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Economic growth main thrust of vision for 2020
The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley is positioned to capture new retail outlets as the economy improves. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The complaints and concerns were numerous.

Manteca was losing jobs and new retail to Tracy. New neighborhoods seemed to use cookie cutter designs and had an impersonal feeling. Downtown wasn’t attractive. Manteca lacked cultural activities and arts for a growing community of its size. Manteca was relying more and more on property taxes while as consumer dollars continued to leak substantially to shopping malls in nearby cities. And - perhaps the biggest one of all - there was a fear Manteca as it grew would have a feel and look no different than Stockton, Modesto and a host of other San Joaquin Valley cities.

It was against that background that Irwin Kaplan - who served as the city’s Community Development Director in 1998 - proposed that elected leaders form a citizens committee to identify needs and recommend solutions to set a standard for Manteca to shoot for in 2020. The City Council agreed. The 26-member Manteca Vision 2020 Task Force was born. Its membership was unique in that it was not only all citizens but it wasn’t composed primarily of the usual players. It also included several Lathrop residents and a former Manteca resident who had moved to San Jose but still had a great affinity for the community and wanted to see it prosper and take a different path in terms of a growth than other nearby cities.

Effort was used to shape Manteca development

“It is more than just a model for growth policies,” noted Bob Adams who was the city manager when the task force’s report was completed. “It helped the community see what they wanted so they could have some control over their own destiny and growth.”

The Vision 2020 document was lauded by city leaders in 1998 as a document that could be used to help shape city policies regarding economic development, new neighborhood standards, landscaping, downtown improvements and even community amenities.

Just how effective it has been - and even how much the current management team and elected leaders pay attention to the report after 14 years - is open to debate among original participants.

“I keep it (the report) by my desk at home and pull it out every once in a while to see how we are doing,” noted Councilman John Harris. “I hope folks down at City Hall are doing the same thing and not simply letting it be one of those reports that sits on a shelf and gathers dust.”

Tom Wilson, who served on the 26-member task force, said he’s seen instances where recommendations have been implemented but also areas where no measureable progress has been made such as on a performing arts center and a new library.

While the recommendations dealt with ways to improve amenities, enhance residents’ lifestyle and target certain developments the proverbial bottom line could be summed up in one word: Money.

The object was to spur the type of development that would put more money in the cash registers of merchants, create jobs for those without them, put bigger paychecks in the pockets of others, and increase the sales tax revenue flowing into city coffers so Manteca could fund essential services such as police and fire.

The task force started with a big number - the estimated $140 million in Manteca consumer dollars that were being spent annually in nearby cities such as Stockton and Modesto where it provide jobs in those communities as well as helped fund city services there instead of in Manteca.

 City leaders in 1998 estimated the leakage factor of Manteca consumer dollars being spent outside Manteca was at least 25 percent.

By stopping the so-called “leakage” of consumer dollars that Mantecans spend elsewhere, the city would realize another $1.4 million in sales tax receipts in addition to increased sales tax generated by growth.

Goal was to not just stop sales tax bleed but to lure consumer dollars from other communities

The group didn’t simply want Manteca to capture the bleed. They also were convinced Manteca could regain its status in the early 20th century as a key trade hub in the South County and pull consumer dollars from other cities.

The best example of that is the Bass Pro Shops that draws customers from as far away as 100 miles with an estimated 97 percent of the shoppers there being non-Manteca residents.

The task force believed downtown could be transformed into a destination spot for specialty shopping and cultural activities that would draw not only Manteca consumer dollars but those of residents in neighboring cities such as Lathrop, Ripon and Escalon.

They also ripped a page out of the Tracy playbook implemented by then Tracy City Manager Mike Locke from the 1990s by embracing the use of redevelopment agency funds to help snag retail dollars and employment centers.

It also happened that Spreckels Sugar’s demise created an opportunity to fashion a textbook use of RDA money to transform blight into an economic growth engine.

Loans of nearly $8 million - that were paid back early with interest - made it possible for Manteca to snag several key retailers including Home Depot and Target several years ahead of the respective schedules of the chains. The money was used to put in place streets, sewer and water improvements.

The new RDA tax base generated by industrial and retail development in the 362-acre Spreckels Park that also included the 166-home Curran Grove neighborhood eventually provided the leverage needed to make $10 million worth of improvements to put in infrastructure for the Stadium Retail Center.

That in turn helped Manteca to secure retailers such as Kohl’s and Costco. With Costco, however, the city issued a 10-year sales tax sharing arrangement with the store to seal the deal.

In 1998

So just how well has the strategy worked so far to increase sales tax? Back in 1998 with just 48,027 residents Manteca received $5.8 million annual in sales tax to support general fund services such as police, fire, parks, recreation, and general government operations. This year, that figure is at $8.4 million while the city has added 20,000 residents. Those receipts excluded the half cent Measure M sales tax authorized by voters for the expressed purpose of funding police and firefighter positions.”