down a sidewalk startling an elderly person or grounded down the edge of concrete on public steps it provided fodder to take aim at the entire idea of a skate park being simply a magnet for Satan’s offspring.

Of course, the renegade skateboarders were just a small fraction of overall skateboarders. And they didn’t corner the market on rude behavior from youth pursuing recreational endeavors. Baseball and soccer have their share of unruly kids.

Councilman Steve DeBrum believes it is time to rethink the skate park. If it’s determined the city needs to step up its game or replace the existing one, DeBrum suggested the city might look at locating a skate park adjacent to the BMX track in Spreckels Park.

The city is getting ready to develop a long-range Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Such a plan will serve as a blueprint on how municipal funds  — specifically the community park component of park fees collected on new growth —  will be spent in the coming years.

Staff has indicated that the skate park may come up depending upon input at public scoping meetings that will be conducted as part of the process.

We know how that works. The city hires a consultant who schedules the equivalent of public hearings. The consultant gets up and does the same cookie cutter spiel he used while working for Any Town, USA. They are numbing sessions attended primarily by policy wonks and the usual cast of characters.

Instead of doing that, the city should learn from its past mistakes. The skate park is one of them. A consultant’s theory that Woodward Park should have been developed as baseball diamonds is another.

Instead of general scoping meetings that probably won’t attract too many folks, why not use targeted meetings with interest groups? Skateboards would be one.  Other groups would be water sports enthusiasts, dog park fans, baseball and softball participants, soccer aficionados, performing arts backers, and those with a high interest in libraries. It can also be done by geographic region such as east of the Highway 99 freeway where no major community park exists.

It will take more work but it won’t produce the predictable template for parks and recreation needs.

The city should also resist the temptation to blend the proposed family entertainment zone (FEZ) that’s aimed at generating visitors and taking money out of their pockets with day-to-day recreation needs for Manteca residents. A large-scale aquatics center may do double duty for regional and local competitive and recreation swimmers but it doesn’t replace a community pool where the idea is splash and fun.

Nor would an upper end skate park in the FEZ do well as double duty. Not because of the intensity but because of the location. The FEZ is about as far away from residents in Manteca you can get.

Whether the process shows there is a need for a better skate park or simply a second skate park is yet to be seen.

But whatever is developed as desirable recreation and park amenities, the city needs to hammer home a message — community participation can make things happen or happen faster. The prime example is the BMX track at Spreckels Park.

And when it comes to enlisting the community to help design and even help fund small parts of a recreation project, Manteca just needs to look at Lathrop and the planning and buy-in that developed plans for the Generations Center that recently broke ground.

What Manteca doesn’t need to do is repeat the Nightmare on Elm Street (at Center Street) better known as Manteca’s pathetic effort to address the recreational needs of skateboarders.



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 dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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