So how can Manteca possibly hope for a vibrant downturn night scene to develop if by law — driven by court rulings — areas of sidewalks beyond a three or so foot wide passage for pedestrians including the handicapped are fair game for the homeless or anyone else to bunker down between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.?
The answer may lie with the City of Manteca granting downtown property sidewalk easements. The City of Sunrise in Broward County in Florida has such a sidewalk easement program in place.
The idea of giving Manteca downtown merchants control to a degree of sidewalks is nothing new. Four community development directors ago a course of action was being discussed that would have done just that — at least to a degree. It’s when several downtown property owners had potential tenants that wanted to open restaurants but wanted to have some sidewalk seating they could partially secure with ornamental, low-level fencing such as you see in the downtowns of Turlock, Lodi, Modesto, Livermore, and Pleasanton. And in places where there wasn’t room to make that work they still wanted to be able to legally at least place a few small tables and chairs.
The city was worried about liability and such. They were working on a solution when the community development director hit the road. Then the Great Recession hit.
This is important for the council to pursue for a number of reasons. The city now has a private investor taking a chance and investing $1.2 million to reopen the marque building in downtown that had been shuttered for almost eight years — Kelly Brothers Brewing Co. & Brickyard Oven Restaurant — as an events center.
Nothing will work to undermine the success of such a venture as effective as homeless plopping down for the night as guests come and go.
If you don’t think this will happen, go back just a year to the Spreckels Marketplace anchored by Food-4-Less where the homeless at 7 p.m. started setting up for the night in front of stores and dining spots that were still open as well as the 24-hour ATM at Chase Bank. The city worked with the owner of the shopping center so they could have a letter on file that would allow police to move the campers off of private property when the homeless set up shop. The city also changed its ordinances to address the problem as well as giving police the legal authority to act.
The city needs to make private sector investing in downtown a less of a risk by putting rules in place that will allow the central district to attract investment and visitors.
Such an easement could allow placement of signs as well as ornamental touches such as planters outside stores. There still would be public sidewalk passage but the easement would confer use and control to the private property owner along with cost of maintenance and upkeep.
Then camping as homeless have been known to do in front of stores such as Tipton’s on Sundays when it is closed or early evening before the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. window is open would become illegal 24/7 under city ordinance regarding camping on private property or via letters on file with the Manteca Police Department.
Manteca — regardless of what one may think — cannot legally make being homeless a crime nor morally should they.
That said, it doesn’t mean you turn over the keys to the city to them no more than you should any other special interest group to simply do as they please and stomp on other people’s rights whether they are homeless, homeowners, renters, or businesses.
It is why the city must continue thinking smart while keeping respect for all in mind by taking proactive steps to strike a balance for the quality of life for all in the community whether they have a roof over their heads.
The wrought iron fencing at the Library courtyard is one example. It stopped costly ongoing damages and restored safe access to the library.
The city through the police department is working to get homeless help that are willing to accept it while at the same time finding common ground with those who opt to stay on the streets for whatever reason.
It is how the congregation of homeless at Library Park and Wilson Park has become a virtual non-issue. Meanwhile the city looks the other way when the homeless use Lincoln Park when it is closed to the public to cook meals, stay warm with BBQ fires or to simply kill time at the lighted group picnic shelter before heading to places they bed down at night.
Such a strategy is reflected in the removal of shrubs and replacing them with trees along the Tidewater Bikeway. The shrubs had become tempting as screens for illegal campsites.
Taking steps to eliminate attractive nuisances is also a basis for the city’s decision to turn over to Manteca Unified School District a portion of Garfield Avenue that slices through the campus. In doing so, the district will now be able to take steps to secure the high school so there isn’t a repeat of the January incident where a homeless man with a long knife strapped to his leg walked onto campus via Garfield Avenue triggering a campus lockdown.
The sidewalk easement is a piece of a puzzle Manteca needs to put together to strike a balance when it comes to the rights of the homeless and the rights of others.