Pedestrians and bicyclists are forewarned. The City of Manteca can’t afford alley repairs.
Downtown merchants frustrated about what they perceive as broken promises to repair broken alleys that some trace as far back as 1998 have taped signs on buildings along the alley behind the 100 blocks of West Yosemite Avenue and Center Street reading “Watch your step! City can’t afford alley repairs.”
The signs were not authorized or sanctioned by the city.
The city —which is gearing up to spend nearly $1 million to rip out the remaining bulb outs in the 100 block of North Main Street and reconfigure the pavement between Yosemite Avenue and Center Street with two southbound travel lanes, one southbound travel lanes and two bicycle lanes — has repeatedly told downtown businesses there is no money to do the work.
And while the focus is on what is arguably the city’s most high profile alley in the heart of Manteca, a quick windshield survey shows some other downtown alleys are in extreme states of disrepair. The alley behind the FESM Hall in the 200 block of North Main Street has huge holes in the asphalt exceeding an inch in depth. It, however, sees only a fraction of the foot traffic and bicyclists as does the one on the north side of the 100 block of West Yosemite
That’s because in the 1960s the city formed a parking district for several blocks in the core of downtown that included upgrading alleys to make safe to access back entrances to stores and other businesses.
Unsafe alleys brought
up during 1998 effort
The deteriorating alleys was one of the big issues 18 years ago when the city was leading conservations 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 the agenda under 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.
It is not uncommon for pedestrians to trip on the raised and or cracked concrete in the city-owned alley. Bicyclists have even taken spills by passing over the cracks at the wrong angle.
In June, Mayor Steve DeBrum said, “we need to put a bigger priority on (alley work) where a lot of people travel and the city has a bigger liability.”
Other council members over the years have expressed similar concerns. Money has been budgeted and not spent in previous budgets.
City contends there
is no money but
what about $2.4M?
City staff has said the loss of the redevelopment agency — which was designed to address blight and spur economic development — has left them with no means to fund the alley work that they said in the past would meet RDA guidelines.
That’s not exactly true.
When the state disbanded the RDA and took the lion’s share of the tax revenue beyond the payment of existing bond obligations in order to balance the state budget, the property taxes that proportionately would have gone to local agencies such as the city general fund and the county were restored.
The City Council, decided that since they had lost the leverage the RDA provided to secure economic growth and to fight blight as it did for the shuttered Spreckels Sugar plant that is now Spreckels Park, they would take the city’s share of the shift of property taxes from the RDA and set it aside for economic development. Those taxes generate roughly $750,000 a year.
It was also noted at the time that the city hadn’t counted on those taxes in the past to support day-to-day municipal operations. Because of that, it was felt the set aside could be done with minimal impact on the general fund
Then City Manager Karen McLaughlin back in May noted in her budget message that since there’s no policy in place as to how precisely the funds would be used that staff is reviewing options for such a policy to present to the City Council in “the coming months” to consider adopting. It was stressed that it was a source of money the council could go to when opportunities came up to make investments that would improve the economy
Council taps funds
to rebrand Manteca
The council at the start of the fiscal year on July 1 had $2.4 million in taxes that would have gone to the RDA set aside in a fund dubbed Assigned Economic Revitalization (AER).
The council in June opted to commit $25,000 of that to the Manteca Mural Society to pick up part of the $50,000 plus tab needed to complete the Vietnam War and World War I murals to join the three other veterans murals already completed on the Bedquarters budding at Yosemite Avenue and Main Street.
Another $10,000 was earmarked in support of day to day efforts of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce to stimulate commerce within the city.
The council rejected a request to use $90,000 in the AER fund to hire a downtown consultant. They did tap into to spend $57,500 to redesign the city’s website that was just updated 11 months ago as well as hire a consultant to brand Manteca on the premise a catchy slogan will stimulate private sector investment.
Perhaps not having alleys in the heart of the city that look more Third World instead of saying downtown Manteca is a dynamic place to set up shop might be a better way to lure more business to sections of Manteca that have the most difficult time doing so — older, established areas that aren’t a blank slate.
City staff over the years likes to point at absentee landlords that they inferred have created borderline slum-like qualities because they see their downtown Manteca property as a cash cow and nothing else. But then again that is a bit rich considering the alleys do belong to the city and in the case of the one behind the 100 blocks of East Yosemite and East Center hasn’t had major work done to it for close to 50 years.
Unless there is a secret plan to spend the remaining $2.4 million in the AER account on additional branding, the City Council might want to consider tapping into that fund to replace the alley and bring an adjacent city-owned parking lot up to a standard that doesn’t scream “rundown” much like the properties the absentee landlord’s control.
The $2.4 million question is simple: Is the city is going to be a good steward of public property as well as public safety or is the money going to be raided for even more consultants or perhaps use what is at the end of the day general fund property tax collected former existing homeowners and businesses to subsidize yet another mega deal for a big corporation to locate in Manteca?
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com