Its clear Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu is convinced the city has been just skating by when it comes to putting in place community recreation amenities.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting discussion of various department operations and projects, he zeroed in on the Parks & Recreation Department to make several observations and make it clear that he — as one member of the council — wants things to change.
His list includes:
The need for a new skate park.
The need to secure a regional park.
The need to finish the Tidewater Bike Way project.
The need to not simply study a need or want, determine what it should look like — as is the case with the effort being put in on a possible aquatics center, community center/gym, and additional sports fields — and then essentially let it drop by not taking the next step to examine financing options and moving forward to secure funds to build projects whether it is via a bond election or other sources.
The four items underscore points Cantu has been making during the last six election cycles. And in defense of current staff, the “ball dropping” occurred on the watch of other department heads or city manager that can be tied directly to either lack of political will or failure to make a clear directive by elected leaders or the city bouncing between projects that are then sidelined during revenue down cycles.
And to be clear Cantu is not talking out of his hat.
The skate park
Cantu wants a new skate park built in a much more accessible location that is up to date
The skate park built in the late 1990s is a monument to politics.
After the council at the time agreed to fund a skate park after being consistently lobbied by skaters and their parents, opposition formed to a skate park being built anywhere.
Residents opposed various locations including along Moffat Boulevard where the Manteca Veterans Center is now located and in the grassy area in front of the golf course along Union Road across the entry road from the tennis court. Residents argued the latter would be disrespectful given funerals were conducted across the street. Woodward Park — that had yet to be developed beyond a few trees being planted and some grass — was rejected because some objected to it not being appropriated for a community park.
To appease everyone — those who wanted a skate park and those that didn’t — the council went with its current location along the railroad tracks northwest of Center Street where it is only accessible via the Tidewater. Concerns voiced by the police that it was in a bad location in terms of access were ignored. It was approved in two phases. Not only was the second phase never built, but when they went out to bid for the first phase the council eliminated a drinking fountain and restroom. Eventually a water fountain was put in place.
In 2008, the council at the time wanted to explore placing a second skate park at Woodward Park or Spreckels Park where the BMX course was being developed. That effort was dropped as the city shed staff during the recession.
A new skate park was among the wants identified in a community survey two years ago.
At one point Tuesday Cantu asked Parks & Recreation Director Kevin Fant how many acres a regional park had.
When Fant replied 70 acres plus, Cantu asked if the city was planning to develop a regional park. The answer was no. Cantu said it was time that the city did.
The city has three community parks that have high use — Woodward, Northgate, and Lincoln. All three have group picnic areas as well as sports facilities. The largest of the three — Woodward — has 52 acres. Other the years the city has talked about adding tennis courts outside the retention basin and building an amphitheater and/or youth baseball fields in the retention basin.
In his 2016 campaign, Cantu raised the ire of golfers when he suggested converting the 100-acre Manteca golf course into a regional park due to its central location and building a new golf course elsewhere.
Cantu isn’t the only elected leader to ever advocate a regional park.
Former Mayor Willie Weatherford pushed for several years to start planning for one in a large greenbelt area planned in the floodplain in southwest Manteca. Weatherford believed the area would allow Manteca to create a park on scale matching Micke Grove Park or Lodi Park over the course of a number of years. The idea got no traction.
Tidewater Bike Way
Cantu asked when the Tidewater kiosk on Yosemite Avenue just west of the railroad tracks would be completed.
The kiosk was put in place in 1999 by the city as part of the Tidewater Bikeway but was never finished. It is basically a framework without informational boards. Originally the plan called for a map of the Tidewater along with rules, etched photos (that Cantu as a city planner at the time was asked to help a consultant with photo selections) and other city information. It was cut from the original budget to save $8,500. It was never funded in subsequent city budgets. In 2001 the city did publish a wish list if anyone was interested in donating money for additional benches and such for the Tidewater. Included was another kiosk for $28,500 with signs installed.
The city ironically used a photo of the unfinished kiosk for three consecutive years to grace the cover of the annual municipal budget.
Fant noted he was unaware of the project being incomplete as it took place years before he was hired by the city.
In 2016 when the now defunct Manteca Convention & Visitors Bureau wanted city funding to build a kiosk downtown, then Mayor Steve DeBrum dismissed the requested noting there was already a kiosk in place the CVB could use. The CVB never did anything with it.
Cantu was disappointed the previous council last year directed staff to get a more specific game plan for the top three parks and recreation amenities a survey showed those who responded to a community survey wanted to see in Manteca without concurrently exploring how to fund them. The last council said after the more specific plan for an aquatics center, community center/gym, and additional sports fields as done they’d decide whether to have a funding study done that is an essential precursor to a bond election as well as adjusting fees for parks charged to new growth.
“I’ve been dome that road too many times,” Cantu said of his 30-year city career where councils would spend money to get more details for amenities such as a new library, performing arts center, a new city hall, a police station, and downtown upgrades but there was never a follow through. “The next step never seems to follow.”
Fant promised Cantu that his department, after working with a consultant to complete workshops on specifically what he community wants in an aquatics center, community center/gym, and sports fields and developing a more precise price tag, would return to the council and ask for permission to proceed with exploring financing options.
Cantu in the future expressed his belief if the city moves forward seeking more details on a proposed amenity they should concurrently explore how it would be funded to avoid timely delays or having decisions being put off and forgotten.
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