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Mayor Cantu has sights on generational making shift in direction Manteca grows
cantu and grandson

The numbers don’t lie.

They tell Mary Cantu how dedicated her husband Ben is to being Manteca’s mayor — a job he stepped into 13 months ago.

“My wife says I’m doing my job as mayor too good,” Cantu said in reference to how he has gained weight since becoming the city’s eighth directly elected mayor.

He credits it to hitting two to three community dinners a week.

Cantu said that is just part of his effort that he believes makes him “the most engaged” directly-elected mayor to serve in Manteca. While his predecessors had no problem meeting with constituents with issues or engaging those that want to discuss concerns they have with the city when they were in grocery stores or dining in restaurants, Cantu — who does that as well — believes he has taken access to the next level.

And given the fact he engages constituents on social media where he references all that comment — including those taking pointed and critical shots at him as “friends” — and makes his cell phone number available to the public making it a point to return calls as soon as possible Cantu might just have a point.

As for those that have issues with his push for more city revenue in the form of either new taxes or fees or the fact he isn’t an anti-growth messiah they thought they were voting for, Cantu makes it clear — he never deceived anyone.

He was arguably the most specific candidate of the past 20 years in terms of spelling out what he wanted to do if elected including four failed attempts at getting elected to the council and his successful 2018 campaign that put him in the mayor’s chair.


Mayor Cantu wants to send

Manteca in a different direction

Cantu is driven by a desire to tip the scales to send Manteca in a different direction.

He wants a city that has services second to none, streets that are the pride of San Joaquin County, a thriving town center that is flush with people partaking in dining/shopping or cultural events, more robust commercial and employment centers, and has a high quality of life.

And to do that he wants people to understand it takes money and lots of it.

To accomplish that, Cantu said he is focusing on outlining what is needed based on community input and observations he has made over the years. Then he wants to identify the cost of what those needs and wants are. Once that is done, he will then — working with his fellow council members — take his case to the people.

“It will be fish or cut bait,” Cantu said in reference to what people say they want as opposed to what they are willing to pay for.

That, as far as Cantu is concerned, is at the heart of how the city can address the lack of adequate amenities, shortage of police officers, and deteriorating streets. The mayor noted that is not simply what he wants for Manteca but what he hears a large number of other people say they want as well.

“It takes money,” Cantu said. “Not a small amount of money but lots of money.”

His effort to educate people on municipal finances and restrictions such as how fees collected on growth can only be used for specific things as has been set in law as an outgrowth of the 1978 taxpayer revolt that imposed Proportion 13, is designed to show residents that in order to get what they say they want they will need to pay for it.

Cantu that means either community facility districts imposed citywide for specific purposes, a higher local sales tax, parcel taxes, or some other form of fee and taxes.

As for those who somehow believed Cantu was going to put the brakes on growth, on Friday in an interview recapping his first year in office he re-emphasized what he has been saying in all of his campaigns  — he wants well-managed growth.

Cantu is not

against growth

Cantu doesn’t want artificial restraints on market-driven growth. What he wants might be called smart growth by some, but he defines it as making sure Manteca has a high quality of life and all of the things a thriving city needs as it grows toward 200,000 residents and beyond.

Instead of trying to stop growth or rework the Manteca growth cap that he says is fine as it is an effective mechanism to avoid explosive growth that would overwhelm the city given currently the annual 3.9 percent cap would be reached if Manteca hit 1,090 new homes in a single year as opposed to the roughly 600 plus housing unit currently being built annually, Cantu wants the city to direct growth much better than they have been doing.

That means making sure amenities and municipal facilities are not only adequately funded but that growth takes place without overwhelming neighborhoods and the city as a whole by making and implementing sound planning  decisions.

Cantu makes it clear he has no problem being a lightning rod for criticism given he believes he can help guide a generational shift for Manteca.

He said Manteca has a lot of new people and has a decidedly millennial bent with not just young families but also individuals that have needs and values that often differ from those that are older.


Cantu notes Manteca is

different community today

“It’s a different community than when I grew up,” noted Canto who is both a Manteca native and a Manteca High graduate. “We used to have vegetables and fruit grown near downtown. We had packing sheds, We make our own cheese. We have our own ice cream brand. We are a different community today. We are not an ag based economy.”

When Cantu criticizes the city for failing to follow through and deliver on countless initiatives that he  rattles off, he does concede there have been some solid accomplishments such as landing Great Wolf, the Big League Dreams sports complex, luring Bass Pro Shops, and the transformation of the shuttered Spreckels Sugar beet refinery into a the teeming mixed use Spreckels Park.

That, however, is not enough for Cantu.

“We need to do a BLD, Great Wolf, and Spreckels Park type (of endeavor) every year as a city and not wait for 10 years in between such accomplishments,” Cantu said.

As for the council composition, Cantu said he has grown to understand that the current makeup reflects the generational shift he talks about.

“Several months into (my term) I realized that the rest of the council wants many of the same things I want for Manteca,” Cantu said.

The mayor noted if the current council is in place for the next eight years he can see a lot of things that be believes Manteca needs getting done.

Even so, he has talked with others that — if they run — he believes will be effective at working toward many of the same visions that he shares.

Cantu noted that results won’t happen in a year or even within a four-year term.

That said, he noted he has been working behind the scenes with city staff as well as other government leaders in the county to forge a better future for Manteca.

At the end of the day, the burden of whether Manteca gets what many Manteca residents say they want will fall back on Manteca voters.

“If you want it, you will have to pay for it,” Cantu said. “If you don’t want to pay for it then don’t complain about it,”


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email