If city staff said it “pained” them to see 80,000 vehicles a day passing through Manteca on the 120 Bypass not being harnessed to lure a sidewalk cafe to open in the thrice burned Sycamore Arms on Yosemite Avenue in downtown to sell $6 lattes al fresco in 100-degree midday heat, they would have ordered random drug tests at city hall.
Yet the Manteca City Council encouraged staff to follow up on their bid to sacrifice a major arterial in the form of North Main Street to perform CPR on downtown by spiking a long-promised endeavor to address the worst traffic congestion in Manteca by widening the north south arterial from two to four lanes.
The premise is if you get rid of traffic — or more precisely force the bulk of 25,000 vehicles each day to scatter through neighborhoods or go two or so miles out of their way to travel north-south across Manteca — you will have a boutique-style downtown the last eight consultants hired by the city had everyone drooling over.
Downtown is far from dead. It isn’t even in ill health. You cannot name a single Northern San Joaquin Valley city or the “reborn downtown” of Bay Area burgs that have seven financial institutions, five furniture stores, or thriving ethnic stores.
City staff is so full of their own vision they fail to see what the private secure is doing on their own dime.
The biggest private secure investment in the history of downtown is slowly moving toward its grand opening in the form of an elegant events center as the third act of the original El Rey Theatre. Had this been Great Wolf where the city stood to profit handsomely from room tax flowing into the general fund to keep municipal pay raises increasing or even El Rey Act Two in the form of Kelley Brothers Brewery where the city invested $220,000 in redevelopment agency money on the conversion, the events center owner would have had express service from the city on its renovation plans.
We are talking close to a $4 million investment targeted primarily at the Punjabi-American, Sikh, and Latino markets. Within two blocks are no less than a dozen thriving businesses targeted at ethnic markets or owned by ethnics.
Apparently these concerns that thrive despite the city not having its vision in place to push through traffic out of downtown don’t matter. After all they aren’t trendy bistros or retail concerns with deep roots in the Yuppie movement that aging planners hold sacred.
That vision also doesn’t include banks and traditional retail such as furniture stores. Nor is it willing to a accept artsy type concerns they didn’t bring to downtown such as German Glas Werks now closing in on three decades of luring patrons from throughout Northern California.
Either planners have horse blenders on, have not real understanding of the community they work for or are dismissive of the growing success of ethnic businesses.
Why else would you want to change downtown radically to replicate Livermore or Pleasanton when it is the home to thriving concerns? They do not want to save downtown. They just do not like what it has become — a place of thriving ethnic businesses, home to seven financial institutions such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase that have high volume foot traffic, and five successful furniture stores.
So let’s be honest. What city hall really wants is the planning equivalent of gender reassignment surgery, not to keep downtown alive and give it more pep. That’s because they do not identify with downtown and as such view virtually everything there as somehow cancerous as it does not for a cookie cutter, sterile view of what older downtowns should be.
It goes without saying Caltrans would never go for shutting down the 120 Bypass and forcing traffic down Yosemite Avenue in a misdirected bid to increase sales at the new smoke shop. Such a back to the future strategy would give downtown the 1970s era traffic congestion and a lot more but without any of the old businesses some long for such as Mode O’Day, Mahan’s Department Store, ACE Hardware, Manteca Department store and The Creamery to name a few.
But what it would do is accelerate the deterioration of the quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods just as the city staff’s drive to not just keep Main Street two lanes through downtown but to go its length and get rid of the existing four lanes, replace it with one lane in each direction with bike lanes along with wider sidewalks, and them tear out traffic signals and replace them with roundabouts.
That’s because making Main two lanes instead of finishing the effort to widen it to four lanes will reduce the number of north-south arterials in Manteca by a third.
This is not a small point.
The same planner “pained” by addressing the city’s worst traffic congestion issue by eliminating the last remaining tourniquet besides the overpass of the 120 Bypass is one of the primary architects of the Manteca general plan update.
The general plan update being advanced has zoning and development strategies that could add 58,338 residents in the next 20 to 30 years to the 87,000 people already in Manteca. And it does so without adding a single north-south arterial although all of the residential growth envisioned is to the north and to the south.
This make the bottleneck though downtown worse. It also will send more cars down older, narrower residential streets trying to bypass downtown much like frustrated commutes now do to neighborhoods in the south when the 120 Bypass comes to a standstill during afternoon commutes.
It also has the potential to dump even more traffic on the Union Road corridor that is already destined to handle the bulk of future residential growth to the south and north.
And it will send even more people down Cottage Avenue. It was once a narrow country road the city by default turned into a narrow makeshift collector street that is new being forced to act at times as the city’s relief arterial to bypass Main Street.
Ejected city leaders mustn’t lose sight of what the North Main Street Project has always been — a much needed and long-promised endeavor to relief traffic congestion.
And before they drink the textbook planning Kool-Aid regarding downtown, they might want to look at more than one block of Yosemite Avenue.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org