Editor's Note: This is part of a series of stories on how mayor and council hopefuls would address various municipal issues
Vince Hernandez believes downtown’s destiny belongs in the hands of downtown businesses and property owners instead of being shaped by city-hired consultants.
Hernandez - who is seeking a third term on the Manteca City Council in the Nov. 2 election - said he is willing to step up to work as an individual council member with downtown interests as they shape a strategy to pump new life into Manteca’s heart.
“We have a lot of established businesses downtown that know what they are doing,” Hernandez said.
He cited a long list that includes Tipton’s, Janis Music, Kelley Brothers Brewing Co., J&J Printing, Manteca Bulletin, Oliver-Simas Insurance, Cabral Motors, and Van Essen Insurance among others. Hernandez said those businessmen can serve as mentors for others who are venturing out into retail or the service industry for the first time.
Hernandez illustrated his point with the example of a lady who wanted to open a flower shop but wasn’t sure what steps to take. Hernandez indicated that she was at a loss to figure out some of the steps she had to go through such as securing various licenses and such. She was able to do so with help from other business people such as Brenda Franklin of Tipton’s.
Establishing zoning that reflects downtown’s constraints and the fact it isn’t a strip mall retail area is critical, according to Hernandez.
He pointed to the downtown parking flap that was one of the first issues he dealt with when elected eight years ago to the City Council.
The city at the time refused to allow anything but existing uses in store fronts unless new businesses that wanted to open provided additional off street parking. The parking requirements were similar to those for modern-day retail strip centers. That meant merchants would have to invest in costly parking development assuming they could find available land.
Efforts to open a Chinese restaurant by renovating a rundown brick building forced the entrepreneurs to pay to develop offsite parking that proved to be costly. They were spaces their customers ultimately could not use.
The City Council lifted parking requirements but the municipal staff at the time declined to move in a timely manner in getting the new zoning modifications put into effect. Finally after nearly a year after the council decision, parking restrictions were lifted.
One of the immediate results was the conversion and remodeling of the shuttered Manteca Mortuary into a health spa complete with extensive landscaping where there had simply been distressed grass. While the spa has several off-street spaces customers park primarily in existing street stalls. Ironically, had the pre-existing use associated with the property been revived - using it as a mortuary - it would have overwhelmed a portion of downtown for parking during funerals.
A dentist was also able to buy the building where his practice is located on Manteca Avenue as banks no longer feared it would be a limited investment as city rules previously only allowed the existing use which would have made the building useless if someone else didn’t open a dental practice.
Hernandez also believes those in the impacted area should be the ones to define downtown and not a consultant or the city per se.
“Consultants oftentimes come into a project with preconceived notions of what they’d like to see,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez lists downtown as one of the top three issues of the council campaign. The others are the economy and public safety.