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Rethinking how city serves Manteca
Community-based government being explored
Manteca municipal workers such as those with the park crew will soon be given more discretion and authority to handle neighborhood issues. - photo by Bulletin file photo

De-centralized government could be the next big thing in Manteca.

Manteca is getting ready to re-invent the way it does business by borrowing a page from San Jose’s successful game plan that has en powered neighborhood level solutions to problems instead of everything funneling through a central bureaucracy.

The goal is to have people take control of neighborhoods, reduce government spending, and speed up staff response to problems.

“The community needs to decide what government should do and what they can do for themsleves,” noted City Manager Steve Pinkerton.

It is an outgrowth of the rapid reversal of municipal fortunes that saw Manteca slash general fund spending by $14 million this fiscal year in response to significant declines in property and sales tax revenue. Not only have most city employees taken two consecutive years of pay cuts but the city has eliminated over 50 positions by leaving them vacant and consolidating responsibilities with other jobs.

Pinkerton pointed out that over the years people have come to expect more and more of government and doing less on their own as an individual or a neighborhood. Having government take care of everything in a neighborhood can be slow and costly. It can also get the neighborhood solutions that they really don’t want.

San Jose has developed community-based government solutions by dividing the city into 14 zones as the South Bay community approached a million residents.

During a recent visit Pinkerton – along with Manteca police Public Affairs Officer Rex Osborn who has been  tapped to help implement the program in Manteca – saw a prime example of how the concept works in San Jose to improve neighborhoods quicker and with much less money.

One involved littering in a neighborhood from children walking from school.

It was a quality of life issue for neighbors. In the old way of doing things, the city would have spent $300 to $500 on a large decorative concrete trash receptacle. In this instance, neighbors working with the city suggested simply buying a $20 trash can and a chain to secure it.

Initially it was put in front of the school but it wasn’t effective.

“They figured out real quick that it would take kids two to three minutes to eat their after school snacks,” Pinkerton said.

So the neighborhood – in working with a city employee assigned to that area – moved the can to another location essentially three minutes away by walking. The littering was drastically reduced.

And instead of the city incurring the cost of having someone go out and change the trash bags, a resident in the neighborhood volunteered to do it and was given a supply of Caltrans issued trash bags. He periodically switches out the bag and puts it with his household garbage for the city to pick up.

“What neighborhoods really want addressed may not be what government thinks they want addressed,” Pinkerton said.

The city manager said San Jose found out that when they tried to help with neighborhood problems on a City Hall level they’d come up with expensive projects that weren’t exactly dealing with what really was causing neighborhood concern.

And by eliminating the need to approve a project at the top, the solutions are more often than not substantially cheaper.

San Jose has gotten to the point that they have neighborhood community centers run entirely by volunteers who work with city workers assigned to the particular area.

One of the biggest road blocks, for example, to establishing a community center in Southside Park in Manteca to make further inroads against the influence of gangs is staffing costs.

Before the community-based government approach will be rolled out to engage residents, Pinkerton said the first goal is to change the culture at City hall.

Currently, for example, if a municipal worker such as a police officer or a parks worker sees an issue with something that is not in their job description they will report it to their supervisor. They in turn relay it to the appropriate department and it goes from there.

“What we want to get to the point if a police officer sees a  sprinkler head that is off and spraying water into the street they can directly call the city worker responsible for that area and the fix can get done now instead of later,” Pinkerton  explained as one example of how it would work.

Instead of telling municipal employees that are what will happen, small groups of workers have been getting together for  brainstorming how such a system could work and what would need to be done to accomplish the goal.

Pinkerton said employees are enthused about the team approach and decentralizing aspects of government operations to allow them flexibility to address problems. The city’s front-line workers have already suggested various ways of splitting Manteca up to make such a system work.

Once the employees are on board and have implemented their part of the system, the next step will be to reach out to neighborhoods.

At that point the city hopes to identify what people are willing to do in their neighborhoods through community meetings.

Pinkerton said they may be willing to help with litter pick up in parks or even with some landscaping tasks.

He noted it could be simply something on the order of what the Crossroads Grace Community Church is now doing after planting nearly 300 trees along the Moffat Boulevard leg of the Tidewater. They are monitoring the trees periodically and alerting the city when there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail