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No one is laughing at Manteca now

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POSTED December 11, 2009 2:30 a.m.
It wasn’t too many years ago that Manteca was the laughingstock of the Northern San Joaquin Valley thanks to a dysfunctional city council.

It all started with the bruising recall in 1982 that removed the majority of the council. After that, things got a lot worse. Many council meetings had the decorum of a WWF smack down match.

The Stockton Record and Modesto Bee devoted more space to covering Manteca council meetings than the councils in their respective cities. After all, verbal brawls and borderline physical confrontations are good copy. It got so bad that when the San Francisco 49ers were making one of their runs at the Super Bowl that die-hard 49ers fans switched back and forth between the City Council meeting on Comcast Channel 97 and a Monday Night appearance of Joe Montana & Co. as they expected two council members to get into fist cuffs.

The impact on Manteca was devastating. At one point then City Manager David Jinkens shared the fact Manteca was routinely losing out on qualified applicants for jobs – including the police department. Why? Because people would often tell those offered positions that they didn’t want to go to Manteca as it was a Looney bin ready to fall apart.

Some council members made no attempt at understanding how the market worked in terms of landing private sector jobs. They believed if you simply drew lines on a map they’d come. Instead they concentrated on trying to settle old scores, hammered relentlessly at subjects that they weren’t getting their way on such as the golf course, and would use every opportunity they could to push personal political agendas. Although the city council had no say whatsoever about abortion or gay rights, there was a time when the minority of the council was pushing hard to get the city to take take stances against both. At one point, two council members led a whispering campaign against a nominee for a city commission by whipping up opposition within the church community to pressure the rest of the council. The big sin? The nominee was rumored to be gay.

It was all made worse by the  that after the council majority would take a position those who lost often would not be team players. They kept demanding the council change its position as the months wore on.

During this time was when Tracy was snapping up all of the jobs as well as Lathrop and Stockton.
As far as retail sales, Tracy was using big redevelopment agency enticements to take all that it could to open West Valley Mall and the outlet center. Retail was hit hard in Manteca.

That all started to change about a decade ago.
The council composition changed to the point that infighting disappeared and out-of-the-box thinking replaced knee jerk reactions.

Today, that is paying off in big dividends. Manteca is still generating new retail at a time when most cities are seeing nothing but store closings. It is also why Manteca’s taxable retail sales were up 7.6 percent last quarter when everyone else was down substantially. Manteca did it despite losing two car dealerships and Mervyn’s.

Bass Pro Shops was secured by giving up 45 percent of the city’s 1 cent cut of the sales tax the store generates for the next 35 years. It was a plan attacked by critics as something that would hurt Manteca. As Mayor Willie Weatherford astutely pointed out, Manteca was giving up 45 percent of nothing as it would not have gotten a cent of the money that Bass Pro generates in sales tax if it didn’t locate here. It is made even sweeter that Bass Pro draws from a 100-mie radius and not just a mile or two like most retail.

Manteca also thought out-of-the-box to reduce expenses. The Big League Dream sports complex – which draws over 400,00 people a year including hundreds of out-of-town players and fans each weekend to tournaments who drop dollars in Manteca restaurants, motels, and stores – is a prime example.

Paid for upfront with redevelopment agency money, the lease payments that BLD makes for using the city facility go toward more parks and recreational facilities for the city. Had the city built a traditional sports complex like Tracy did, it would have incurred $17.6 million in expenses for maintenance and upkeep over the next 35 years. BLD is responsible for all of that, not the city taxpayers, under the agreement.

Manteca has six of the best softball/baseball fields around plus one of the few municipal indoor soccer arenas thanks to the forward thinking of the city council.

It is safe to say they aren’t laughing at Manteca now.
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