Manteca seems to be in the throes of a “can’t see the forest because of the trees” moment.
And the sage with the best advice for us to find a path through the overgrowth of issues, frustrations, and complete disregard for the obvious may just be Becky Meredith.
She is a sane voice that once labored at Manteca’s City Hall pursuing economic development six city managers ago.
Today she is one of Manteca’s 85,000 residents who does what most of the people that live here do — commute — although her drive is a mere stroll compared to the crawling parking lot most people experience crossing the Altamont Pass to the Land of Bigger Paychecks.
Meredith was one of a number of citizens that tore their selves from family and home Tuesday night to let the City Council know that they view the thought of seeking a citywide community facilities district (CFD) as Mayor Ben Cantu proposed to generate $28 million a year to cover police and fire expenses to free up that amount in the general fund for other purposes as being a misstep of gargantuan proportions.
Meredith essentially asked is this what we need?
She was more detailed and thorough than that but the bottom line was do we know what we are chasing and if so does it make sense anymore as well as has anyone really looked at what we have and whether it is meeting our real needs.
These are not rhetoric questions. They cut to the heart of the narrative Manteca hasn’t been reaching its potential as a place to live for going on 40 years. That narrative is what drove Cantu to roll out a tax increase proposal that gave even the most casual observer of city politics whiplash.
One of Meredith’s many sub-points is whether all of the wants and needs that basically you would get with raising close to $600 million as Cantu proposes over the course of 20 years make sense.
Case in point — fire services. When new homes have $4,000 plus worth of mandated fire suppression sprinklers and less than 10 percent of all calls the fire department handles are actual fires, does the current staffing strategies and equipment/station allocation make sense? Do not misunderstand the point. This is not implying that when all is said and done we need to change how we go about deploying fire services. But the fact we don’t have a conversation about the ingrained status quo is doing no one favors as things change over the course of 30 years. Yes every 10 years the city forks out $240,000 to update the state-mandated general plan with its mumble jumble of goals and policies that for the most part are forgotten even before the ink dries on the last check issued to the consultant.
Does it make more sense in the realm of effective spending of finite resources to roll out fire stations in areas of the city serving new growth with state-mandated fire suppression sprinkler systems and other modern building standards to have three-man fire engines and not simply two-man rescue squads? The difference between two and three firefighters in staffing of each fire station is in excess of $500,000 annually.
The very suggestion, of course, is blasphemy if you are in the fire service and deal in established standards that call for a set amount of personnel at the scene of any structure fire within “x” amounts of minutes.
Any attempt to engage in such a discussion is cut off immediately by people that fight fires for a living. But have you noticed we never talk about other options such as consolidating fire services or even little things that might not cost any more taxpayer dollars but could improve the outcome of medical emergency calls that are the department’s bread and butter by exploring whether it makes sense to offer to allow Manteca District Ambulance to house a unit and a crew with a much higher level of medical training at the new station being built at Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue.
Meredith’s point cuts both ways. If you hold onto absolutes and don’t have a frank and honest assessment without the infamous stakeholders declaring their turf is being intruded upon by playing the “expert” card and shutting down any real conversation, you may not only be deploying resources in a way that puts the bigger picture out of skew but you also don’t seriously explore other options that can make services even better.
Again, the fire department was used just as one example of why it is owed to the city’s 85,000 residents who are also taxpayers in one form or another to have honest assessments of needs and wants instead of just continuing to churn out the same pie with the same ingredients regardless if there may be better substitutes and then carving the pie in the same exact fashion you’ve done for 30 years between all of the needs that are at the table.
Equally important is a reality check to distinguish between needs and wants as it relates to the people who actually live here.
As bizarre as it may sound, the people that are moving here from west of the Altamont Pass buying $550,000 to $700,000 new tract homes may be relatively loaded compared to most of us already here but in the hyper-inflated Bay Area based on pay, housing, and other living costs they are more on the poor side.
They are choosing to move here primarily because they can afford to live here.
Which brings us to those who want an aquatics center: Nothing against an aquatics center but if you want your child on a competitive swim team it is a 30 minute or so drive to Tracy or Stockton. We live within a reasonable driving distance of Modesto, Stockton, and Tracy that can fill in the gaps quite nicely when it comes to recreation, entertainment, shopping, and even dining. At the same time we fill in holes for people in those three communities as well.
The most nonsensical “want” that pops up on a fairly regular basis is how Manteca is not complete without its own institution of higher learning. Online classes and Manteca Adult School aside, there are two community colleges and a nationally renowned university all within 30 minutes with two of the three — Delta and UOP — accessible, if need be, by bus. In that aspect we’re much better situated than Tracy. Toss a 45-minute trip to CSU Stanislaus, and Manteca has four fairly easy to access higher education options.
Then there is the lack of an organized, consistent, ongoing, grassroots group that is out there non-stop working elected leaders and the community to push for their objectives whether it is a new library, a performing arts venue, or even an aquatics center. Only putting your two cents in at a public workshop or making a comment pitching a want once in a blue moon at a City Council meeting under public comments isn’t even drive-by advocacy. It is merely making a wish that isn’t backed up by the power of people working diligently toward a goal.
If Cantu is seen as being off his rocker with what would arguably be the biggest per capita tax increase ever suggested by a mayor anywhere, he is only reacting to the insanity we are creating by our collective demands and the fact government on many levels is guilty of the same things detractors accuse Cantu of which is living in the past.
Cantu may not have the answer that will work but he is the messenger that is delivering straight talk on the problem making him a big target in the process.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.