After at least six attempts in 50 plus years to plot downtown Manteca’s future via the creation of a grandiose plan upfront that ends up getting little or no traction, an effort is now underway to tackle what is needed to set the stage for private sector investment one puzzle piece at a time.
Mayor Steve DeBrum lauded movement by municipal staff led by City Manager Elena Reyes to work with the Manteca Chamber of Commerce in tackling a series of zoning changes designed to make downtown more conducive to restaurants as well as retail.
The changes that could run the gamut from rules that would allow outdoor dining to delineating the type of businesses that are conducive to enhancing the downtown as a gathering place are being proposed by existing business owners as well as some landlords through a chamber committee.
The 275-member chamber has a number of downtown concerns that are members. They are a number of downtown businesses that aren’t members. The chamber more than a year ago elected to work with all interested parties downtown whether they are chamber members or not to provide a voice for what those with a direct stake in the central district believe are the tools needed to move forward.
The work got put aside when the city explored hiring a seventh downtown consultant that the council ultimately rejected doing.
“I don’t need a consultant to tell me what I want to see as a neighboring business,” noted downtown merchant Brenda Franklin.
Manteca Chamber Executive Director Joann Beattie said she is confident the chamber working with the city can put pieces of the puzzle in place to get downtown moving toward the next level.
Beattie said there was no need to “spend a lot of money” to implement polices for the downtown area that would make it easier to fill vacant storefronts.
She praised Reyes for working with the chamber that’s serving as a voice for downtown to have the city start working on possible zoning changes that have been identified.
Beattie said there has been talk of even forming a downtown alliance. But for now the focus is to get incremental changes in place that remove roadblocks for restaurants and retail to locate downtown.
The chamber executive stressed there are a lot of good reasons to shop downtown already.
DeBrum agrees but noted a more enhanced downtown has communitywide benefits.
“A vibrant downtown brings everything together,” the mayor said.
DeBrum added that it also means addressing problems created primarily by inappropriate behavior by the homeless running the gamut from defecating in doorways overnight and vandalizing property to intimidating behavior that had prompted some people such as families to avoid downtown spots such as Library Park.
DeBrum said the city’s stepped up effort to help the homeless access resources to get assistance they need while at the same time firmly making sure “the homeless follow the same rules everyone else has to” through the hiring of a community resource officer has helped.
“I’ve been told by people who work downtown that it has gotten better,” DeBrum said.
One such instance involved some of the homeless that use Wilson Park behind the post office to hang out during the day.
DeBrum had been contacted by the postmaster concerned about a few homeless that were changing clothes in clear view of female workers and a handful of homeless making inappropriate remarks. Both issues have largely disappeared since the Manteca Police rolled out its community resource officer dedicated to homeless concerns.
“We need to keep working on such issues,” the mayor said.
Even so, on Tuesday several young mothers were in Library Park allowing their children to use the playground equipment. Six months among families avoided the park due to a large concentration of homeless.
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