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Manteca City Council MIA
Was majority partying instead of working?
Stacked mattresses behind a maintenance shed of a Jessie Avenue home provided a comfortable respite for homeless looking for a place to stay. Others placed bedding in the adjacent shed. - photo by Photo Contributed

Bruce Lownsbery went straight from work to the scheduled Manteca City Council meeting Tuesday.

He was ready to protest city plans to assess new landscape maintenance district taxes against his home and that of his Union Ranch neighbors.

Others were there too including Karin T. Meyer. But instead of taxes, the 88-year-old longtime Manteca resident was trying to get some answers about the city’s growing homeless problem and how the police efforts to clear them out of Library Park at night has sent them into nearby neighborhoods where they have been breaking into her unrented homes and doing significant damage. 

Also there were others concerned about Manteca’s growing homeless problem as well as a Sacramento TV station.

Department heads were all there two save two  — Public Works Director Mark Houghton who is out of the office this week and Fire Chief Kirk Waters who is busy working fighting a fire in Northern California.

The only council member present was Steve DeBrum.

That prompted City Clerk Joann Tilton at 7:05 p.m. to declare a lack of a quorum and to continue the meeting to tonight at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.

Lownsbery and Meyer were not happy.

“I don’t think they (the council) should go out partying when there is city business to conduct,” Lownsbery said in reference to council members opting to play hooky from their elected duties to visit numerous National Night Out parties in Manteca neighborhoods.

Minutes early DeBrum had voiced the same concerns about the lack of a quorum.

“We have serious businesses to attend to,” DeBrum said.

Topping DeBrum’s list was the growing homeless problems that many in the community believe are getting worst with each passing day. Meyer is one of them.

“When they are chased out of Library Park by police they go down alleys in nearby neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s quite a parade. They’re walking, pushing shopping carts, dragging bags, and are on bicycles.”

And more often than not they find empty homes they will break into. The homeless may no longer be plaguing Library Park but police action simply pushed them into neighborhoods where they find homes that they trash and break shut-offs on water meters to take showers and such in unoccupied rentals while owners like Meyer get stuck with the bill.

DeBrum had asked for Police Chief Nick Obligacion to have a plan at Tuesday’s meeting on how to deal with the homeless. Obligacion was there and ready to deliver it but DeBrum was the only elected municipal official to show up.

The council had originally talked about meeting earlier Tuesday such as at 5 p.m. But they were advised by City Attorney John Brinton they couldn’t do that as public hearings for a number of landscape mainatence districts had been legally posted for the regular meeting time of 7 p.m.

Up until the era of City Manager Steve Pinkerton, regularly scheduled council meetings were held on Monday nights and didn’t conflict when National Night Out rolls out on the first Tuesday of August. The council asked for the change to give them more time — as well as that of the public — to review agenda items.

In recent years the council simply set the meeting time earlier on the first Tuesday in August, a move that garnered criticism  from some since many residents are still at work in the late afternoon.

They couldn’t postpone the landscape maintenance district hearings to another regular scheduled meeting because the assessments need to be sent by mid-month to the county assessor/tax collector or else the city would not be able to collect taxes in the upcoming fiscal year.

They were advised the only way around it legally was for a quorum of council members not to show up. That would give the city clerk the legal authority to postpone the meeting to another date and time of which apparently it was predetermined 7 p.m. tonight would work for the council.

It passed the legal test but Lownsbery questioned whether it was fair to residents.

In fact, when the discussion came up at a previous meeting about the National Night Out quandary Lownsbery publically admonished the council to show up and “do your job.”

Tuesday was the first time in at least 24 years that a quorum of elected council members failed to show up for a regularly scheduled public meeting as established by municipal ordinance.

Usually when a council member is absent, the mayor will indicate a council member is not going to attend the meeting and then give a reason such as them being away on business, personal issues, being on vacation or being sick. No one indicated officially why council members Vince Hernandez, Debby Moorhead, and John Harris were not present as well as  Mayor Willie Weatherford.