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Homeless not downtowns problem
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin
Last week’s Bulletin headline—“Homeless: Will they drag down downtown?”— was an indication on why the revitalization of Downtown is moving at a half-snail-pace. And, the first line of the article —“The vibrant business concerns in downtown want to take the central business district to the next level…”— nailed it!
What is the next level? Is it the “right” new business (that will likely close in a year for lack of customers) or the elusive major commercial chain that will turn downtown around or abate the vacant buildings or eliminate the homeless? I, we, and you have been here before. If every homeless person vanished, Downtown would not be revitalized, nor would it be the beginning of such a process. While the homeless are an irritation, but they are not the problem. Deterioration of Manteca’s downtown was sealed decades ago when the new Walmart arrived and there was a sudden wave of retirement and store closers by long-time downtown business concerns. But to be fair, Downtown was already in a downhill spiral (even with the few unsustainable attempts by city hall and downtown business people to slow the process) as it fell prey to the new shopping centers located at the periphery of the community.
I think those vibrant business concerns need to stop blaming the condition of our/their downtown on the homeless for its present condition has been a reality long before the homeless became visible. Let me remind you that the face of blame has changed many times over the decades — the poor economy, “City hall doesn’t care,” the traffic, poor circulation, poor business practices, no parking, and so on.
It is time to stop the desperate, reserved attempts, the blaming, and the continuing fruitless debate over 20 years on “how to get it done.” It is time to realize no wise businessperson or major commercial chain will pencil-out an investment where there is no sustainable customer base, and where storefront vacancies have become the norm. A “real plan” for rebuilding downtown will take a massive assault at multiple levels and a dedicated team with proper leadership working on that effort over many years.
Frankly, it is time to fish or cut bait. Downtown’s future will either continue at a half-snail-pace approach for the next 10 years with a disjointed, piecemeal plan. Or, as I have suggested on many occasions, an effective process will require a motivated and focused partnership of those vibrant business concerns, the City Council, City Hall, local financial institutions, and the Community, with a long-term mission, focus, and commitment while implementing a comprehensive, multi-phased recovery plan over 10 years.
The final element to a successful revitalization program requires a motivated local person (not a consultant) that is focused and that understands all the elements — the governmental, the financial, the public and private sectors, the demographics, and the history — and the dynamics involved.
Call me, I’m free. One Downtown Manteca.

Benjamin Cantu