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Downtown Manteca is like a ball of clay
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
I appreciate your comments regarding my vocal response to the city’s presentation Tuesday about the declining condition of downtown and how best to approach its revitalization.  Unfortunately, the mayor (who was present) and city hall continue to miss the point.  What I heard yesterday was the same old finger pointing on the part of the city, and the assigning of responsibility for the condition of downtown on the property and business owners.  And, of course, that the property owners need to fix the problem.  It was also noted during the presentation, that perhaps a fix should be initiated by demolishing the building at Center Street and Main.  What I did not hear was an attitude of teamwork and how the city can help resolve this community problem.

I believe the white building at Center and Main is a very good example of how to initiate the revitalization of downtown.  I am a strong believer in working with what you have and working together with the property owner to improve his situation and for the benefit of the community.  Downtown is not a raw piece of land where a shopping center can be raised from the ground. Downtown is like a ball of clay that can be reformed with the proper vision and imagination into a commercial center in its own right.   City hall is however stuck in a mode of “clear the ground and build new.”  This attitude is pervasive in dealing with community service, city personnel, development, the budget, and so on.  There is much that can be done with the existing buildings and the general area with the proper attitude and the proper will to press forward.

You note in your comments Center Street from the tracks to Fremont Avenue; let me bring a little history into the picture.  In the late sixties prior to my employment at city hall, a plan had already been developed for the conversion of Center Street to a commercial corridor along this very path.  Now forty plus years later, it still has not happened because for decades city hall has made downtown improvement a downtown property and business owner responsibility.  The finger pointing continues today.  My plan includes this very area as an integral component of an overall and comprehensive plan.  I disagree that a successful transformation of this particular area alone will create a draw and encourage investments by property owners.  This approach is tantamount to city hall once again dumping a meager amount of funds into downtown with no follow-through and no plan.

What I also heard was that city hall is working towards reducing service levels to the community by assigning more responsibility on the residents themselves, because municipal service costs have increased and the mayor and council need to resolve the budget deficit they created.  I beg to ask the question, how is it that city hall can declare a severe lack of funds, while on the other hand forgiving or delaying the collection of fees (an important revenue source to city hall.)  The mayor and council do not understand that municipal government is a business, essentially, a non-profit business; as such, it should be managed accordingly.  For decades, Manteca has lagged in meeting its service obligations to the community, because it continues to operate under the premise that the developers know what is best for the residents and their market and fiscal needs outweight those of the community.

Yes, I am professing that a bold initiative take place, but in more ways than one.  Unfortunately, that is not likely to occur because the present mayor and council are still stuck in the seventies.  Manteca needs new municipal leadership with business sense and with a different focus on service to whom and the overall community needs.  There is a bigger picture to consider; it is not enough today to just rely on city staff to highlight problems and then to follow their direction.  
Benjamin Cantu
April 7, 2010