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Civil meeting over McKinley Expressway plans
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

The McKinley Expressway workshop Thursday night at the library was attended by many dozens of homeowners and landowners who are faced with the prospect of having a 106-foot-wide ribbon of asphalt benefit, brush, bisect, or bury their homes and farms. These property owners reside south of Manteca’s city limits but still within Manteca’s General Plan “sphere of influence.” This planning sphere is where city officials determine where arterial roads are routed and determine where other major infrastructure, such as water delivery, sewer collection, and electrical service are placed.
The meeting was a primal example of self-governance. Say that again? Ok, this meeting was where “the rubber met the road” when it came to individual owners hearing and speaking the hard truth necessary to making personal decisions (the democratic principle of an active, participating voice) and city planners making the tough choices that impact the fewest current residents and benefit the greatest numbers of CURRENT and FUTURE residents (elected and employed representatives carrying out the will of the governed.)
The City’s Assistant Director of Public Works, Frederic Clark, masterfully – and compassionately – set out the goal of this first workshop, which was to give the residents a look at some POSSIBLE routes proposed by city staff and to solicit comments or alternative suggested routes. As Mr. Clark spoke for the first fifteen minutes, the groundswell of immediate emotional response was palpable; one could see, smell, touch, taste, and hear the instinctive surge of human reaction to a perceived threat to each person’s safety, security, rights, possessions, and relationships. Rapid fire questions were posed, first by this person, next by that couple, and fielded by Mr. Clark and Mr. Mark Meissner, the City’s Planning Manager.
Most impressive, however, was the polite, civil, self-restrained hour that followed. There were no rants, tantrums, or protests from this group of mostly older, stable, and mature landowners. These good folks surrounded the large maps on tables, and the superimposed lines were traced and sometimes redrawn. They just needed the earlier time to process the information they were given. The infrastructure planning horizon is of necessity a long one – 5, 10, 15 years out. No one was going to be evicted from their family home anytime soon, if at all. Rural lifestyle maintenance may require moving in the future. The new route just needed to be settled within the next few months in order to provide planning certainty if/when southward development occurs.
Owners with large acreage in crops, orchards and vineyards generally seemed to welcome the idea of a roadway and future development. After all, the accruing wealth would keep them comfortable in retirement - and their families beyond that. Most others on smaller parcels were justifiably concerned about the potential loss of their homes or their rural lifestyle. Some from both groups already accepted the idea of change; others from both groups were still struggling with it. Raw emotions were still evident.

Toward the end of the meeting, a neatly groomed woman of well-advanced age revealed her fear in her quiet, shyly asked question, “How much time will we be given to leave?” It was asked in a one-on-one situation. How can one answer such a question? Not with babble about “sphere of influence,” annexation, development agreements, negotiations within eminent domain actions, and other such high-falutin’ gibberish. This is your grandmother – and mine.

The meeting wound down and property owners departed, leaving city staff and a handful of others. These few, likely with development interests, have been party to this kind of process before. Their emotions were in check; their input more akin to the planners’, their practiced hands more sure with the markers on the maps - not good versus evil - just more experienced.

Is there a perfect one-to-one correspondence between an individual’s expressed desire and the group’s (government’s) eventual chosen outcome? Of course not. An awful lot of contentious name-calling and mud-slinging could be erased if the strident voices in our city (or any city) attended meetings like this and took life lessons from the true stalwarts of the community.
Richard Behling
Nov. 5, 2009