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Up to City Council to steer Manteca clear of icebergs & chart course to paradise-like port
city hall
Manteca City Hall is in transition.

Your toilet is still flushing.

Water keeps coming out of the faucet.

Your garbage is picked up and disposed of properly each week.

Streets are far from being crumbling completely although some are heading there sooner than later.

Police come when you call 9-1-1.

And in most cases you can count on firefighters being there within 5 minutes of getting a call that a loved one is experiencing a heart attack.

This is why most of us aren’t hyperventilating over the latest development at 1001 West Center Street.

The impending departure of Assistant City Manager Lisa Blackmon at the end of May coming on the heels of Miranda Lutzow stepping down as city manager to head back to Canada leaving five senior management positions to fill with permanent hires including the police chief and fire chef is jarring enough. But add the fact that there will now be no “permanent” person filing any of the city’s top management spots that has been in their current position for even a year with the mean average being closer to six months you’re liable to get whiplash.

This does not mean there are not good — or even exceptional — leaders in any of those positions.

It all goes down to how the dynamics play out.

Change can be good especially if it gets people to thinking about — and executing — different solutions that can be more cost effective either in terms of spending less money or getting more bang for the buck.

Clean slates, which is what Mayor Ben Cantu and many who voted for him have inferred over the years is just what Manteca might need, can take you to better places assuming there is clear, fairly focused, and reasonable expectations from the top.

Clean slates can also plunge you into chaos. That is especially true if leadership at the top is missing in action, is impulsive, suffers from the hummingbird syndrome of zipping in all different directions, doesn’t understand real limitations, adopts a “we want the world and we want it now” attitude, or degenerates into infighting.

There is little doubt whoever is the next interim city manager and then the “permanent” city manager after a thorough search is done is extremely key to Manteca’s future.

But even more so is the tone and expectations set by the City Council.

Depending upon your school of thought and take on city politics we are either on a runaway train heading toward the edge of the cliff or are on course to successfully steer clear of ship sinking icebergs and setting sail to paradise.

It is why a little advice might be in order for the council and mayor given the realistic reality is going to be somewhere in between. That is providing they don’t gamble with the future of a city of 87,000 and chart paths that are a recipe for disaster while keeping in mind moon shot projects, unless they are well grounded, can have as devastating consequences as ineptness and complacency.

*Do not keep coming up with more and more projects or goals even if it is just talking about them in passing until what is on the city’s plate is addressed or well on its way to being attained.

The rush of trying to fix all woes and shortfalls all at once can seem exhilarating. In most cases though it ends up being overwhelming and leaves employees feel as if they are treading water or, worse yet, drowning.

*Do not think about your political skin.

It is clear that the enterprise accounts — water, wastewater, and solid waste— need two rate increases each. The first, which will hopefully be phased in over five years, is to cover past sins of inter-fund  borrowing that must be repaid under law and hasn’t, as well as making sure there is adequate funds coming in to cover day-to-day operations.

The second rate increase that will need to piggyback on the first is for replacement projects going forward. Equipment and pipelines age and have to be replaced.

Why do two rate hikes? It is critical with a $20.5 million deficit looming on June 30 in the water and wastewater accounts that a rate hike must be in place post haste. It will take more time to analyze the two systems and see what aging infrastructure needs to be replaced on a 5 to 10 year horizon instead of performing much more expensive emergency repairs and replacement.

*Resist the urge to finger-point.

Contrary to popular belief the $20.5 million sewer and water deficits’ roots can be traced back to a time when Cantu was not mayor and before Gary Singh was even on the planning commission.

And as much as the mayor loves to provide history lessons with his added perspective regarding municipal missteps throughout the decades, there is plenty of blame to go around for everything that is perceived as not-so-good at city hall including reshuffling the senior management deck.

Yes, people will be finger-pointing at the current council, especially those with fan clubs that basically despise them. This, however, is not a time for city leadership to degenerate into Trump-Pelosi bickering mode.

*Set specific goals for the next 18 months so people can judge whether the current council is doing its job or simply spinning wheels.

Based on council posturing and initiatives that have gotten as much flight time as Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose and then ended up being permanently grounded the list is fairly easy to compose.

*Widen Main Street to four lanes through downtown Manteca using pavers.

*Impose community facilities district fees for police, fire, storm system upkeep, and in-neighborhood street maintenance on all new growth going forward that as not passed the legal point of no return for such charges.

*Complete the long-promised street work in Mayors Park and Springtime Estates.

*Promote cultural and social engagement in connection with strengthening downtown not as much as an economic center but the cultural heart of the city. This includes maximizing the transit station and the building in the process of being purchased for a “satellite city hall” as well as taking the lead on such endeavors as the coming Market on Maple.

*Make “interim” repairs on the roughest parts of the Airport Way corridor.

*Update all growth fees and make sure they have a construction inflation clause for authentic annual adjustments.

*Secure the 8.1 acres for the homeless navigation center/affordable housing while keeping homeless initiatives moving forward.

Other things that are more foundational and can’t really be seen by the public that are critical for a smooth running and to set the stage for the future should be on the list as well.

But the previously mentioned are things citizens can see, or in the case of setting fees on enterprise accounts and growth, will be able to feel the impact of both financially and in services not deteriorating or collapsing.

One should not wish the current council ill.

That’s because if they can’t maneuver through current challenges, follow through and deliver on tough decisions regarding fees, make sure money collected is spent on things needed now and not squirreled way to grow an even bigger rainy day fund, and gain the confidence of the majority of residents Manteca’s future is going to be less than optimum and possibly a disaster.

As much as you might dislike whoever on the council for transgressions real or perceived, if they fail to do what is needed at this juncture to put the city on the best possible course, you and everyone else in Manteca will pay the price.


 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