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Downtown merchants know best
Perry says city should listen to downtown, not consultants
Manteca mayoral hopeful Carlon Perry contends the city has largely ignored the Vision 2020 Task Force report recommendations for downtown made by 25 citizens in favor of hiring consultants. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Editor's note: This is a part of a series of stories on how mayor and council hopefuls would address various municipal issues

Carlon Perry is sitting at ground zero of one of the big issues in this year’s municipal elections –downtown Manteca.

wFrom his vantage point at a window table in The Village Sandwich Shoppe he rattles off businesses that are still standing – and thriving – after two, five, 10, and 15 years or more.

Perry believes it is “silly” for anyone in the public sector – municipal staff or hired consultant – to tell downtown merchants how to go about doing what they do best which, simply put, is making a living by selling items or providing services. He noted those making a living downtown have had to lay off employees, tighten their belts and pay themsleves less but they are still “doing what they do best.”

That is why Perry is convinced the real experts that need to shape downtown are those who make a living there and not the city, not consultants, and not the general public.

Perry is one of four candidates seeking the post of mayor in the Nov. 2 municipal election. The others are current Mayor Willie Weatherford, retired senior municipal planner Ben Cantu, and council member Debby Moorhead. Perry believes that his making a living as a businessman and not as an employee or as a public sector worker helps him understand what downtown is up against.

And although he considers municipal fiscal policy and listening to Manteca residents the real issues in the election, he doesn’t mind weighing in on downtown which several candidates have identified as a major campaign issue.

Perry at one point leans over to his briefcase and pulls out the once ballyhooed Vision2020 Task Force report pieced together in 1998 by a 25-member citizen committee formed by the city council that offered a wide variety of suggestions including the framework of a plan for the downtown district.

Perry, holding the final report in his hand, said he bet “I’m one of the only people” who bothered to remember the report. He noted since then the city has hired consultants who have had their own take on what downtown should be like which is like other cities that they’ve done work for previously.

“We’re not Lodi, we’re not Pleasanton, we’re not Livermore, we’re Manteca,” Perry declared.

He said what often happens when a consultant is hired by the city they set up meetings at 5 p.m. or other times when most of the affected people have to mind their stores. The end result is a few people end up providing input that the consultant then takes and develops a proposal to present to the city.

“They (the city) should go business to business and ask what each merchant would like to see,” Perry said.

People frustrated by traffic congestion
Perry said the biggest complaint he hears from the community as a whole about downtown is the congestion.
He points to the decision to make Maple Avenue one-way that has had a negative impact on some businesses and makes it difficult for motorists to navigate downtown. Perry, who served 10 years on the council including a four-year stint as mayor, noted that consultants have driven virtually every traffic solution that many people believe has made the streets more congested and discourages them from going downtown.

Perry said downtown traffic issues were initially addressed starting in 1991 as a way to move more people to and from Wal-Mart and not to assist with downtown needs. That is when the original idea of the extension of Industrial Park Drive surfaced as well as the initial decision to run “suicide squeeze lanes” through downtown where two lanes went to one then back to two in one direction and one to two in the other. A traffic study conducted to serve Wal-Mart traffic is also what prompted the city to impose no-left turns from southbound Main at Yosemite Avenue for years before the current configuration on Main Street was put in place.

He said the business improvement district the city advocated was rejected because of the cost of the additional taxation. Many businesses would have had to fork over an additional $1,000 or so a year on top of business licenses and other municipal taxes that they pay.

Perry said there are other ways the city can help downtown. He pointed to Scotts Valley that set aside a portion of the redevelopment agency funds in an advertising account to help merchants and services lure people into downtown to spend money.

Perry said when boundaries were discussed for the business improvement district he was a downtown businessman at the time. He believed the boundaries should have been Fremont Avenue to the west, Wetmore Street to the south, Alameda Street to the north and a point just west of the railroad tracks.

Perry added that the rest of the community trying to tell downtown what is best for downtown makes no sense.

“Let them (the downtown merchants) do what they do best,” Perry said in noting downtown has survived for almost a century because the private sector is the expert at running a business.

And as far as its current health is concerned, Perry looked out the window.

“I see maybe two or three vacancies,” he said noting that is a far cry from (how dire) things were in the mid-1990s. “Downtown merchants know what they are doing.”