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Homeless rip boards off fences for fires
Land adjacent to the Spreckels Historical Plaza has been posted with a warning sign against trespassing or illegal dumping. - photo by HIME ROMERO

A decade ago developers Mike Atherton and Bill Filios decided to honor the generations of Manteca residents that labored at Spreckels Sugar as well as the sugar plant itself that served as an economic mainstay for 75 years.

The result was a $250,000 “gift” to the people of Manteca in the form of Spreckels Historical Plaza along Spreckels Avenue immediately south of the Chevron station.

They had a landscape architect design a tribute to Spreckels Sugar by using four upended sections of culvert drainage pipe painted white to represent the four 15-story silos that were imploded. The area is extensively landscaped, employs bricks from the old sugar factory plus has a trellis, extensive landscaping, and a flag pole.

The historical plaza wasn’t required by the city. It was developed as a public park on private land maintained by the privately funded Spreckels Park landscape maintenance district. It is the only such private LMD in Manteca besides Del Webb at Woodbridge.

The developers ultimately wanted to build a two-story replica of the old factory for use as offices on a vacant parcel to the east of the plaza. At one point Placer Title was going to be the main tenant. Factory memorabilia that the developers saved was going to be placed inside the lobby as well as on displays in and around the plaza.

The recession sidetracked those plans.

Now the very future of the plaza is in question as a never-ending battle is underway to keep the homeless out. Besides setting up encampments in the landscaping or sleeping in the bushes, they often leave debris in and around the plaza and use the area as an outdoor bathroom.

“The property owners have been great to work with,” noted Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion. “But as soon as it is cleaned up and homeless moved out more come back (fairly soon).”

It is just one place in Manteca continues to be a big draw for illegal homeless encampments in Manteca.

It has gotten to the point the only people who use the plaza anymore are transients or the homeless.

The Spreckels Historical Plaza isn’t the only park where homeless are constantly causing problems

Homeless individuals have taken to ripping boards from residential fences to start fires in BBQ pits at Southside Park to stay warm.

As a result, Manteca Police have stepped up patrols near the park south of downtown.

Obligacion said citizens have taken to calling police about illegal encampments. That has helped address illegal camping.

“Contrary to what some people think, officers don’t go around looking for illegal encampments,” Obligacion said.

Instead they act on citizen complaints or if they happen to see an illegal encampment when they are on patrol. Such was the case a month or so ago when a couple was detected camping behind a brick monument sign in landscaping in the park adjacent to the Spreckels BMX track. They were seen by an officer driving down Moffat Boulevard.

The police chief said another gathering of representatives of groups working on Manteca’s homeless issues will be conducted in the coming months.

At the same time, his department is working to get the services of a mental health outreach worker to accompany officers to reach out to homeless individuals in need of assistance.