Manteca’s elected leaders want a “Plan B” for a homeless navigation center in the event feasibility studies now underway determine the Qualex site is too expensive to retrofit.
Four of the five council members made it clear Tuesday they are learning toward wanting staff to queue up the existing solid waste corporation yard on Wetmore Street as a fallback site.
The comments came prior to the council unanimously approving the submittal of $3.2 million in grants for homeless related projects. That includes $1.1 million to re-purchase the Qualex property and building, $143,000 to contract with Turlock Gospel Mission to operate a warming center this winter and $2.1 million to put a pair of Sprung Structures in turnkey conditions in place to house upwards of 100 homeless overnight this winter.
Council members individually have been expressing second thoughts about Qualex after Councilman Gary Singh pressed for ballpark figures to rehab the 55,000-square-foot structure. Staff, cautioning that the due diligence council requested about estimated costs, said other cities rehabbing existing buildings for navigation centers, had spent between $150 and $500 per square foot.
Since staff had inadvertently rounded the Qualex square footage down to 40,000 square feet, Singh took a low ball number of $200 per square foot at the council meeting two weeks earlier and questioned the wisdom of spending $8 million to rehab the Qualex building. Add the purchase price and the cost is $9.1 million. If $200 per square foot were applied to all of the building project — once the purchase price is tossed in — the price could exceed $12.1 million.
By comparison if the city bought five Sprung Structures such as the ones they are looking at for the Qualex site, they would end up spending $5.5 million and have space for up to 250 homeless. The critical number to be able to allow robust enforcement of anti-camping and other laws is 218 beds. That’s based on Manteca’s last point in times homeless count conducted in January 2019.
The city is also getting pushback from surrounding employers in the Manteca Industrial Park that don’t want to deal with employee intimidation by the homeless, uptick in theft and property damage, as well as drug paraphernalia and human feces being left under doorway entrances and in landscaped areas they experienced when the city operated a warming center next door to them last winter.
Councilwoman Debby Moorhead noted the Wetmore Street site would probably have City of Manteca operations impacted and not private concerns.
Councilman Dave Breitenbucher started the discussion to give the solid waste yard a look as a “Plan B” by recapping the large expense the city could be incurring by proceeding with Qualex as the only option.
“The (solid waste) corporation yard needs to be (looked at as) our Plan B,” Breitenbucher said.
Breitenbucher first pushed for the solid waste yard last December when the city reviewed staff provided options and determined Qualex was the best location for a homeless navigation center and possibly a drop-in homeless shelter.
The solid waste yard wasn’t analyzed at the time due to the fact it didn’t meet the search criteria that included private locations for sale and city owned sites that could be used.
Mayor Ben Cantu, who didn’t outright disagree with the need for a backup plan, argued against using the solid waste site by relocating it to the wastewater treatment plant contending it could cost millions more to go that route instead of sticking with Qualex.
Council previously had approved the food waste to fuel project to include the relocation of the solid waste yard to the treatment plant as a way to reduce wear and tear on the $350,000 trucks and keep costs down for municipal garbage customers.
Solid waste trucks that now operate on compressed gas made from combining food waste with methane gas that’s a byproduct of the wastewater treatment plant process have to be parked overnight due to the slow fueling needed for larger trucks. Eventually all two dozen solid waste trucks will be powered by compressed gas.
Having the administrative staff and wash rack a 5-mile round trip from where the solid waste trucks would be parked for fueling would have been costly and inefficient based on the analysis of the project when it was approved.
The only “structures” that need to be replicated at the treatment plan is a small office and truck wash rack. The city’s supply of dumpsters and solid waste carts would also need to be moved. Other than that the solid waste yard is essentially a large flat area of ground.
Cantu said he wished that wherever the homeless navigation center ends up that it can be put in place as soon as possible.
City Manager Miranda Lutzow said if Manteca is awarded the funding requests that are tied into the Qualex site the council doesn’t have to accept the money.
It is highly likely the city will have solid cost estimates from DeNovo Planning for converting the Qualex structure that has asbestos, lead paint, and roof issues the firm has made the city aware of so far before the city finds out whether it has been awarded the grant. The DeNovo assessment is costing $62,700.
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