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Cantu: Direct RDA funds to older parts of Manteca
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Ben Cantu has no qualms with having a Manteca Redevelopment Agency, per se.

The mayor hopeful understands how it allows Manteca to retain 84 cents of every dollar collected locally in property tax instead of Sacramento taking it. He understands without it Manteca would just get a bit better than 14 cents of every property tax dollar collected. He understands RDA funds can’t be used to balance the general fund that is now under financial distress. Cantu also understands that having an RDA doesn’t increase property tax costs to residents.

But what he doesn’t understand is why current municipal leaders haven’t targeted more of the RDA revenue to older neighborhoods and commercial areas.

“I have nothing against using it (RDA funds) to help attract new development but we’ve been ignoring the older sections of the city for too long,” Cantu said.

Cantu is one of four candidates seeking the mayor’s post in the Nov. 2 election. The others are incumbent Willie Weatherford, former mayor Carlon Perry, and council member Debby Moorhead.

“The RDA is a tool to improve the city,” Cantu said. “I support having an RDA. I just do not believe it is being used as effectively as it should be.”

Cantu noted that by all indications Manteca’s RDA is financially healthy and has a strong flow of tax dollars in spite of Sacramento commandeering $7 million to help balance the state budget.

That is why he can’t understand why more RDA money isn’t being directed at the older parts of Manteca.

He rattled off a number of areas where RDA money could be used: Widening Louise Avenue to four lanes just east of Main Street, improving downtown alleys, helping build a new library, and bringing streets such as Pacific Avenue up to city standards.

And what money has been directed back toward the older parts of town to combat blight outside of senior housing grants, small business loans, and business façade improvements has been in too small of amounts.

Cantu said the city’s program to install curbs, gutters, and sidewalks could have been done in a year instead of being parceled out over multiple years.

“The money is there,” Cantu said.

While the city opted to use federal Community Development Block Grant money to do such work in some RDA areas that qualified as low-income under federal law, Cantu said the city should have addressed all areas that the RDA can help with such improvements in one fell swoop. Areas not included in an RDA assessment area cannot receive money although RDA affordable housing programs can take place anywhere in the city based on state law.

Cantu agrees that Spreckels Park, the El Rey conversion into Kelley Brothers Brewing Co., and even the infrastructure needed to reach and access the Stadium Retail Center anchored by Kohl’s and Costco as well as the Big League Dreams sports complex made sense.

Such private investments generate additional tax increment to leverage future RDA projects.

Cantu, however, said the city keeps pouring money into new investments while neglecting the older parts of the city. Instead, he said, they go after “the next big project” to keep increasing property tax increment in the name of helping older parts of Manteca without effectively doing so.

That’s why he wants ironclad assurances that RDA Area No. 3 now being considered for formation and consisting of 11 neighborhoods hard hit by housing foreclosures will direct a majority of the funds generated - if not all - back into the impacted neighborhoods and not into new commercial projects within the boundary of the proposed RDA Area 3.

He favors a plan similar to what City Manager Steve Pinkerton crafted and implemented while serving as RDA manager in Stockton for neighborhoods including street rehabilitation, street light replacement, park renovations, affordable housing and other revenues including building community centers in the impacted neighborhoods.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Cantu said. “By using RDA money for such things you free up general fund money for police and fire.”