Eighteen years ago the city was leading conversations to upgrade downtown alleys so restaurants and merchants would be encouraged to create rear entrances on par with — or more inviting than — front entrances.
The goal was to lure shoppers and diners to public parking lots behind stores, take pressure off congested Yosemite Avenue and Main Street, and eventually leverage increased consumer activity to trigger more private sector investment in downtown.
That was part of the much ballyhooed Vision 2020 Task Force report that created sweeping goals for Manteca to work toward to change the economics and aesthetics of Manteca for the better by the time the year 2020 rolled around. A good number of those general goals have materialized or are on their way to being in place — community murals, more landscaping in new neighborhoods, additional parks and recreation facilities, a transit station, business parks, and the expansion of Library Park into a community gathering place.
Now a growing number of people — downtown merchants and their customers — would be happy if the city just made the alleys safe to walk down or drive vehicles without needing major realignment work by the year 2020.
In the past month alone, merchants and their employees have indicated the alley between the 100 blocks of West Yosemite and West Center Street has had at least three incidents where individuals have hurt themselves with one sustaining serious injuries. The alley as well as a branch that goes out to Center Street is arguably the heaviest used alley in town when it comes to public use. And a quick check of residential alleys that aren’t paved shows that downtown alleys are clearly in the worst shape and pose safety issues.
It is why in the past month:
uA pedestrian tripped over a manhole cover that was about an inch above the cracking and sinking concrete and ended up breaking his femur.
uAnother pedestrian tripped on the buckled concrete and hit the ground scrapping his arm, banging his elbow and blooding his knee.
uA bicyclist on a 10-speed looking for the rear entrance to the Village Sandwich Shoppe got his tire caught in one of the good-sized cracks in the alley concrete, took a spill, and ended up getting bruised and a bit bloody.
It is against that backdrop that the City Council is expected to call for bids tonight to pave a number of dirt residential alleys that could cost as much as $1.3 million to pave.
The city has set aside $187,000 to repair downtown alleys but Public Works Director Mark Houghton said that probably won’t do too much.
“The number was used because that is the amount of money we got in Community Development Block Grant funds,” Houghton said of the pass-through federal money.
He declined to venture an estimate on how much money it would take to bring downtown alleys — by far the heaviest used in the city — up to an acceptable level of maintenance. Houghton said he could not recall the city ever developing an estimate on what it would cost to improve all the downtown alleys.
Both Councilman Richard Silverman and Mayor Steve DeBrum would like an idea of the cost of downtown alley repairs and basic upgrades.
“We need to put a bigger priority on (alley work) where a lot of people travel and the city has a bigger liability,” DeBrum said.
Silverman was blunt.
“I’m personally not in favor of spending limited money on non-functional alleys until 100 percent of the alleys the public uses are addressed,” Silverman said.
Silverman noted a number of the residential alleys included in the bid request before the council tonight don’t even have garages on them and are not used to deliver city services including garbage collection, sewer, and water. Several have just a gate or two and that’s it.
He’d like to see the city abandon such alleys and give the land to adjoining property owners who can then extend fences to claim their segment of the alley.
As for power pole access in such locations, Silverman said PG&E currently accesses power poles that run down fence lines behind homes in areas of Manteca without an issue. When he started working for the phone company in the Los Angeles area, he said most of the homes had power poles between them along a common fence line with crews going through yards to access them on the rare occasions when there was an issue.
It is why he doesn’t believe the city needs to incur the expense of burying power lines in front of homes and having new residential service points in order to abandon such alleys.
Silverman also noted there are alleys that are fully functional with garages as well as sewer and water service access that the city can’t abandon.
He said he has empathy for those residents wanting their alleys upgraded but he said the city has other priorities.
He pointed to rough segments of South Main Street just north of the 120 Bypass that has been a concern of his long before he was elected to the council. And while the city is aware of a pressing need for street maintenance to the tune of 37.5 million over the next five or so years, he noted revenue sources are inadequate from gas taxes.
Taping into the general fund to do work on what he termed were “non-functional alleys” goes against other pressing concerns such and the fact Manteca has two aging fire engines over 20 years old and other equipment it needs to replace.
Silverman said he originally planned to ask that the bid item be removed from tonight’s agenda but thought it made sense to secure a solid number for the work so the city had a handle on an accurate cost.
That said, downtown merchants have been pressing off and on for the past 20 years for the city to fix alleys but the city has never come up with a firm figure or the money.
“I’m sure if you asked most people what they’d want (fixed) it would be the streets over alleys,” noted DeBrum.
The council meets tonight at 7 o’clock at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.