Garfield Avenue between Moffat Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue is a symbol of what ails Manteca.
It also offers an opportunity to set the stage for a better future.
The street dissects the Manteca High campus that is a few years shy of being 100 years old.
As such, it presents a significant safety and security concern. Part of that was addressed in a half-hearted way more than 10 years ago when the city embraced a school district request to close a section of the street to traffic during the school day to enhance the safety of students moving between classes.
In terms of security in today’s world it represents a nightmare.
It also stands in the way of making sure as Manteca High is as functional and effective as possible to continue serving the education needs of future generations will into its second century.
What needs to be done is simple: The city needs to give or sell the segment of Garfield Avenue from Mikesell Avenue to the southern edge of the student parking lot to the Manteca Unified School District.
This will allow several things to occur:
uThe district will be able to look at making the campus as secure as possible against the unthinkable.
uIt will allow the upcoming Measure G modernization project to be designed in the most effective and cost efficient manner.
uThe high school campus could be master planned for ultimate build-out to accommodate growth.
There are some practical matters. When the gates are not in place there is still heavy school-related pedestrian traffic crossing Garfield to go from one point on the campus to another. Besides safety there is liability exposure for the city. While liability shouldn’t be a major issue the fact the conditions create a definite— and easily fixable — safety problem.
Some might argue the city should wait until the district makes the first move which could come with the modernization. That, however, would not be a responsible stance for the city for several reasons. The most obvious is the major safety concern exists now. Also it is in Manteca’s best interests to make sure Manteca High is planned for the best possible outcome out of the proverbial gate.
Manteca High as it stands now is the only high school campus that the general public can walk through when classes are in session. It is also the only campus where the homeless use the stadium as well as shrubbery as overnight accommodations on a fairly regular basis.
The school monitors and security staff do a Herculean job at Manteca High. That said they are hampered by the relatively wide open access the public has to a large segment of the campus given two traffic gates are the extent of the school’s ability to control access when Garfield Avenue is closed.
Garfield Avenue is far from being a critical street for traffic flow.
It is, however, a popular cut through for the homeless between the Moffat Boulevard and Yosemite Avenue corridors especially at night.
And because it’s a public street it means less than reputable individuals among the transient population in motels along Moffat that have a fairly high number of dust ups with Manteca Police can — and still do — walk through the campus by using Garfield Avenue when the street is blocked by the gates while school is in session.
Fortunately nothing horrific has happened to date because of Garfield Avenue splitting the campus. If you talk with the teachers and some of the encounters they’ve had with unsavory individuals in a bid to keep students are safe, the absence of a tragedy is a minor miracle.
Two decades ago, a man walked onto the Manteca High campus attacked and raped a girl in a high school bathroom after school. Before that happened, it was unthinkable that a rape would happen on campus but it did.
The open campus that existed at the time was tightened up after the incident as much as possible.
Manteca High is living on borrowed time.
It is not a question of if the situation with Garfield Avenue will lead to a traffic incident but a question of when.
Manteca civic leaders need to work to reduce the potential for crime and enhance traffic safety. And one of the best places to start is to approach Manteca Unified about acquiring a segment of Garfield Avenue.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.