Twenty-eight years ago on the first Sunday I ever headed down the south side of Woodward Avenue I was on a bicycle coming back from Knights Ferry.
I didn’t take Moffat into Manteca proper after crossing the freeway on Austin Road as at that time there was a stop sign for westbound Moffat just past Woodward Avenue due to a left exit flyover from northbound Highway 99 that was still in place.
Making a left turn at the stop sign in a car — let alone on a bicycle — was extremely dicey. Traffic would hit the flyover in excess of 65 mph. You would not see them until they crested the overpass and were seconds from being on top of the intersection.
Woodward Avenue was lined with almond orchards all the way to Main Street. I’d turn right onto Spreckels Road (now Van Ryn Avenue) and bicycle past several more almond orchards until gingerly crossing the tracks where the narrow country lane that Spreckels Road was at the time was riddled with potholes where the pavement wasn’t a washboard. At the intersection with Moffat you could not go straight unless you had access to the back gate to Spreckels Sugar.
It was rare if a car ever passed me on that route.
Manteca’s population back in 1991 was 41,000.
On Sunday I was on the south side of Woodward Avenue but this time I was jogging facing traffic. Ahead traffic going toward Modesto on Moffat was backed up to the Woodward Avenue intersection. Meanwhile on Woodward more cars passed me in two or so minutes than would pass me in a month of bicycle rides down the same pavement (I don’t even think it has even been coated with oil) that was in place 28 years ago between the tracks and the point where Atherton Drive now connects than would pass me in a month’s worth of bicycling on the same street. Manteca’s population today is brushing up against 85,000.
It is against that backdrop that more than a few people are “beating up” Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu on social media over growth.
Cantu has discovered the hard way that the more an elected local leader tries to engage, inform or educate the public the more likely it will be met with ranting, distorting reality, and trafficking in rumors. This has always passed as civil discourse when people are frustrated, fearful, or feel hopeless in their ability to control their small part of the world. Social media has simply put it all on steroids as well as making it easier to do so anonymously and not having to invest in the energy it takes for face-to-face dialogue.
Cantu — as Billy Joel would say — did not start the fire. Neither did anyone else on the council nor any of his processors whether it was Steve DeBrum, Willie Weatherford, Carlon Perry or any previous mayor that was directly elected.
In voting for Cantu people said they were voting for change. But apparently they weren’t all listening — or at least not embracing — the change that Cantu made it clear he had in mind.
He never painted himself as being anti-growth. Nor did he present himself as favoring growth at all costs.
Instead he presented a different way of dealing with — and directing — growth. Whether it meets your particular definition of smart growth or not what Cantu is trying to pursue is his version of smart growth. As such his concepts have merit and deserve honest and muscular vetting and debate with the end target not necessarily being exactly what Cantu has in mind but something that improves on where Manteca is headed.
Cantu might not be 100 percent pragmatic but he is reflecting a lot of what people say they want.
There are three realities that people tend to ignore or not grasp. That also applies at times to Cantu.
First, government tends to have the top speed of a Tin Lizzie in a world where we can pick up a handheld device and order a vast array of wants and needs and have them on our doorsteps within two hours. Government operates on rules and regulations of which most were put in place to protect us from bureaucracies being capricious as well as to assure health and safety.
Second, all of those wants as well as the needs Manteca and other cities are struggling to meet cost money. To do much of what Cantu wants — as well as what a lot of other people claim they want — costs money. That means passing bond elections, raising fees, or upping taxes. There are extremely few options to squeeze out more money that the city currently receives unless you are willing to reduce police and fire protection, scale back street maintenance, and let more than a few parks go to seed.
Third, the reality is Cantu is part of the “growth” culture by training and vocation. He devoted nearly 30 years of his life as a municipal planner for the City of Manteca. He was known not to be silent when he disagreed with the direction the city was taking on development while he was earning a city paycheck.
In a way, the foundation of much of what you see today in Manteca has Cantu’s handprint on it along with countless hundreds of other people both in the public and private sectors.
Those that vilify Cantu when he points out growth is inevitable and tries to make a case for what the city needs to pursue to make it work all the better whether it is amenities or findings ways to better fund basic needs and services, are either ignoring reality or simply don’t want to devote much energy to trying to alter the course of Manteca except to rip Cantu and other council members to shreds.
Whether you agree with the concept, California has a healthy splattering of communities that have growth controls with bite to them. Manteca may have been among the pioneers when it became among the first jurisdictions in the state to put in place a growth management program for housing starts 35 years ago, but it obviously isn’t meeting the expectations that more than a few people profess to view today.
If that is the case, they are barking up the wrong tree if they actually want to limit growth or slow it down. They need to organize beyond social media postings. They need to groom candidates that fit their view of growth or circulate an initiative for the ballot that will force Manteca to tap the brakes. They could also do both, which is what Manteca did in the 1980s and Tracy in the 2000s.
Keep in mind there are some cold realities you can’t ignore. There are over 7,000 housing units already approved that likely a growth initiative will have a tough time stopping given the legal concept of vested rights.
Manteca likely will top 100,000 people in less than six years. At that population level you’ve got to really ask yourself whether holding onto the “small town” feel is more of a fantasy or delusional reasoning. That said there are ways to set “stop” targets such as adopting firm and fast urban limits for development.
If you don’t want to see Woodward Avenue turn into Louise Avenue you might be a little too late. You might not be too late if you don’t want to see Northland Road, Fig Avenue or Austin Road turn into Louise Avenue. In either case Cantu is not — and never was — the man who was going to lead the charge. Cantu never misled anyone. And he certainly has never been a stealth operator. Cantu is, and always has been, completely open in his intentions and views. It’s exactly what many of us say we want in our elected leaders. Perhaps if people spent more time engaging than raging things might be a tad different today in terms of where Manteca is headed.
A little over a century ago when the Manteca Bulletin did a story on an early pioneer by the name of Louisa Clapp, they asked her whether she was upset given the road that was named in her honor had been misspelled by the county on official maps and road signs.
Clapp dismissed it as much ado about nothing given that for years the Clapps were the only family living along the road.
Clapp told the reporter that asked why she never had the name corrected she replied “it’s just a little lane” and that it never would amount to much.
I’d bet the drivers of the 35,000 vehicles that daily travel Louise Avenue just west of Main Street making it Manteca’s busiest east-west street would find Clapp’s observation to be amusing.