Library Park when it was dedicated on Sept. 26, 2011 after an expansion and redo costing $1.3 million was touted as a plaza-like creation that would attract people downtown to enjoy events under stately sycamore trees, to allow their kids to frolic in an interactive water feature and play on two playgrounds or for people to just enjoy the day.
It has a lot of touches added thanks to community input including murals and a design of the interactive water play feature that incorporated community heritage accented with a train whistle like sound when water sprouted up as parents sitting on whimsical benches designed like boxcars watched their kids play.
Nine years later the park still gets families from time to time. On the northern edge along Poplar Avenue is a food truck court that sees steady patronage. But the biggest users of the park by far are the homeless who congregate there during the day.
They tend to keep to the back where a gazebo stage provides shelter.
The homeless have the right to be there just like everyone else. But it is the damage they do each night after the park is legally closed to everyone — including the homeless — that has dulled Library Park’s potential as a downtown and community asset.
The farmer market was forced to flee from Library Park two years ago after perennial homeless issues reduced patronage. The low-key community events such as car shows and low-key concerts have largely disappeared. The city’s two biggest events — the Crossroads Street Fair and Pumpkin Fair — still make use of the park but homeless issues sent the Christmas in the Park packing to Woodward Park.
To understand why, just take a stroll through the park by the gazebo.
On Monday, the area was a daytime storage area for the belongings of the homeless.
It’s downwind from a demonstration garden planted a decade ago. Instead of the smell of pleasant blooms the stench of urine is almost overpowering.
The gazebo — that replaced one that the late Antone Raymus paid to have built and was dedicated to the “children of Manteca” — was envisioned as a community gathering place complete with a grassy knoll for seating. Today both the knoll and gazebo are a gathering place for the homeless
Manteca Mural Society President Ron Cruz who has been pleading with city leaders to try and find ways to protect the civic art makes regular visits to the park in the daytime and at night.
He has come across buckets the homeless commandeered to urinate in and do the No. 2 left along the mural walls. The city had placed a portable toilet along the Tidewater when the state ordered homeless encampments not to be moved at the start of the pandemic. Someone set the portable toilet on fire. In May the city was trying to find a replacement rental but had no luck due to the COVID-19 demand.
The homeless so far this year have caused more than $2,000 worth of damage to the murals at Library Park including marking in big letters “I LOVE PARK CAMP” across the baseball mural. That figure just reflects the cost of special alcohol for cleaning, UV protection coating and coating for graffiti protection.
There have been numerous divots dug into murals from the homeless repeatedly leaning bicycles and belongings against them. They even went as far as placing a basketball hoop at the top of the baseball mural.
At night, Cruz said they jam belongings behind Italian cypresses that end up damaging the murals. During the day time concerned their items may be stolen from their hiding places, they place them in front of the murals.
Murals have been defaced, smeared with food, urinated on, and marked with graffiti. They have even marred the train benches with the latest damage being marking the words “METH MONKEY” on top of one.
When Cruz sees such markings he normally cleans them but he didn’t have the specialize cleaning supplies with him Monday.
City park crews clean the park daily so much of what is done is not seen by the public. They have even power washed the baseball mural.
Cruz believes the city can reduce the mural damage by placing a low wrought iron fencing in front of them. He also believes the city should have officers on the night shift walk through the park after it is closed and roost the homeless out on a nightly basis.
Cruz has started going by Library Park at around 9:30 p.m. now that the city can once again legally close parks to everyone — including the homeless — at night. The first time he saw 16 homeless congregating by the mural and called Manteca Police dispatch. Officers came and the homeless moved out. The next time it was 11 and the third time 9. Each time police were called and they cleared the homeless out.
The mural project was started as a way to create a downtown draw as well as provide the community with public art that reflects its history, culture, and economy.
Information on the mural society and how you can donate to help them can be found at mantecamurals.org.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com