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Great Wolf, the race for mayor & public debate

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POSTED January 22, 2014 1:04 a.m.

Manteca City Council campaigns in recent election cycles have been fairly tame and predictable.

Incumbents and challengers alike are always for more police and firefighters — who isn’t? They also agree on the need for balancing the budget, expanding parks and recreation, repairing streets, and creating jobs.

In the 1980s council campaigns were about as boring as an 8.0 Richter scale earthquake. First there was the recall over the termination of then Police Chief Leonard Taylor. Next up was the growth cap debate followed closely by the fight over Yellow Freight.

Each of the campaigns tied to those issues were rambunctious and led to major shifts in municipal strategies.

The rejection of Yellow Freight’s request to locate on land zoned for residential at Main and the 120 Bypass, for example, led to a development pattern that gave Manteca Woodward Park and The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley instead of a series of freight terminals south of the Bypass.

The 1990s saw fights over the use of redevelopment agency funds. The upshot was transformation of the shuttered Spreckels Sugar plant into an economic juggernaut that generated taxes to fund other RDA investments,

Then there was the potentially divisive Big League Dreams fight where opponents of council members pushing for the sports complex to be located at Woodward Park unsuccessfully tried to dump the incumbents in a bitter election.

The lead up to this November’s vote may not be quiet either.

That’s because Manteca finds itself on the cusp of another defining moment when it comes to a pending council decision, namely the Great Wolf Resort project.

The timetable now in place under agreements entered into between McWhinney, Manteca Development Group and the City of Manteca gives the parties through the end of January 2015 with a possible 30-day extension to perform due diligence and make a decision on the project’s fate.

That means it may not be wrapped up prior to Nov. 4 when Manteca voters will elect a new mayor and two council members.

Mayor Willie Weatherford is not seeking re-election nor is council member John Harris, Councilman Vince Hernandez hasn’t officially said one way or another.

That means the possibility exists there could be two new members on the council since if Steve DeBrum loses his run for mayor he’s still on the council for another two years.

And if Ben Cantu takes on DeBrum for mayor and makes it a race as he indicated that he will, it could put the Great Wolf Resort proposal front and center in the campaign.

That’s because DeBrum along with Hernandez are on the council’s Great Wolf subcommittee.

Great Wolf is a watershed issue.

If it goes according to initial expectations it will have a major positive impact on the Manteca economy and the city’s finances. But what if it doesn’t go according to plan and at best treads water? Manteca will have invested much of its remaining Redevelopment Agency funding on projects associated with the Great Wolf and the envisioned family entertainment zone that would adjoin it.

Once spent, that money is gone.

And if Great Wolf just generates enough in property, sales and motel taxes to pay off whatever infrastructure debt is incurred to bring it to Manteca, that means the general fund wouldn’t receive any revenue to offset the cost of services needed because Great Wolf located here such as traffic impacts and public safety.

DeBrum has taken a somewhat neutral position. He favors exploring and venting the numbers to “make sure all the ducks are in order” so that city leaders can determine whether it will be a “win-win situation” for Manteca.

Part of that venting should include dialogue with the public.

A solo race for mayor wouldn’t accomplish that.

But since Cantu has indicated he is running for mayor, Manteca could very well have an open debate beyond the council chambers whether Great Wolf is what this city needs.





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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