For years, Manteca civic leaders have slammed absentee landlords for making it next-to-impossible to get any traction downtown.
They should start worrying about the attitude of the biggest property owner downtown — the City of Manteca.
Whether downtown can be “Livermore-ized” or changed into a more vibrant center for a growing community based on 75,000 different versions of what people would like to see isn’t the first hurdle that needs to be cleared.
The city owns the Manteca Transit Center, the Manteca Library, Library Park, Wilson Park also known as the Homeless Hangout Haven behind the Post Office, the Tidewater Bikeway, as well as all of the streets, sidewalks, and a few parking lots.
Just how well are they doing when it comes to making their property appealing, safe, and meeting public expectations?
Let’s start with the alleys. You can’t blame an absentee landlord for failing to maintain the alleys. The major cracks and potholes didn’t happen overnight, either.
It’s kind of ironic to hear city officials complain about poor building maintenance and even cite other property owners for safety and health hazards yet they can’t find the money to address the safety hazards they expose people to 24/7.
Library Park is another place where the city has a less than stellar record. The Library Park expansion and upgrade cost $1.2 million and was heralded as a de facto downtown plaza. The centerpiece was the $450,000 interactive water park that was designed to lure families to downtown.
It’s been dry for three years.
Yes, there is a drought on, but as things have eased a bit sensible and responsible cities — such as Ripon — adopted limited use periods based on weekends as well as the heat levels throughout the work week in the summer that strike a balance between conserving water and recreation.
Then there is the $7 million transit center. Strike that. Then there is the $7 million transit center/community gathering place.
Doesn’t anyone at city hall remember the hype of the consultant they hired over a decade ago that led them to create a transit center with a community room, kitchen, and outdoor plaza?
When ACE trains do eventually come the will lobby and platforms will be used. That, however, still will leave a large chunk of the $7 million investment unused most of the time save for it housing the city’s transit staffer and a rental or two a week.
At the worst, the city is squandering public money and failing to keep the public’s safety in mind. At best, it represents broken promises.
We as a city can dump $12 million into the ground to serve a possible 500-room hotel, indoor waterpark, and conference center yet we can’t make three simple things downtown work. Yes, I know. The resort will generate money so we can do all these wonderful things. Funny that was the line used after The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley broke ground. The city acts more like a gambling addict that keeps telling their spouse that they’ll buy new shoes for the kids or fix the leaking roof after they hit the big pay day.
In fairness to the city, they have a lot of pressing issues. And if the pavement condition study they did is on the mark, they could easily spend every dime of their $34.9 million general fund for the next two years on nothing but street maintenance and still have some work left over to do. Manteca, in that aspect, is in the same boat as just about every other jurisdiction in California.
That said, here are a few suggestions for city policy makers — the City Council — might want to consider to get things moving.
Tap the economic stimulus fund being built with redirected redevelopment agency property tax receipts that was going to line the pockets of a consultant for a downtown plan and fix the alleys. Better yet fix and upgrade the alleys and city-owned parking lots. Even if it came to $500,000, you can use the magical “inter-fund borrowing” you have in the past to support other endeavors and pay it back at $125,000 a year so you don’t deplete the fund that’s supposedly designed to take advantage of opportunities as they come up. Do that and you may just change everyone’s tune toward working together for an improved downtown.
Tell staff to come up with reasonable guidelines of when to turn on the water play feature with the proviso if the drought worsens they will be revisited. You don’t have to spend another $450,000 to make the feature recycle water.
Partner with an organization — perhaps the Manteca Chamber of Commerce — to fulfill the full promise of the transit center.
Given that the ticket office isn’t being used to sell tickets and probably won’t be for another eight to 10 years at least, you could cut a deal that provides an organization office space in exchange for to staging at least two monthly events at the transit center in the late afternoon or evening during the week on the plaza or the community room. It could be art shows, mini-concerts, a revival of the Manteca Idol contest that packed Kelley Brothers or anything that would get people hooked on the idea of going downtown. There would be a guarantee of at least 26 more events that would bring people downtown.
The bottom line is the city needs to start now to make things happen, not 15 years from now.