Inside the 1970s era Taco Bell shell that former City Councilwoman Debby Moorhead aptly used to describe the architectural look of the Manteca Civic Center, is an effort to create a 21st century workplace.
It is here behind brown slumpstone and beneath light brown roof tile is where you will find arguably the most infamous couch — actually a love seat — in Manteca, or at least on social media pages of those weighing in on the comings and goings at 1001 West Center Street.
No segment of the remodel that shifted information and technology on to the civic campus has been more controversial in the minds of some than that couch. The remodel involves housing the city manager’s office as well as human resources/administrative services and city clerk’s office in space where the community development department was once located.
The pleather love seat and two matching chairs can be found in City Manager Miranda Lutzow’s office. While some have blogged it is a $10,000 leather couch, the actual cost is $1,045 and it is a love seat.
The price differential is probably the fact it is essentially a knock-off of an extremely high end couch. The price after checking websites is in line with durable designs made specifically for heavy office use that range from $800 to $1,600. You can, however, get office couches — the love seat size the city manager’s office has — for between $400 and $800.
Critics insists couch
is excessive cost
Much ado has also been made over the fact the three furniture items are white. Critics say the optics convey a less than Spartan image that taxpayers should expect from those they entrust with their tax dollars.
You may have seen the white “couch” if you logged on to the city’s website to take in the periodic “Mornings with Miranda” presentations where the city manager fields questions from city residents. Lutzow typically sits on the coach.
Lutzow’s aim wasn’t creating a palace room as some allude. Instead it was to create a more comfortable atmosphere when meeting with staff and/or the public.
Lutzow believes her sitting behind a desk creates a barrier when many issues are being discussed. In those cases she abandons her chair behind the desk and takes a seat in one of the two chairs or the small couch aka love seat and has those she is meeting with use the others.
It is all a part of a strategy of setting the tone for the city.
At the same time the city manager is taking a lot of flak about two large “TV screens” that have been installed in the office complex — one in Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon’s office and the other in a conference rooms.
They are actually Dell computer screens in excess of 50 inches. That is an important distinction as they are used as “smartboards” or interactive white boards as well as for use during Zoom meetings and such.
It allows people from various departments to gather in Blackmon’s office that has a large conference table to brainstorm as they would with large flip paper mounted on an easel board using markers with the added benefit of it being cleaner, easier to read, as well as a breeze to save and share.
But the smartboards are more than just updating tried and true office practices using 21st century technology. It is being used to allow groups of people at city hall to communicate with groups of people elsewhere.
Smartboards will help make
city more nimble & effective
In doing so, the city is not simply replacing old school technology with shiny new technology. Instead they are harnessing it to increase the speed of government and reduce red tape that costs everyone from taxpayers to developers’ time and money.
An example would be if the city got a proposal for a WinCo or a major employment center.
By using a smartboard’s capabilities and the other advantages a large computer screen brings, the city can bring all its departments involved in the design and approval process into one room and so can the applicant at their location.
Instead of documents physically traveling between all of the departments that need input and then going back and forth between the city and the applicant, much of the issues and questions can be hammered out in real time. It is such use of technology that allowed the City of Lathrop — that has had smartboards for a few years — to essentially clear the way for a developer to get approval within a week for building plans for the 1 million square foot structure that houses the Wayfair distribution center along the 120 Bypass.
The separate conference room with the larger screen has a table with 16 chairs and space for more people. It is the first time a space that size for city employees to collaborate has been available. It is being booked for use by departments throughout the city.
Going forward it could be used for everything such as remote training and seminar attendance without groups of employees having to leave the city. It is currently being used for closed session council meetings as the screens and accompanying technology is light years ahead of the council chambers and the fairly small room in the back of that building for such purposes.
Breitenbucher wants to make
sure expenses are in line
There is more to the controversy than just the white couch.
Councilman Dave Breitenbucher, who doesn’t lose sight of the obligation council members have to be good shepherds of taxpayers’ dollars, has been trying to obtain cost figures on the remodeling. After getting little progress, he put in a public information request that starts a legal clock running for the city’s response.
It’s not normal for a council member to have to do that. And Breitenbucher accepted the city’s response when they couldn’t supply a number by the deadline saying that there are a lot of loose ends they need to bring together.
Consider it practicing what Ronald Reagan once said, “trust but verify.”
The need for a council to question what top management is doing is demonstrated by events that led up to fast-tracking the remodeling in the first place.
The entire move was triggered by the city losing its lease on rented property on Cherry Lane where they left behind more than $450,000 of tenant improvements they couldn’t take with them when the space housed IT, human resources and the city’s emergency command center. Since 2015 the city had also pumped more than $300,000 into the second floor of the two-story Cherry Lane office building.
The entire situation arose because a plan previous City Manager Tim Ogden had to save the city’s general fund money by relocating much of the public works’ function to the wastewater treatment plant unraveled.
At the same time, the owner of the property who had the clear impression Manteca was pulling out of his space found another tenant after the lease renewal period past.
Because no one on a previous council was bird-dogging city management the city not only threw away $450,000 in tenant improvements but also lost the emergency command center that never got used in an actual emergency just before the pandemic broke out and threats of deliberate PG&E power cuts became reality.
The $12,800 a month rent the city is now paying to house community development off campus a block away at the Hensley Building at Center Street and Union Road is not at the expense of the general fund that pays for day-to-day municipal services such as police and fire protection. Instead it is being paid for from fees charged to process developments and building permits.
Once a more significant remodel of city hall takes place in a few years or so, the department will be moved back on campus.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com