Mike Morowit was adamant.
Issues surrounding the homeless was the No.1 issue in Manteca for people that were approaching him about municipal matters.
The City Councilman was not thrilled that staff was recommending hiring only one community resource officer focusing on tackling homeless issues rather than the two that people on the frontlines preferred. The reason for two CROs was simple. It would provide a seven-day a week effort as opposed to just four days.
When staff said the city “couldn’t afford it” when they were sitting on an undesignated reserve of $9 million in the general fund, Morowit pressed his case with fellow council members. The council unanimously voted to put two CROs in place to tackle homeless issues. Staff came back two weeks later and miraculously found another $110,000 in the budget without making cuts or tapping into the general fund reserve.
The first CRO — then booking officer Mike Kelly — was on the job within weeks. The second one was expected to be hired and on the job in several months.
Fast forward to today. Fifteen months after Morowit and his elected peers made it clear tackling homeless issues was a top priority, the second CRO is not yet hired although that is now promised to happen next month. Meanwhile the village people are back at the council with pitchforks.
The way to calm down the village people and win their confidence isn’t through educating them about the homeless. It’s by the city getting its act together.
The city’s list of possible additional strategies to deal with the homeless at Tuesday’s council meeting is superficial at best. That’s because it doesn’t address how the city itself contributes to homeless issues and what citizens now are seeing as an equally if not more pressing problem — the proliferation of day vagrancy by people who don’t meet the definition of being street homeless.
Back in the mid-1990s an elected leader frustrated the El Rey hadn’t been razed, arranged a tour of the inside of the boarded up, burned out shell of the once stately movie theater. The inside was littered liberally with used condoms and needles. Graffiti marred the walls.
He had been told by police that the El Rey had become a crash pad of sorts for some wayward teens but mostly drugged out younger adults. It was the same for dozens upon dozens of foreclosed homes from the Woodward Park neighborhood to central Manteca during the housing crisis.
The cancerous scars on Manteca weren’t the exclusive handiwork of the homeless — not by far.
The city did get it right eventually with foreclosed homes with the police and code enforcement working to determine who the legal owners were and then — after the city council adopted a no-nonsense ordinance establishing upkeep standards for vacant property — proceeded to crackdown on trespassers as well as irresponsible property owners.
A similar effort is desperately needed now. Everything the city has suggested is fine and should be done including the education bit although I’m not too sure if doing video interviews with the homeless is going to stoke any sense of compassion from a store owner who has to clean up feces every morning or employees of chain stores that have had to clean out feces, condoms, needles and other debris from sheds for sale.
Which brings us to the thing that is really missing from the city’s list of strategies — more muscular rules dealing with vacant and fire damaged buildings and stepped up enforcement of property maintenance ordinances that have the ability to reduce the breeding grounds for vagrancy.
Hiring three more code enforcement officers, ordering them to be pro-active with vacant and fire damaged buildings, and taking the legal steps to force compliance is a much more judicious use of $300,000 or so dollars than squirreling it away in reserves. That’s because prevention of blight is a lot cheaper in the long run for the city than dealing with issues that grow from the spread of blight.
As for the second CRO, it is symbolic of the entrenched culture at city hall. It should never take 15 months and counting to fill a vacant position let alone one that the council not only made it clear was a top priority but also one that the council wanted but key staff obviously thought differently.
Manteca since the days of Bob Adams as city manager when the council started living off bonus bucks to balance general fund spending instead of making tough decisions the city has had an unwritten policy that virtually all new budgeted positions approved in July aren’t filled, or the search to fill them doesn’t start, until January to “save money.” There are exceptions but there are also cases were vacancies come up when the city is not on the financial ropes that are left vacant for months to “save money.”
The “save money at all costs” culture is much different than one where you maximize every tax dollar spent. You can’t make up for lost time. And cutting corners in that manner leads to situations as the years go by where you have a police department than is at least 11 officers below the widely accepted minimum standard of one officer per 1,000 residents.
Instead of saving money maybe they should be worrying about saving Manteca.