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Mayor: ‘Whether we like it or not (Manteca) is going to be a big city’

Mayor Ben Cantu’s message at his second State of the City was clear: Manteca is working on building a livable large city, aggressively going after more employers, and encouraging “attainable housing” while growing up instead of just spreading out.

And it’s being done, Cantu said, because the current council is all “on the same page” and made sweeping leadership changes at city hall that the mayor says has empowered municipal workers to be proactive as well as significantly ratcheting up employee morale.

“I’m working with four individuals who see the future as I do,” Cantu said in reference to council members Gary Singh, Debby Moorhead, Jose Nuño, and Dave Breitenbucher.

Wednesday’s standing room only event at the Manteca Transit Center that serves as a progress report on the city’s accomplishments and an outline of where Manteca is heading, featured a format where all council members spoke with each focusing on specific areas and themes.

But it was Cantu in his role as mayor who ended up providing a broad overview and laying out the road map as Manteca closes in on the 100,000 population mark in the next six or so years.

“We are no longer a small farm town of decades ago,” Cantu declared. “Whether we like it or not (Manteca) is going to be a big city.”

Cantu also made it clear as he has done throughout his first 15 months in office that in order to do things “right” it will cost money.

“The time of pinching pennies and paying $2 later to address (problems) is past,” Cantu said.

Cantu laid out the challenge of two separate sets of clashing dynamics.


Manteca working to address

needs of young millennial

families moving from Bay Area

One involves those pushed out of the Bay Area in order to secure housing that move to Manteca only to find amenities that are standard on “the other side of the mountain” are non-existent here. Those new residents with more robust paychecks than residents with area jobs are being catered to by the housing market creating acute housing problems for those who don’t commute long distances. Cantu said Manteca needs to create “attainable housing” — as opposed to the old moniker “affordable housing” that often conjures up unfavorable connotations.

While conceding traditional single family homes are powering city growth, he stressed that the city is working on finding ways to encourage more housing variety with an emphasis on going up.

He pointed to the general plan land use update that is now being processed that is scaling back future land set aside for single family homes to go for more high density housing and additional areas accessed by rail and freeway for the development of business  parks that cater to large scale distribution centers and other employment opportunity.

Cantu pointed to the “Class A” multi-story landmark office building Manteca is pursing by working with the private sector on city owned land on Daniels Street east of the Airport Way and 120 Bypass interchange as a way to snag higher paying white collar jobs.

The other “clash” Cantu said the council is addressing are young millennial families and how their views, lifestyles, and desires once you get past basic city services are different from others. In terms of demographics, Manteca for decades has been one of the cities in the Northern San Joaquin Valley with the lowest average age.

The council — conceding millennials are facing different challenges, use tech differently and have lifestyle goals that can’t be summed up as wanting a three bedroom, two car-garage with large yards that is creating a disconnect with the rest of the community or they are finding cities like Manteca may not be that appealing — is in the process of establishing a Millennial Commission. Establishing such a commission to secure and interject a millennial perspective into planning and services rarely is found in smaller communities unless they are in urban and tech savvy areas.

Cantu repeatedly lauded the efforts of the previous council that did the groundwork that is allowing Manteca to benefit from a number of initiatives that are materializing today including the 500-room Great Wolf Resort opening this summer. He pointed out that former Mayor Steve DeBrum who was in attendance Wednesday worked for 12 years with other council members actively pursuing an indoor water park that included putting much of the needed infrastructure in placed beforehand.


Manteca will go after jobs

by paying for infrastructure

upfront to attract businesses

Cantu then went on to say the city intends to become even more proactive in going after businesses such as Great Wolf and other employers by the city paying for infrastructure upfront.

“We’re no longer going to wait for them to come to us,” Cantu said.

He noted Manteca is moving toward establishing a free-standing dedicated department for economic development instead of having it as part of the function of the city manager’s office.

“Great Wolf is going to be a game changer,” Cantu said of the record $180 million private sector investment in Manteca that is creating 500 jobs and is projected to being at least 500,000 visitors a year to Manteca.

The mayor said the city needs to step up its game and work on creating auxiliary attractions for those visitors to enjoy and spend money at whether it is a revitalized downtown or the development of the family entertainment zone sandwiched by Great Wolf and Big League Dreams.

Cantu also recapped initiatives the council is working on to enhance the quality of life of Manteca including establishing rules to allow the retail sale of marijuana, getting police staffing up to one officer per 1,000 residents, and improving roads.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email