Get ready for the Great Pumpkin showdown.
The City Council may decide May 1 whether the 50-year-old water tower on Wetmore Street that’s standing empty due to its failure to meet earthquake standards while holding 300,000 gallons of water should come down or undergo a $150,000 rehab for continued use as a communication tower for public safety and government agencies.
City Manager Karen McLaughlin is having staff explore all available options on what to do next now that an effort to have the tower repainted as a giant pumpkin has been joined by a debate over whether the city’s proposed replacement tower described as a 140-foot oil derrick-style cell tower with a 20-foot flag pole on top would mar Manteca’s skyline.
The city is under the gun as it has already signed a 30-year contract with Metro PCS to install the oil derrick-style cell tower at the new vehicle maintenance facility now under construction at Wetmore and South Main streets. Metro PCS has agreed to wait off on moving forward until after the May 1 meeting.
Metro PCS has agreed to pay Manteca $2,000 a month with an annual 3 percent escalation clause for 25 years for use of the tower on city property. Metro PCS would install the tower and equipment which would be owned and maintenance by the city. The cost of the installation would be deducted from the front end of the 25-year lease.
Options that McLaughlin outlined at Tuesday’s meeting included:
• Tearing down the water tower and moving forward with the cell tower as planned.
• Keeping the water tower and adding a monopole at the vehicle maintenance facility site designed as a giant flagpole.
• Replacing the water tower with a new water tower and adding a monopole.
• Replacing the water tower with a new water tower and putting the cell tower on top of it and not add a separate cell tower.
McLaughlin noted that the council several years ago voted on a redesign of municipal corporation yard operations to improve efficiencies as well as expansion to take care of growth for the next 20 years. That plan needed the water tower to be torn down. Since then, consolidations the city has made with park services has reduced the need to locate some municipal services along Wetmore. That means the water tower could be spared or replaced.
If the water tower is torn down and not replaced, the city could have no choice but to go with the oil derrick-style cell tower. That’s because the various radio communication antennas require a higher elevation than simply a standard cell tower. Given the number of antennas, it would require a platform to place them on which makes a monopole unfeasible. In addition a large flapping flag literally several feet away from the antennas would interfere with radio communications.
The oil derrick-style cell tower has to be 140 feet to accommodate everything due to the placement of radio antennas. If it was just for cell service, a shorter monopole would work.
Water tower could cost up to $150,000 for paint & basic repairs
The issue, though, isn’t that straightforward.
If the water tower stays in place, it will need to be repainted and minor repairs made including making the ladder safe to use. There is lead paint that law would require to be removed. Once the repairs, paint removal and painting are factored into the equation staff has come up with a $125,000 to $150,000 to continue using the waterless water tower as a communications tower.
Two-time mayoral candidate Ben Cantu who is running this November for a council seat is behind a community-based effort to lobby the council to paint the water tower like a pumpkin. Cantu wants to create a landmark icon celebrating the fact over 70 percent of all pumpkins grown in California are raised around Manteca.
Cantu in a letter to the Bulletin has criticized the council for being so willing to tear down what he called a historical landmark. He offered to put up $100 toward painting the water tower as a pumpkin.
That would leave the city at least $124,900 to $149,900 short since the cost estimates the city has compiled don’t include an artistic-style work to make the water tank look like a giant pumpkin beyond basic paint.
Mayor Willie Weatherford made it clear he wouldn’t vote for a cent of city money to be used to turn the water tower into a giant pumpkin.
Weatherford said he was against the pumpkin plan “if it means laying off one more policeman or not hiring another policeman or firefighter.” He also said he was against possibly having to raise water rates to pay for a pumpkin paint job as well.
There isn’t much sentiment on the council either for the oil derrick-style tower.
“Visual pollution to me is something we have to be careful of,” noted Councilman Vince Hernandez.
Hernandez said the city has an obligation to address aesthetics as well as the functionality in whatever they do.
The city is also exploring where it makes sense to improve water pressure in the downtown area by erecting a new water tower or adding another well.
“It wouldn’t need to be as large as the ones in Ripon,” McLaughlin said in reference to the twin water towers in Ripon that can be seen from the ridge near Altamont Pass.
Manteca’s new water towers are squat million gallon tanks that sit on the ground.
If Manteca ultimately opts to go with a new water tower, it means the antennas could go atop that.
McLaughlin also is suggesting the council have staff come up with a recommendation for a standard for how future cell towers - on city land or private property - should look like.