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City may be operating biggest illegal homeless ‘encampment’ in Manteca
homeless shelter
The City of Manteca’s homeless emergency shelter is on property the city is legally obligated under state law to honor a request to sell it to the Manteca Unified School District but four months after MUSD’s formal request the city hasn’t acted.

The biggest illegal homeless ‘encampment’ in Manteca might just be one operated by the city.

It’s located in plain sight at 555 Industrial Park Drive.

And why it might be illegal has everything to do with a directive former Gov. Jerry Brown made in 2011, municipal foot dragging, and a severe case of situational ethics.

The homeless encampment is the emergency shelter. It sits on land that is not owned by the city buy rather the successor agency to the Manteca Redevelopment Agency that’s almost for all practical purposes controlled by the city.

“Almost” is a severe understatement as the City of Manteca — as well as other jurisdictions that had redevelopment agencies — was ordered by a legal act of the California Legislature not just to cease existing but to sell surplus property that did not have a viable project tied to it that’s was moving forward back in 2011.

In an “only in Manteca” story, the state agency set up to make sure such sales took place and money from the proceeds was distributed proportionately to local government concerns based on property tax rates has been shut down for several years.

That’s because apparently every other city in California except Manteca — whose official city amphibian should be a dead tortoise — has followed the state mandate within the time frame allowed and sold off such property. Whatever state oversight of RDA cleanup functions existed has been collapsed into another Sacramento agency.

Meanwhile the City of Manteca continues to “squat” on RDA land that belongs to the successor agency. Squatting is an appropriate word given another surplus RDA parcel coveted by the city to place the homeless navigating center/shelter for years since the demise of the RDA the successor agency has collected rent from American Modular Homes to store finished modular structures.

The city, apparently not satisfied that they have managed to circumvent a clear state directive for more than a decade, is upping the ante.

The Manteca Unified School District, as allowed by state law, in October sent a formal notice to the city saying they wanted to buy the 4.9 acres where the city’s emergency homeless shelter sits. It is also where the 57,000-square-foot former Qualex building stands. Other government agencies get first crack at such surplus property and are only required to pay the appraised value.

The district wants the site for a central warehouse complex. They are currently paying $300,000 a year renting space in industrial buildings. Based on the cost of constructing a similar facility against making improvements to the Qualex structure and ending the need to pay rent the district — read that Manteca taxpayers — will be money ahead of the game within 6 years or so.

Guess what the city has done with that formal request? We know they haven’t formally responded to the school district. We know they are legally required to sell surplus property to other government agencies if such a request is made. We know four months have passed.

When contacted school district officials to their credit said they don’t want to get into a tiff with the city over what is right or wrong and whether the foot dragging is legal over the Qualex site. But they also made it clear they have to move forward.

If that happens, the City of Manteca’s actions once again on the Qualex property they used the RDA to purchase back in 2006 for $3.6 million to remodel into a police station that was badly needed then and is even more so today will cost taxpayers big bucks.

The RDA sunk almost $5 million into the property between the purchase and some basic retrofits. The property today is worth roughly a third of what was it was when the RDA purchased it based on the most recent appraisal the city commissioned.

And now if the city manages to basically drive away the school district from buying the building and forcing them into a much more expensive solution it could easily add millions to the wasted total of tax dollars.

As much as city leadership over the years has treated RDA funds as fmad money, it is money diverted from property taxes a large swath of Manteca property each year. It was money diverted from police staffing and street maintenance so the city could pursue economic development, fight blight, and fund affordable housing.

It is money that is still being taken out of property tax payments of those Manteca residents and businesses that were within the RDA boundaries. Those property owners will still be on the hook for RDA expenditures including the Qualex fiasco for roughly 20 more years as the bonds haven’t been paid off.

Inner City Action back in October was awarded $298,000 to operate an emergency shelter in the Qualex parking lot through March 31, 2022.

If the city extends the contract and the use of Qualex for a homeless shelter after March 31 while essentially refusing to process the school district’s request then those who make that happen with their actions and/or votes have a lot of explaining to do not just to taxpayers but perhaps the California Attorney General’s office.

Clearly the games the City of Manteca is playing with the Qualex site are not following the path state law requires.

The fact the sale of the property to the school district in a timely manner creates a problem with the city’s snail pace move on a homeless solution reeks of situation ethics.

It is also disingenuous.

The city could have Inner City Action pack up the shelter tent and move it to the South Main site where Manteca officials plan to develop a homeless navigation center. They then could move forward with the sale of the Qualex property they were required to do so a decade ago.

The status of the South Main property is no different than the Qualex property.

However, such a move would be akin to poking a grouchy sleeping 1,500-pound grizzly bear in the nose. It would shift residential neighborhood opponents to the site into overdrive. And because it would be impossible to get a visual block in place in such a short time frame — the 7-foot masonry wall the city envisions to secure the homeless navigation operation that they plan to relegate to the back half of the parcel — the homeless mess in all of its glory would be fully exposed to heavily traveled South Main Street.

The optics would be enough to trigger a revolution at the ballot box.

The city, of course, could follow Councilman Dave Breitenbucher’s fallback solution he never has let go off and house the homeless shelter at least temporarily by the base of the water tower on Wetmore Street. The space is cramped but it would be only temporary, right?

But that is likely to still irk residents that live a block of so away, create a super-sized magnet to attract homeless at the edge of downtown and give ACE commuters starting in 2023 an eyeful.

The city’s inability to make a decision and follow through on it — and if they happen by chance to do so to do not do it in a timely manner — is to blame for the predicament they are in.

Now the only question is whether their behavior has crossed the line of being lawful based on their apparent stalling tactics with Manteca Unified.


 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