It’s time we faced the truth.
Downtown is not dead.
It’s not even on life support.
The real problem is highly paid consultants.
They keep examining the “patient” and coming up with a diagnosis and treatment plan that doesn’t fit the symptoms or what ails the central district.
Downtown Manteca can’t get better until our elected leaders stop drinking the Kool-Aid whipped up by “pack planning.”
What’s pack planning? It’s what happens when bureaucrats and consultants are educated by a small pool of experts that reinforce their teachings with seminars, conferences and examples where cities turned the proverbial pig’s ear into a silk purse.
The fact in less than 50 years a small army of bureaucrats and consultants have tried to force Manteca to take a pill that elected officials and downtown concerns ask for but then keep spitting out should make it clear textbook planning won’t work in downtown Manteca.
First let’s start with public hysteria and then move onto those who are looking not for Mr. Goodbar but for Ricardo Montablan and Fantasy Island.
You’ve heard the Greek chorus before.
There’s nothing but vacant storefronts. The homeless are the problem. Traffic is stifling business. It’s the fault of vacant landlords. It’s ugly down there. There’s nothing that’s downtown people want to go to.
All of this, we are told by the city, points to the need to come up with a “plan”. Instead of a plan, however, we need the city to do its job and for the council to actually follow through on something besides getting what has now dwindled down to one food truck in place at Library Park.
Let’s start with the vacant storefronts in and around the core downtown and not just in a select 200-foot stretch. The city ages ago could have stopped hiding behind consultants and done the grunt work to address the real issues — the twice burned two-story Sycamore Arms building, the vacant pool hall, and the wonderful second story efficiency apartments.
Now that Community Services Director Chris Erias working with the city attorney has strengthened the legal footing to address problematic property, perhaps there should actually be follow through first. Manteca doesn’t need a plan in hand to improve downtown. They just need the staff and funding to do their job with basic things they now have to be done whether there is a plan or not.
The homeless are a problem. But guess what, so are they in other cities. Could it be that Manteca really is not all that serious? Case in point: There are supposed to be two police officers dedicated to homeless issues given it is more effective than one as it provides seven-day-a-week coverage. Ask your friendly council member that’s declared homeless issues are at the top of their priority list why we’ve only had one such officer for the better part of four years.
Traffic is not stifling business. If it was based on the rolling traffic jam through downtown there’d be blight and boarded up windows galore.
As for it being ugly downtown you would be too if you waited 15 years before cleaning decorative pavers, have no added color with sidewalk planters, and maintain streetscape so it has the 2021 Kabul look.
Speaking of errant landlords, let’s keep in mind the biggest property owner downtown has a transit station, a former recycling yard they bought with graffiti all over its fence, a park with an interactive water play feature that is rarely on even in years of monsoon weather, a library, a former county building they just bought, a bike trail, several small plazas, as well as streets and sidewalks.
There’s nothing downtown that attracts people.
That doesn’t quite explain the fact why the city’s core has four viable furniture stores, a smattering of traditional and specialty retail, seven banks or credit unions and five event halls with a grandiose one on the way.
This is what the city — and apparently more than a few people — wants cleared out so we can transform downtown Manteca into downtown Livermore.
For starters that would entail pushing out ethnic businesses owned by minorities that aren’t serving up the post-Yuppie era of trendy restaurants or quaint little boutiques. They are doing more than quite well. But because it isn’t what city hall types have been brainwashed into believing is part of a healthy downtown circa 2021 the entire area is dismissed as being terrible and uninspiring.
Now let’s touch on the fantasies.
The best place to begin is the dearth of lunchtime trade, weekday shoppers that aren’t making Costco runs and an anemic Monday through Thursday dinner trade.
Of course this is because we don’t have condos downtown. At least one consultant of late opened their eyes enough to note that there are a significant number of people living within a mile walking distance.
But the real problem is the paychecks powering the Manteca economy. Census stats show Manteca is at the heart of the nation’s No. 1 region for super-commuting. That refers to people who drive 90 minutes or more just one way to get to their job.
And if we meet the average for the region, that is the case for at least 20 percent of all Manteca commuters.
They are simply too tired from the grind of the commute they have to get up the next day and repeat again to enjoy dining that is trendy and not fast food.
The odds are high that those that commute only 60 minutes one way aren’t weekday party animals either.
Then there is downtown’s unique ambiance factor for al fresco dining. Stifling Central Valley summers, bone-chilling Tule fog in winter, and borderline almost gale force winds for periods in the spring and fall thanks to our location near the Delta.
Other valley cities do manage to get a bit of the Livermore act going in their downtowns despite many of the same issues.
But Manteca has one real unique charm no other city in the region or the Bay Area has. Our downtown sits on a heavily traveled north-south rail line. And according to Union Pacific and passenger train operators train traffic will increase by roughly 150 percent in the coming 20 to 30 years.
That means more train whistles, more earth rumbling trains flying through downtown, and more traffic congestion.
Speaking of traffic name a community of 89,000 or more whose downtown is channeling Livermore that has both major east-west and north-south arterials slicing through its heart.
We don’t need the latest carpetbaggers at city hall or more consultants that don’t do their homework and instead do a one-day drive-by or use Google Earth to determine what nuances Manteca actually has.
They operate off the smug premise that we must be populated with bumpkins as we’ve never tried what they are offering up.
The problem it has been tried, six times.
But have no fear. This current council and city staff seems hell-bent to try it a seventh time.
To be clear Mayor Ben Cantu is right in that there has to be a plan of some sort. The real issue is the plan has to match the reality on the ground in Manteca. Lofty textbook planning and trendy Bay Area downtown remakes are out of synch with Manteca reality.
And until we accept the truth, the seventh time won’t be the charm nor the eighth, ninth or 100th time.
The only thing Manteca is doing by going down the same path on downtown again and again is to prove beyond a doubt the definition of hardcore insanity is doing the same thing over and over and coming up with the same results.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at email@example.com