The City of Manteca has tried pursuing a better downtown six times since 1963 by employing the same strategy — hiring a consultant to help determine what merchants, property owners, community and the city wanted and needed.
Five times the city hired a consultant and five times they get a plan that ended up collecting dust on a bookshelf.
The one time it was somewhat different was in 1998. A 25-member citizen group dubbed the Vision 2020 Task Force explored what made other cities livable and what Manteca needed to do by year 2020 to enhance everything from employment opportunities and housing options to quality-of-life amenities to enhancing downtown. A consultant was then hired to step up the downtown portion of the plan. Things that had been well vented by the committee and had fairly strong buy in by the community were incorporated into that downtown plan and moved forward including the mural project, expanding and enhancing Library Park, extending the Tidewater motif for street lights and traffic signals onto downtown streets, and pursuing a transit center/gathering place.
The consultant then led more specific discussions in downtown zoning standards, alley entrances and other projects that were tied more specifically to buildings and the type of businesses that should be allowed and the 25-member task force was disbanded. Unlike what happened with the 25-member task force that actively worked to encourage community buy in, there was no such connection with the consultant. As a result, the more detailed downtown plan joined all the others in simply being just a bunch of expensive words in a report.
to chamber input
City Manager Elena Reyes is trying to break the cycle.
“We don’t need a consultant,” Reyes said.
It was that message she gave the Manteca Chamber of Commerce that has been working closely with downtown interests to try and move things forward after she sat down and talked with them following the City Council’s decision this past summer to not hire yet another consultant. And once the chamber agreed, the message was delivered to municipal staff as well.
In the past, the city would simply walk away when either the hiring of a consultant was recommended and rejected or if a plan stalled after the consultant collected their final paycheck.
And to make sure the do-it-yourself approach succeeds, Reyes suggested breaking it down into do-able sections that also have their own unique sets of issues.
“We’re going to approach it one phase at the time,” Reyes sad.
The first phase is roughly the two or so blocks that the 100 and 200 blocks of Yosemite Avenue straddles.
Initial efforts are to determine what zoning and rule changes the city needs to make to set the stage for private sector investment in that area as well as make it easier to open a business.
“We (the downtown interests, community and city) already know what we want,” Reyes said.
And because of that, Reyes said the real focus should be on making the changes needed to move forward.
She said down the road it may be decided that a separate private sector controlled entity or the help of a consultant might be needed but for now and the foreseeable future she believes Manteca can make progress toward growing downtown’s attraction without outside experts to tell the city and private sector what needs to be done.
Reyes said she is confident the approach can work.
Different parts of
She noted specific areas have unique issues and problems
For example, the two blocks of East Yosemite Avenue are narrow providing different challenges than say portions of Center Street where there is more room to work with whether it is a wider street, wider sidewalks, less traffic, or buildings that have setbacks instead of hugging the sidewalk.
Zoning may sound mundane but it has major implications.
Fifteen years ago after a consultant and planning staff said it wasn’t a good idea, the Manteca Chamber of Commerce pushed for a repeal of off-street parking requirements if a different business other than what had been grandfathered in for a specific building were to open up. Then after the council agreed, the city’s Planning Department staff at the time didn’t and essentially dragged their feet implementing the council directive. Finally after six months the council in no uncertain terms told staff to implement the rule abandoning off street parking requirements for uses that weren’t grandfathered.
Within a month two significant private sector investments occurred.
Dentist Ricardo Cuevas was able to purchase the former dental offices of Dr. Henry he had been leasing but couldn’t buy because he couldn’t secure a loan. Banks didn’t want to make a loan for a client to buy a building that had restricted use especially in a non-medical office area such as downtown. The city’s restriction regarding parking meant that down the road if Cuevas went to sell it the only potential buyers would be other dentists. Cuevas then made a considerable investment in the building.
The former Manteca Mortuary at Center and Maple had been vacant for years. The reason was simple: If anything other than a funeral home opened up there under the city’s restrictive parking riles, they’d have to provide additional off street parking. That despite the fact a funeral should have conversably more parking impact and there was no space to park cars on the property.
Once the restriction was lifted, it was remodeled and opened as a day spa. It has been a successful day spa/styling salon now for going on 15 years.
After that a number of endeavors moved forward unencumbered by the old parking restrictions that imposed a tourniquet to private sector dollars being invested. Among the programs made possible was the remodeling and expansion of the brick building on the northeast corner of Yosemite and Lincoln that made the Iron Horse Deli and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory possible.