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Self-determination not the answer for downtown
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
Concerning your opinion expressed on Dec. 27, (Dennis Wyatt’s column: “Should downtown be chained to 1001 W. Center St.?”) I have been beating the drum for many years under different city administrations and city councils, in hopes of generating some momentum in the direction of revitalizing our downtown.  While there have been spurts of movement in the form of shelved studies, the hiring of consultants, promotions, and the conduct of meetings and workshops involving city hall and downtown merchants and property owners, there has been no comprehensive effort on either side to develop a plan or to even work together.

City hall has invested considerable dollars over three decades to improve sidewalks, parking, landscaping, lighting, concrete alleys, etc; early on, it was associated with a downtown tax, then with no strings attached.  One can argue the intrinsic value of the investments of money and time - whether they were enough, too little, or simply a waste.  History however has proven that these efforts were ineffective and doomed to fail from the onset because there was no comprehensive plan or direction.

As you point out, city hall continues to funnel a great deal of money and resources to new developing commercial centers, but little or no funds are invested in Manteca’s downtown.  The underlying fallacy is that the commercial center developers have the wherewithal to develop their projects, the city hall “investment” in their projects is just icing on the top. While on the other hand, our downtown continues to die a slow death because both sides have dug in their heels and are playing the blame game.  

I disagree with your view; the blame for the slow demise of our downtown is a direct result of ineffective and half-hearted action by the present and past city council.  The downtown merchants and property owners do not have the resources or the ability to affect change; effective change can only come from city hall, which has control of land use, design standards, infrastructure, zoning, building permits, and so on.  By ignoring downtown for decades and focusing municipal resources to the new commercial centers, the city council has allowed the economic values of downtown to decline to the point that neither side of the problem can garner appreciable returns without extensive reinvestment.  

When the investment worth of commercial property has no appreciable return value, the property owner has no ability to make improvements.  Rents decline, property conditions decline, and the neighborhood declines, without the ability for an investment return the next step is receivership.  A downtown in trouble is a community problem wherein the remedy must be initiated by city hall, which does hold and have control over the downtown’s fate.  I do agree that in order to revitalize downtown it will take courage, commitment, a comprehensive plan, and money.  

Frankly, the answer is not self-determination as that approach has failed over decades.  The answer is a focused will and a strong leader to carry the banner for both sides.  Moreover, city hall must be the flag bearer in this campaign.  I do not believe that the current mayor and city council have the will, the leadership ability, or the long-term vision needed in this case.
Benjamin Cantu
Dec. 31, 2009