Ben Cantu believes bad governance and not the economy are why Manteca doesn’t have more police officers and firefighters or amenities such as a state-of-the-art library.
Cantu - making his third run for a Manteca City Council seat on Nov. 6 - vows to break what he calls Manteca’s cycle of “boom and bust” every eight to 10 years where the city goes from free spending to cutting back services.
“The destiny of the community needs to be long range and the city needs to stick to a plan instead of changing it every four or eight years,” said Cantu who spent 36 years plotting Manteca’s growth as a city planner.
That, according to Cantu, will require a council that developers and property owners don’t have the ear of and instead plans Manteca based on what the community wants.
“You have a farmer who complains growth is getting too close to his land then a few years later they are willing to sell for what a developer offers them,” Cantu said.
Cantu believes if Manteca stuck to one plan instead of letting market forces sway the council that the city would be in a much better position to provide basic services and secure amenities such as a new city hall, parks, and a performing arts center.
He added that Manteca should not have had “to wait 10, 20 or 30 years” for a new vehicle maintenance facility or a new animal shelter.
“Manteca doesn’t have enough parks because developers were allowed to put them in storm retention basins,” Cantu said of the city’s 50 plus municipal parks.
He also believes the city should abolish landscape maintenance districts and require all city residents to pick up sound wall landscaping upkeep and park maintenance and not just those in new neighborhoods where the facilities being maintained are located.
Cantu plans on making restoring police and fire staffing “to the level the community needs” his top priority if elected.
He blames the council for not managing money better in good years by essentially giving city employees raises and benefits matched to levels in similar-sized cities elsewhere in Northern California. And he also blames them for not spending reserves that have no restrictions on them to have kept salaries and staffing levels as they were prior to 2008 when the housing market collapsed.
He noted the city could have “found” the money they used to restore the four member gang unit back in 2008. Manteca is drawing down an $8 million public safety endowment fund established by developer contributions to pay for the restoration of the gang unit.
“There needs to be a change of the culture at city hall and not just the council,” Cantu said in reference to staff that he says often fails to follow through on projects in a timely manner.
One step he’d take to accomplish that is “to cut the unbiblical cord to developers.”
“This community needs to be managed better,” he said.
He blames that to a large degree on the fact “most of the staff doesn’t live here.”
“If you asked them where the nearest Save Mart was in Manteca they probably couldn’t tell you,” Cantu said. “But they could tell you where the closet one is in Modesto.”
Cantu contends the council views Manteca as two distinct constituencies- the development community coupled with newer neighborhoods and older established neighborhoods. He believes issues in newer neighborhood are addressed quickly while help for the older neighborhoods is dragged out. He points to what he said are deteriorating streets in older sections of town to back up his claim.
“There’s never money for existing neighborhoods,” Cantu said. “It’s all for the new neighborhoods and nothing for the existing neighborhoods.”
And, from Cantu’s viewpoint, that means the city is doing nothing to protect property values by what he said was “their lack of code enforcement of property standards.”
He’s against selective enforcement of codes such as the sign ordinance and believes the rules that are in place should be enforced and enforced so in a uniform manner.
Among other issues:
• Cantu wants to see a full-blown veterans ‘memorial in Manteca such as can be found in Ripon and Lathrop instead of the low- key memorial in front of the library.
• He wants the city to sell property it bought eight years ago for a courthouse complex on South Main Street and ended up not doing anything with it. He believes the 13 acres could best be sold and developed as retail or a mixed use project with higher density housing.
Cantu said, if elected, he will work toward getting at least two additional council members in place in the 2014 election in order to facilitate the changes he contends Manteca needs to prosper and weather future economic downturns in better shape.
Cantu, 60, has been a resident of Manteca since 1953. He is currently president of the Manteca Kiwanis.
Cantu serves on Valley Community Action Programs (CAPS) board that serves mentally challenged adults as well as president is the and business agent for the Tidewater Southern Railway model railroad club. He also has his own business - BC Planning - providing planning services for subdivisions and businesses for clients.