Brenda Franklin of Tipton’s Stationery & Gifts has outlasted 13 city managers, 18 mayors, and at least 10 planning directors now known as community development directors.
As such, she might just know a thing or two about downtown Manteca especially compared to textbook planners that have stopped here on their way to their next port of call as they build their resumes.
Franklin also can tell you what is dead downtown and what isn’t contrary to claims by some elected officials that Manteca has a “terrible” downtown.
Downtown is so terrible more than 1,000 people tuned out on a warm Thursday evening last week for the first Market in Maple of the year and then 20,000 plus wandered through downtown for the 24th annual Crossroads Street Faire on the weekend.
Then on Monday places such as Super Altena Market, Wells Fargo, Spin Cycle, American Furniture, Bank of America, and India Merchandise to name a few were all doing a brisk business.
Downtown is repulsive, dead, dying, or whatever excuse the folks at 1001 West Center Street can come up with so they can justify hiring the seventh consultant — eighth if you count the one they hired two years ago but never got a finished product from — since Tipton’s opened its doors in 1961 to share their worldly wisdom on how to save downtown Manteca in return for a fat paycheck.
The city staff — assuming they follow through on a promise made several months ago — will be providing options to the City Council at either their June 15 meeting or a special meeting sometime this month for North Main Street.
Don’t hold your breathe. We’ve been here before. Just like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown municipal staff has a predictable history of making promises to the council and then yanking the ball just as the council is ready to make a decision.
If July 1 rolls around with no council discussion and action on the original proposal to widen Main Street to four lanes to address the city’s worst traffic congestion issue that has ramifications far behind downtown the staff at the last minute engineered being yanked with the promise to lay out the options this month, the blame falls squarely on five people.
Those five people are Mayor Ben Cantu and the four elected council members who are allowing staff to set the municipal agenda.
Talk is normally cheap in other cities, but not Manteca where we spend hundreds of thousands to move projects forward and to hire consultants for plans only to have the latest top management to come through the revolving door to stop the work from being completed or tossing out plans and hiring new consultants to draw up new plans.
Franklin sees North Main Street from the perspective of someone who has had a business that has thrived and survived the past 50 years just one block away on Yosemite Avenue. Some of her critics dismiss her saying that she is now surviving off a loyal clientele and Internet sales. But here’s the unfiltered truth. Tipton’s has survived and is still standing after 50 years. No city planning director can even come close to matching that record.
This does not mean Franklin has all the answers or that she is the future of downtown.
But she sure as hell knows what is working day-to-day, what the small issues are that are preventing progress that some say they want to see in terms of downtown changes. And she certainly doesn’t dismiss traditional retail or thriving ethnic businesses that aren’t part of the Yuppie-style downtown vision malarkey that consultants paid in the three figures churn out every eight years or so and then leave town.
Franklin has an observation that should put the Main Street debacle in perspective if the know-it-all folks occupying key positions in the engineering department and community services department that tell us they are “pained” to see elected leaders actually worried about addressing traffic congestion on Main Street and not converting the entire arterial to two lanes.
Franklin likens Main Street through downtown as a “freeway”. The city, she says, needs to give the public reasons to take “off ramps” at Center Street, Yosemite Avenue, and even North Street as well as Moffat Boulevard to visit downtown.
Given there are 20,000 plus vehicle trip per day through downtown on Main Street and that the amount will expand assuming the city doesn't keep choking flow as Manteca grows, that represents an opportunity and not a negative.
Since the existing two lane configuration was the result of a previous traffic and downtown consultant convincing a previous council to kill a plan to go to four lanes in 2004 so it would force stopped traffic to “gaze into store windows” and therefore transform downtown, to keep the tourniquet in place is simply doubling down on something that hasn’t worked after 17 years.
The worst part is this council led by Mayor Ben Cantu showed the most promise of ending the merry-go-round that is downtown planning.
Cantu was the one who two years ago proclaimed the city did not need another consultant. He appointed a council sub-committee to the task of moving the municipal downtown effort forward.
Then because he was essentially booted off the committee by his council colleagues after trying to make it a one-man show with the mayor as the ringmaster, he jumped at staff’s suggestion two months ago to apply the brakes to widening North Main Street to four lanes and hiring yet another downtown consultant.
Let’s finish what was started almost two decades ago. The decorative street and traffic lights, the two mini-plazas, the transit center with a community room, the expansion of Library Park, the Manteca Mural Society project, the sidewalk and crosswalk as well as a facade improvement program that several property owners partnered with the city but has long since been put on ice were all the result of a comprehensive plan.
The city simply stopped moving forward until the city manager’s office ceased being a one pony show. By adding an assistant city manager and a deputy city manager a number of quality of life initiatives in Manteca including downtown have started moving forward.
Among them are the city’s taking the lead on the Market on Main Street, stepping up police bicycle patrols, actually steam cleaning crosswalk pavers and sidewalks on a routine basis instead of once every 18 years, and acquired the former county health department building on Sycamore Avenue to build a base for a stronger city presence downtown for day-to-day issues and to expand on the central district’s use as a community gathering place.
The city needs to widen Main Street to four lanes because it addresses a serious traffic flow issue that will only get worse as more trains come through Manteca and more homes are built in the city.
Using pavers will enhance the look and clearly delineate people are entering a special place — the heart of Manteca. It might not be a yellow brick road but the decorative pavers can lead to something even more special than it is today.
All our elected leaders have to understand is they don’t need to seek out a great and powerful wizard as consultants are made out to be and just realize what they already have in their own backyard and build on that.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org