The ball that needs to be put into play to help direct Manteca’s destiny is in the court of two people — two retired city employees from an era that now seems light years ago.
That assumes, of course, whether Mayor Ben Cantu follows through on his vow at the June 7 City Council meeting to form a council subcommittee of himself and Councilman Charlie Halford to work with staff to discuss a new police station.
This could be one of two things. Either it’ll end up a dud per usual or it may be a monumental moment impacting the protectory of the City of Manteca.
With the exception of the Big League Dreams sports complex as well as laying the ground work to snare a major indoor waterpark resort that brought Great Wolf to Manteca, there has not been a significant council originated initiative in the past 31 years.
The BLD is arguably the best example of political will in modern-day Manteca history against opposing headwinds.
The idea to explore it was hatched by a council member — Denise Giordano.
It was championed by another council member who later became mayor — Willie Weatherford — after raw city hall politics prompted Giordano to flip.
Staff was against the idea of BLD from the get go. After a year or so, they became enthusiastic converts after coming to the conclusion it would open other doors for recreation and parks when the city had little money to underwrite.
Due to a series of significant roadblocks lobbed into the path from concept to ground breaking with the intent of derailing and killing the idea, it took seven years of rough and tumble politics. Proponents threatened them with political death at the ballot box and — for the good part of a year — were given a minimum of an hour’s earful of angry opponents every council meeting because the mayor at the time, Carlon Perry, was dead set against the project.
The council majority pushed for a perceived need. They pushed the staff to look for ways to make the financing work with minimum impact on the general fund. They repeatedly doublechecked financial analyses along the way.
It happened because elected leaders forged the general outline of their objective while keeping their eyes wide open to potential pitfalls and moving to avoid them. They — and not staff or a consultant — devised the basic game plan. Staff and then consultants were commissioned to carry it out. And, most important, the council majority kept their eye on the ball and didn’t let themselves or staff get distracted.
And in case you’re wondering the BLD concept came about because the city had no money and inadequate park fees. Does that sound familiar?
Cantu and Halford know the BLD story. That’s because they were part of the chess pieces of city government during part of the process. Cantu was mid-management in the planning department and Halford in the police department where he rose to police chief before he retired.
They also know how the game has been played for years in Manteca.
They have it in their power now to put in place a game changer about how big ticket needs and wants are pursued.
Yes, there is always a strong likelihood the process Cantu is proposing could go sideways. The landmines are many.
Assumptions you could characterize as “Father Knows Best” disease, aversion to “Guillotine Politics” from small yet intense buzzsaw backlash for being decisive, to “The Fear Factor” that inspires staff and council to keep going around in circles instead of plotting a course outside their comfort zone.
Three key factors are setting the stage for Cantu’s proposed subcommittee to have the potential to succeed in securing the ground breaking of a new police station in two years or less.
Cantu — who for years has envisioned a new all encompassing city hall that also houses the police department being built somewhere downtown — made it clear in a letter in Friday’s Bulletin he has no problem locating a police station on the South Main Street property.
In the same letter he also expressed the belief you could do all three — homeless navigation center, police station and affordable housing — on the same site. You do that, of course, by going up (instead of sprawling out) with the police station and affordable housing.
Halford, who was a good steward of tax dollars when he was police chief and continues that philosophy today as a councilman, in recent months as the city’s financial standing and the needs of Manteca have become clearer agrees there needs to be more revenue.
But he also has made it clear Manteca can do what voter high growth cities are doing and using what money they have collected in growth fees to leverage needs and use future growth fees to pay the balance of the bill.
It is how Lathrop will have a fully paid for new police station on July 1 when their own police department takes over.
The third key factor is staff.
Interim City Manager Toni Lundgren personifies the desire almost every city employee has to improve Manteca and get things done.
She is constantly stressing — and correctly so — that “it is not about her.” By that she is referencing how the city is now moving forward on a variety of small and medium initiatives that just a year ago were stuck in the mud or moving at the speed of a snail that have suffered a massive coronary.
Clearly she will perform due diligence and make Halford and Cantu aware of other needs and the funding challenges. More importantly when it is clear whatever the council majority wants done, she — and the rest of the staff — will work to make it happen.
The big difference is Manteca has moved beyond the recent “City Managers Du Jour Era”. It included paranoia, control freakiness, and arrogance built around the belief they had all the answers and everyone else on staff were basically idiots. That goes for the wannabe city managers that were pulling strings as well.
There is an opportunity to do something. And if egos can be checked and fears set aside, the approach to set the ground breaking of a new police station in motion could break the logjam.
Better yet, if the city manages to get the navigation center in place, ground broken on a police station, and even do interim steps on Airport Way and Main Street as well as similar projects it might convince the public that if they do agree to raise taxes in the future that things they can see and understand will actually get done in the City of Manteca.
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