Ben Cantu uses a remote controlled model car to explain what he believes is the biggest problem facing the City of Manteca.
“You direct a remote control car toward (a destination) and if it hits a bump in the rug, it stops,” Cantu said. “The same is true of various projects the city undertakes.”
Cantu — who is seeking one of two Manteca City Council seats up for election Nov. 8 — can rattle off a long list of projects he says have gone to the wayside because the council ran into someone opposing it or they encountered obstacles.
“They have no follow through on things that are important for (the quality of life) in Manteca,” Cantu said contending Manteca is off track as a result.
His list of projects that have hit bumps over the years and have gone nowhere includes:
uA civic auditorium adopted as part of the overall plan for the Civic Center in 1971.
uTwo runs at securing a new library to replace the current one built in the 1960s for a community half of Manteca’s current size.
uNew police headquarters to replace the current hodge podge of buildings where officers and personnel have to walk in open outdoor corridors to go from one area of the department to another.
uA performing arts center.
uComing up with a cohesive plan for downtown and executing it. Cantu noted there have been at least four plans developed in the past 40 years and each time some opposition emerged councils over the years abandoned their efforts.
Cantu said he’d like to see the City Council and staff apply the same creative approaches they do to landing employers, businesses and entities such as Spreckels Park, the Stadium Retail Center, Costco, and Big League Dreams as well as day-to-day services such as water, sewer, and solid waste to things that add to the quality of life.
Says Manteca lacks
amenities a growing
city should have
Cantu, 65, who has lived in Manteca 60 years including half of that time working in the Manteca Community Development Department, said the city is fast approaching 100,000 residents but lacks many quality of life amenities people expect growth to provide as it has done in places like Tracy and Livermore.
He said the reason Manteca is no closer to have those amenities than they did 40 years ago is the lack of follow through on the part of elected leaders when they hit the “bump in the rug.”
“They just stop,” Cantu said.
Cantu said nothing happens overnight but if the council had put in place nexuses required to place fees on growth when state funding for the library project fell through 15 years ago or even for amenities like a new city hall or performing arts center, there would be money set aside that would have brought those projects closer to reality. Instead after 15 years the city is still at square one.
His vision to move stalled projects forward includes building a multi-story city hall near the transit center that would also house the police department. The Civic Center would then be converted into a community center anchored by the existing senior center. Offices could be converted to everything from recreation classrooms and static art galleries to dance studios. The current council chambers could be converted into a performing arts venue until such time the city was in a position to build a larger facility on the campus.
“You have to start small,” Cantu said of converting the council chambers.
He pointed out the lack of follow through is having expensive consequences when it comes to basics such as streets. It’s been nearly five years since council directed updated fees for growth to help pay for interchanges and other major roads to move forward. The fee still isn’t in place and some 1,500 homes have been built that essentially escaped paying for part of the impact they are creating.
backlog of street repairs
While the city is lauding the fact they have a 25 percent general fund reserve, Cantu said it ignores what he calls financial mismanagement that has created massive backlogs for needed road maintenance. He also believes city policies have created unacceptable road conditions. He points to South Main Street in front of Wal-Mart where buckling and cracked pavement has been the bane of motorists for years. While the city is moving forward with repaving Main Street from Center Street to Woodward Avenue in the coming months using a federal grant, Cantu said the city years ago should have spent the money to replace Main Street from Wawona to the 120 Bypass.
Cantu said the city’s record on affordable or workforce housing meant for people who make just under Manteca’s median income and not subsidized housing per se is essentially abysmal.
Cantu said the city can set aside areas for affordable housing all they want on maps to meet state requirements but they haven’t pursued policies to make any of it happen.
“We aren’t getting affordable housing (for people who work in Manteca) or executive-style homes,” Cantu said. “We’re getting a big blob of McMansions on bigger lots.”
Cantu said he has nothing against the so-called McMansions and said they are obviously needed. But the city’s lack of success at encouraging smaller and more affordable homes is hurting Manteca residents.
“We are still planning as if it is the 1960s,” Cantu said. “We have plenty of land and you could bulldoze over the almonds and build houses but is that what we really want?”
Cantu said the city needs to make residential streets narrower, make new home designs so south facing roofs are free of vents and such to accommodate solar panels, and require plumbing of houses so at a future time owners can put in place energy and water saving devices without expensive retrofits.
As for downtown, Cantu said a plan is definitely needed that will serve as a template but first all of the players that count need to be involved — merchants, downtown property owners, and the community — along with the city. He said traffic must be addressed first and foremost and then build from there.
He believes one improvement that could help initially would be placing an electronic sign on the nearby water tower on Wetmore Street.
Cantu said it should read “Downtown Manteca” with a message board large enough to be visible from the 120 Bypass and Highway 99.
“I’ll ask the questions that need to be asked,” Cantu said if he is elected.
He also believes the city has a horrendous track record of working with neighborhoods and communicating with residents. He said it isn’t something that simply rolling out social media will improve.
This is Cantu’s third try for the Manteca City Council. He also has run unsuccessfully twice for mayor.