There is a dangerous mindset regarding downtown Manteca.
There are more than a few folks — including those who occupy space for now at 1001 West Center Street until they climb to the next step of their career ladder — that are pushing for the death of downtown so they can save it.
The latest sign from those eager to hammer nails into a coffin for downtown that is thriving but not in the image of latte sipping sidewalk venues favored by city hall brass are causal remarks made about the future of the banking industry.
They believe within five years physical banks will be dead and that there will be a fire sale of no less than seven buildings that now house financial institutions in downtown.
To understand the prophets, you must examine what their predecessors that cling to textbook planning and follow the pack in trying to deploy cookie cutting solutions that — in Manteca’s case — is akin to using a sledgehammer to force a square peg into a round hole.
Back in 1996 Manteca residents were told the push for a new library was a waste of time given books were headed for obsolesce by 2000 or shortly thereafter. When the local yokels elected leaders to the council to push for a new library as a state-of-the-art lifelong learning center the staff conducted prerequisite studies that cost significant money. They even negotiated library fees from two developers and talked about adding a library fee to growth fees.
That led to two half-hearted attempts by staff to carry out council’s wishes before everyone folded the tent.
So just how brilliant were the planning prophets? Take a look at high tech hubs like San Jose, Seattle, and numerous cities in the Bay Area who have made libraries a top priority during the past 25 years.
They are teeming with users across the spectrum given they are indeed modern life-long learning centers and not much more than a warehouse for books. It’s ironic that municipal leadership that lusts for high tech jobs has nicely ignored the reality of what it takes to raise all boats in the water including those that are the brilliant and brightest.
The maker spaces at successful tech city libraries are legendary as are their literacy outreach programs to strengthen the weakest in the workforce.
The flippant observations make about the future of banks and such in downtown are seen through the lenses of places they are comfortable with such as Galt, Ceres, Pleasanton, Turlock, Livermore, and Lodi because that is where they have either enjoyed success or have seen success.
None of the previous mentioned cities have anywhere near as high of a concentration of banks and related financial institutions as Manteca in its central district. There are seven including two established in the last 18 years — Golden Valley Credit Union and Oak Valley Community Bank. The rest of the list included the Financial Center Credit Union, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, and PNC Bank.
Of course they believe the Internet will kill off physical banks.
There is just one little problem with that mindset.
If the city truly believes the Internet is going to radically change commerce to the point that physical banks are obsolete how come they don’t see the same thing when gazing into their crystal ball when it comes to brick and mortar retail or even restaurants? After all if app based banks will eliminate the need to ever step inside a real bank again how does that square up with the future for online retail or even app based sites using delivery services to deliver orders prepared in ghost kitchens in the back of some warehouse in industrial districts?
And while we’re at it, someone should bring up the example of physical banks shrinking their footprint the next time the folks at 1001 West Center Street start salivating over the need for new and bigger office space. The trend in the private sector driven by tech, after all, is to eschew physically going into a place of employment and instead working remotely some of the time.
There is some serious money being pumped into downtown Manteca without the benefit of an $800,000 specific plan or city hall cooking up a sales tax or room tax split to lure private sector business as they did with Bass Pro, Great Wolf, and Costco.
In the coming months the grandest event center in the region that is not a concert-style venue as well as another Mexican market will be opening in the heart and by the edge of the central district.
The Veranda reflects a future for downtown that is built on what has been its true and underappreciated muscle for close to a century with community events and such at the two FESM and MRPS social hall complexes. Before the pandemic hit they were booked almost every weekend of the year with at least one event each and sometimes two.
So why doesn’t the city acknowledge what is really going on?
The reason is simple. They aren’t a part of it.
The thriving ethnic businesses in Manteca represent the changing face of Manteca and the realities of community life.
City Manager Toby Wells is right. Building is going great guns because people want to move here. And as shocking as it might sound they are not moving here because downtown Manteca is a clone of downtown Livermore.
The downtown success story is being driven by ethnic businesses and not sidewalk dining venues which clearly offends the sensibilities of some folks.
And these are businesses that don’t need to shake down the city for money to locate in downtown. There are three furniture stores. All have ethnic owners that have a combined 60 plus years of success in downtown. They didn’t demand a kick back in sales tax dollars as Living Spaces did before they’d locate in Manteca.
The Living Spaces deal at its heart really isn’t much different than the pursuit of storefront marijuana sales. It’s about city hall raking in even more money.
Except for 2,500 feet of upgraded Lathrop Road and a one-pony food truck court by Library Park name one major initiative the City of Manteca has launched and completed during the past four years despite constantly being among the fastest growing cities in California that a Manteca resident can physically see that wasn’t build 100 percent on the private sector’s dime?
Great Wolf, the Union Road diverging diamond interchange, and the food waste to fuel program and even the brokered Living Spaces deal predate the current and past two city managers and their corresponding councils.
Here’s a novel idea. Why doesn’t the city double down on providing the basics for downtown and the rest of the city to see how far that does in attracting private sector investment that even in the Internet age can be lured to Manteca due to its consistent and robust population growth?
Repair sidewalks instead of commissioning three separate studies and then doing nothing. Employ more in-house street maintenance staff to address pot holes, faded street lane markings, and such. Hire more police to go back to the days when Manteca was a leader in community based policing.
You get the picture. Actually spend more on making obvious honest-to-goodness improvements to Manteca instead of bankrolling studies.
Mayor Ben Cantu, regardless of what you think of him, can tell you what happens when the city completes grandiose studies that start in the low six figures and push $1 million. Staff will say they can’t implement them because they have insufficient staffing.
And say what you want about departed City Manager Miranda Lutzow. She at least understood the city was neglecting downtown in ways that really count. She was the first city manager since crosswalk and sidewalk pavers were installed in 2003 and upgrades made to Library Park to realize that the city can make things better by simply power washing the public’s investment every 16 years or so.
A clean place is much more appealing than dingy place. It is the City of Manteca’s day-to-day approach and not an $800,000 study that is the key to downtown’s future.
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