Manteca mayoral hopefuls agree that the city needs to take steps to place portable toilets in strategic locations in an attempt to stop the homeless from going to the bathroom in public but disagree on how far the city should go in possibly providing shelter for single adults.
Incumbent Steve DeBrum said he was absolutely against such a shelter during Tuesday’s League of Women of Voters of San Joaquin County’s candidates’ forum at the Manteca Transit Center.
DeBrum said based on his research of other cities, establishing a shelter for adults per se would only create more problems. Instead he advocates working with faith-based organizations, and county services to establish a resource center where the homeless can receive medical care and assistance in a bid to get off the street.
Cantu agreed with DeBrum but went one step further saying a resource center should be a place the homeless could be fed, take care of basic needs, and get a “few hours of sleeping safely.” He emphasized, however, it should not be a 24-7 operation that would act more like a shelter and not a resource center.
“I don’t believe if you build it they will come,” Cantu said referencing a frequent remark DeBrum makes regarding his position against having a single adult homeless shelter in Manteca. “”That’s just a good line for a movie.”
In regards to portable toilets, DeBrum noted city staff has expressed concern they could be used for people to use drugs but he was in favor of giving them a try in a bid to reduce public urination and defecation that poses daily health and clean-up issues for merchants and even some residents.
Cantu took a slightly different tact implying the city should have taken steps years ago when merchants and others started complaining about the homeless using landscaping and doorways to urinate and defecate forcing them to clean it up before opening for business.
“The city can always find money for things developers want but they can’t find a few dollars for portable restrooms,” Cantu said.
While the two who last squared off in 2014 for the mayor’s post agreed on several issues, their positions were often as stark as day and night.
When asked, DeBrum said the No. 1 issue facing Manteca was the homeless.
He said it is an issue that citizens bring up constantly. DeBrum — as Cantu did minutes later — lauded the efforts of Manteca Police to get homeless off the streets and to address crimes they may commit. The incumbent, though, said the city still needs to find more ways to make the situation better.
“There are some many problems I don’t know where to start” Cantu said in regards to the top issue in Manteca.
He ended up zeroing in on municipal finances in regards to how the city has failed to address a wide array of needs and wants. In response to a later question, DeBrum stated “the finances of the city are superb.”
The forecast of upwards of 150 trains passing through Manteca on a given day in the coming years as well as the advent of Altamont Corridor Express service to the transit center by 2023 triggered two different responses on how to mitigate expected impacts
Cantu started by dismissing the idea that ACE service in downtown could ever benefit downtown.
“I can tell you ACE coming to Manteca isn’t going to make a difference for downtown. It will simply create a parking problem,” Cantu said as he expects commuters to drive to the station, park their cars, hop on the train, and then in the afternoon disembark, get in their cars and drive home not accessing any downtown concern.
He added that he has a plan to create a corridor through Manteca that would eliminate or greatly reduce train whistles. And if elected, he promised to work with Union Pacific to try and get such a system in place.
“I hear from people complaining all the time about the train noise,” Cantu said.
DeBrum believes the city’s efforts should be put into funding one or two underpasses of the Union Pacific Railroad mainline given there are 10 at-grade crossings through Manteca.
He believes an overpass would be too disruptive to neighboring property and too expensive to build compared to an underpass.
When asked what they would like to see as the top two priorities for Manteca Police in the next two years, Cantu said “I’d like to see 10 to 11 more police officers but that’s not going to happen.”
Instead he said he’s like to see staffing brought up to at least one officer per 1,000 residents. Given Manteca will have 74 officers as of Jan. 1 and is growing by almost 2,000 people a year, by the time 2020 rolls around the city will have 85,000 residents meaning they will need to hire 11 more officers in the next two years to attain the one officer per 1,000 residents.
Cantu said he also was to see a robust gang unit and robust traffic enforcement unit with the goal of Manteca establishing a reputation as a pro-active and aggressive place for law enforcement to deter criminal activity. He also favors increasing the number of police dogs to further supplement sworn officers.
DeBrum stressed the financial challenges the city faces when it adds more officers. He noted it is $125,000 a year for an entry level officer and $150,000 a year for a hire that’s a lateral move. He also added there are additional costs needed to support staff to supplement sworn officers.
DeBrum indicated the best way to reach the goal is to secure more businesses that can generate taxes needed to pay for more police. He inferred that is what the city has been doing with efforts such as the Great Wolf Resort deal.
Both agreed it was best for Manteca to have South San Joaquin Irrigation District prevail in its bid to replace PG&E as the retail provider of electricity with their stated goal of lowering rates 15 percent across the board.
Cantu noted PG&E had a “chokehold” on much of Northern California.
DeBrum concurred adding SSJID has more than a century of effectively delivering water for farmers as well as cities in recent years.
DeBrum wrapped up the forum by noting Manteca has made a lot of progress “but there is still much to do.”
Cantu completely disagreed with DeBrum’s somewhat glowing assessment of the state of the City of Manteca and rejected the incumbent’s remarks about work that is being targeted to improve the city.
“With all due respect Steve, I’ve been hearing those lines for the last 30 years,” Cantu said.
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