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Mayor Cantu: Manteca growth needs to be community driven, not development driven
cantu campaign
Ben Cantu, left, talks with supporter Joe Weber during his meet and greet in 2016 when he kicked off his unsuccessful campaign for the Manteca City Council. Two years later he was elected mayor.

Mayor Ben Cantu’s to do list for the next two years runs the gamut from making storefront marijuana sales legal in Manteca to having the community instead of regional development pressures shape the city’s future.

The 70-year-old mayor is at the mid-point of his first four-year term as mayor. Cantu is acutely aware that it takes a consensus of the council to make significant shifts happen when it comes to the direction city government takes.

The mayor is confident whatever new course the city may end up taking now that there is new top management in place and council political will to move such endeavors forward as opposed to the past where he can point to a long list of initiatives that languished, floundered, or failed to launch.

He also is aware that there are people — a relatively small group he contends — that have been talking about recalling him since he took the oath of office.

“If I don’t get re-elected, I don’t get re-elected,” Cantu said of the upcoming mayor’s race in November 2022, adding he is more concerned about doing what he believes is right for Manteca.

Cantu’s list for the next two years includes:

*Passage of a cannabis ordinance — along with a tax — to allow storefront retail marijuana sales and possibly other related pot enterprises within the city limits.

*Implementation of affordable housing strategies pertaining to new developments.

*Strengthening the city’s financial positon to address a wide variety of concerns from pressing street maintenance and expanding city services such as police and fire to adding amenities. He wants a 10-year plan coupled with mechanisms to increase revenue growth to secure various needs and amenities.

*Forming an economic development department to pro-actively seek new employers and businesses.

*Trying to improve the existing and future movement of vehicle traffic throughout the city. That includes restoring the city’s traffic engineer position that has been vacant for more than a decade.

*Get the general plan update that serves as the blueprint for growth adopted.

*Setting the stage so the community and not development forces shape how Manteca grows.


Bay Area housing demand

drives Manteca development

“Our destiny is development driven,” Cantu said. “Until the community drives it nothing will change.”

Housing, Cantu said, should not be the No. 1 priority as Manteca prepares for the future. He believes the top use of land being zoned and entitled for development should be business parks and massive employment centers.

“We’ve got a 10-year supply of approved homes,” Cantu pointed out.

The mayor is referring to subdivisions that have been approved or are in the process of being approved by the City of Manteca.

There are in excess of 7,000 approved, or in the approval pipeline, single family housing units yet to be built. Based on Manteca’s building activity in 2020 when 644 traditional free-standing homes were built, it would take Manteca 11 years to see everything approved or in the approval process pipeline built.

This year two housing developments in excess of 1,000 homes are expected to start building their first houses.

One is the 1,301-home Griffin Park series of five neighborhoods along South Main Street south of Woodward Avenue. The other is the 1,237-home Manteca Trails on the western end of Woodward Avenue.

The homes, for the most part, are all lots in excess of 6,000-square feet and for all practical purposes almost exclusively snapped up by buyers in the Bay Area venturing east over the Altamont Pass to buy or rent homes. And while those homes are affordable to the new wave of commuters they aren’t for many households that depend on Northern San Joaquin Valley paychecks.

The fact the homes are being snapped up by those employed by an ever expanding tech workforce in the Bay Area — a region that can’t generate adequate and affordable housing for the jobs created — underscores Cantu’s point.

If Manteca’s development pattern were more community driven, smaller lots with smaller homes — such as Raymus Homes plans to build in the initial phase of Manteca Trails — would be dominating new home construction.

At the same time Cantu argues the city would be approving less housing and even more employment centers than have been proposed in the general plan update.

The mayor essentially is making the connection between affordable at-market housing whether it is to rent or own and is attainable on a Northern San Joaquin Valley income with the need to generate more local jobs.

Given the city can’t undo legal rights to develop that Manteca has conferred essentially on 7,000 plus lots that means the battleground to pursue the strategy Cantu is embracing is in north Manteca.

It is where developers are working to move forward plans for more residential and employment center growth in conjunction with the general plan update.

The path to community driven growth is not as clear and may not be as attainable as Cantu’s bid to move forward with affordable housing strategies aimed at subdivisions yet to be submitted for city approval.

Cantu’s affordable housing strategies as referenced over the years include a proven tool box of options that include requiring a set percentage of smaller lots and smaller homes in new projects, incentives, and possibly inclusionary zoning.


Legal retail marijuana

businesses in Manteca

The council in December of 2019 unanimously voted to explore allowing retail marijuana operations in Manteca while stressing that doesn’t mean they would ultimately approve such a move.

The council appointed an ad hoc subcommittee of council members Gary Singh and Jose Nuño to explore the issue of storefront sales. The intent was for the two-member committee to educate themselves on the pros and cons by talking to those on both sides of the issue, and then make a report with possible recommendations to the council.

Singh, at the time, added he wanted to get public input through a series of community meetings on such recommendation before the council makes a final decision.

While personal use of marijuana has been legal for years in California, the ballot propositions that made it so — in order to secure more broad-based voter support — had language that allowed local jurisdictions to determine whether retail sales of marijuana is allowed in a city or the unincorporated parts of counties.

Besides addressing changing sensibilities, Cantu sees taxing retail marijuana sales as another revenue stream for the city. Singh 13 months ago was of the opinion what revenue would be generated likely wouldn’t be substantial compared to expectations.


In-house economic

development department

Cantu wants someone fulltime working to lure business to Manteca whether its manufacturers, distribution centers, retail, or restaurants.

In the past, Manteca was spending $30,000 a year with the San Joaquin Partnership for the sole purpose of luring firms that locate in business parks. Manteca in 2019 pulled the plug on annual funding after 25 years resulted in no Partnership created jobs in Manteca but tens of thousands in Tracy, Lathrop, and Stockton.

The council for the longest time was satisfied with the fact many of those jobs were held by Manteca residents.

That said the city was missing out on property tax and secondary economic benefits of having distribution centers and such.


Traffic flow improvements

Cantu, a planner by vocation, wants to take a two-fold approach to traffic movements.

Going forward he wants a traffic circulation plan that is a bit more concrete than it has been in the past regarding undeveloped areas.

That may involve being as specific as reasonable where the city wants major arterials to eventually go. In doing so that would avoid what happened in rural south Manteca where residents were left in the dark on a specific area the city wanted Raymus Parkway to eventually go. While the city repeatedly told potentially impacted rural residents no formal alignment had been adopted, they were approving subdivisions with a requirement to include precise right-of-way for the parkway.

As for addressing current traffic concerns, Cantu wants to have a dedicated staff member addressing concerns expressed by residents and advancing solutions. That means hiring a traffic engineer.

Manteca hasn’t has a traffic engineer since Dave Vickers retired more than a decade to go. The city opted not to fill the vacancy due to the Great Recession.

Manteca’s population has grown by a third since 2008— it was 64,979 — with traffic increasing proportionately.



New revenue sources


“You need money to do things,” Cantu said. “The only way the city (gets money) is through taxes.”

While that is stating the obvious, elected leaders have a tendency to be reluctant when it comes to actually asking people for more taxes.

Voters in November rejected a one cent general sales tax increase 52.05 percent against to 47.95 percent in favor.

Based on pre-pandemic sales tax receipts in Manteca, passage would have increased the city’s revenue by $12 million or roughly 25 percent of the current $50 million municipal budget.

Cantu after the election expressed the belief that Measure Z failed because the community-based effort advocating passage of Measure Z started too late and wasn’t aggressive enough. Had 594 people who voted “no” supported the tax instead it would have passed.

The mayor on Thursday did not indicate how he’d specifically favor generating more tax revenue in the next two years. However, sales taxes tend to be easier to pass than parcel taxes or community facilities districts.

The next opportunity the city can pursue a sales tax measure under state law is either in March 2022 in connection with the statewide primary or November 2022 as part of the statewide election.



To contact Dennis Wyatt, email