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Practicality trumps sentimentality in water tower debate
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The water tower is coming down.

The cell/data tower is going up.

The great pumpkin will not rise in the Manteca skyline.

End of debate.

The Manteca City Council on Tuesday let stand two previous decisions - one made in 2010 to tear down the Wetmore Street water tower that was erected in 1962 and the other last October to allow Metro PCS to build a 150-foot-high cell/data tower behind the new vehicle maintenance facility being built along South Main Street at Wetmore Street.

The council essentially reaffirmed the demise of the 300,000-gallon water tower that has sat empty since 2006 when then City Manager Bob Adams ordered it drained after a state-mandated seismic safety study deemed it unsafe in a major earthquake.

That essentially ended a drive headed by retired city planner Ben Cantu to have the 50-year-old tower painted as a pumpkin in homage to the fact more than 70 percent of California’s pumpkin crop comes from the fields surrounding Manteca.

Cantu told the council Tuesday that one businessman had pledged $50,000 to help with the painting and others also indicated they would help with the costs.

Even though several council members liked the idea with none outright rejecting it unless it involved spending general fund money used to pay for day-to-day services such as police and fire protection, what doomed the tower was the necessity of having a reliable communication network for public safety and other municipal agencies. Also playing in heavily were maintenance cost related to keeping the water tower in place even though as Mayor Willie Weatherford noted “it no longer has any practical use” in terms of providing a service to Manteca residents. The need ultimately to have room to expand city corporation yard uses also factored into the decision

Fire Chief Kirk Waters noted the extra 10 feet the Metro PCS tower offered would assure his department’s emergency communication system would be able to cover all of Manteca even with the growth planned to the north and south. Without being at 150 feet, Waters said there was a good chance Manteca would have problems communication in about 5 percent of the city. The water tower tops out at 140 feet.

Council man John Harris said he has received more input about the water tower than just about any other issue since he’s been on the council since 1994. He said it has been running 50-50 adding his wife was among those pushing to keep the water tower.

“(There) is a lot of sentimentality,” Harris said. “It just boils down to being practical.”

The monopole cell/data tower design as opposed to the oil-derrick style tower that will be erected would not be able to accommodate the data and other communication antennas in addition to the cell antennae. It also would sway slightly in strong winds posing the potential to disrupt more sensitive data transmitting devices that the city’s technology staff said need to connect with a tower at the Civic Center in a manner as precise as “aligning two pencils a mile apart.”

Other drawbacks to saving the water tower were a $150,000 price tag that included the need to tent the entire structure while existing lead paint is removed. The demolition is projected to cost around $35,000 due in a large part to the amount of salvage steel that will keep the cost fairly low.

Public Works Director Mark Houghton said the earliest the tower will need to come down is probably six months from now.