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The coming train wreck: ACE parking & city leadership wearing blinders
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Want to see the makings of a train wreck?

There’s a big one coming in downtown Manteca.

It won’t happen for four to perhaps a dozen years but it is on its way.

The first train started pulling out of the proverbial station 16 months ago when the deal was struck to secure a key vote for the gas tax hike in the California Legislature. That deal provided funding to extend Altamont Corridor Express commuter train service 24 miles south into Ceres. In doing so it will put the final piece of the puzzle in place for the $11 million downtown transit center Manteca opened almost eight years ago. That puzzle is train service that will come with what are expected to be “initial’ daily boarding of 1,500 riders.

This will mean downtown will finally have its long proclaimed parking problem but for all the wrong reasons for those rooting for Livermore 1.0, Pleasanton 1.0 or even Lodi 1.0 to eventually be replicated in downtown Manteca. There will be between 500 and 750 more cars parking in central Manteca assuming half the train riders use public transit or catch rides to arrive at the station. The odds of these people spending any time in downtown stores or restaurants, as Mayor Ben Cantu astutely pointed out in his campaign, is zilch. Freely translated downtown will have a daytime and early evening parking problem minus the customers needed to provide the lifeblood for pumped up commerce.

It takes two trains for a train wreck.

City leaders will make sure that happens on Tuesday, May 14, when they conduct a general plan hearing that will include a forward thinking plan that is arguably the best shot at breathing more life into a downtown that is holding its own to take it up two or three notches to a robust, teeming city center full of life 24/7 with robust culture and entertainment along with even more vibrant commerce.

That’s because a new land use zone — or vision, if you will – for central Manteca has been wisely encompassed into the proposed update to the state mandated planning document that serves as the blueprint for city growth.

The new zone calls for development policies that would build a 24/7 population in the city’s core to provide basic support for more businesses and restaurants that would be able to flourish by attracting customers from throughout the city. Essentially a core population would provide an economic base essential to attracting private sector investment key to developing the social cultural appeal that virtually everyone says they want to see in downtown.

It would require an infusion of apartments and condos into the central district. That would be accomplished not just by higher densities but encouraging projects — primarily redevelopment given the dearth of available land — that has retail and dining on the first floor and housing on the second and possible third floors.

Manteca has been dealt a couple of aces that it can parlay into a winning hand or squander.

One of them literally is an ace — the Altamont Corridor Express train service.

In its current form it is a big plus for the community but not so much for downtown thanks to current thinking. That’s because as simply a station to snag commuters from across the community and out-of-town locales such as Escalon, Oakdale, and even the foothills all it will do is bring 500 to 750 cars downtown where they will be parked for 8 to 12 hours while people commute to jobs, work, and commute back.

Having a 21st century transit station with robust train connections and bus service located in a city’s heart is an ace as well.

It is why Cambay Group — arguably the shrewdest and most forward thinking developer in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — is preparing to create a transit village with housing in apartments and condos for 1,500 people to cluster around the proposed Valley Link rail connection to the Pleasanton/Dublin BART station when it is extended to River Islands at Lathrop.

Cambay Group has made all the right moves so far even though at the times they were made people thought they were nuts. The transit village is more of the same.

Manteca has two other aces — both which are even rarer to hold.

The third is the fact Manteca can, without a doubt, count on being a city of 120,000 plus residents in relative short order. That will happen if most of the projects approved already are built out. The only thing stopping it from happening is for the entire San Francisco Bay Area to slip into the Pacific Ocean.

You may not like it but the odds are overwhelming Manteca within 10 to 16 years will have 120,000 residents and there is essentially no way to stop it although you could mount an attempt to do so that would only make what unfolds less than stellar.

What needs to be done is shape growth so that Manteca will be a vibrant city of 120,000 plus.

This is where the fourth ace in Manteca’s hand comes into play.

There is only one large undeveloped parcel in downtown and that is the site of the old Manteca Bean Co. almost directly across the street from the existing southern edge of the transit center parking lot. Across Grant Street from the bean company property is a reasonable sized parcel that is easy to convert to other uses — the former Perry & Sons office and truck weigh station now home to Roto-Rooter.

Some see the former bean warehouse property as a parking structure for the transit center. Mayor Cantu sees it — along with the acquisition of nearby property including the Sherman-Williams Paint Store and Hospice Hope Chest among others — as the site for Manteca’s new city hall.
The parking structure would stack cars that could be easily parked long Moffat in an extension of the transit center parking or even along the street. No one else is parking along Moffat. All you have to do is ban truck parking and restrict parking on the street in the neighborhood between Manteca High and Grant Street to residents only and you can easily pick up enough spaces along Moffat when coupled with extended transit center parking to accommodate the flood of commuters.

Better yet, end the truck route on Moffat at Eckert’s except for local deliveries and deploy roundabouts at Sherman and Garfield avenues. That will slow traffic as well as enhance safety with the coming reorientation of the front of Manteca High to face Moffat Boulevard.

Bringing city hall downtown would squander valuable space without adding to the type of foot traffic that makes places like Livermore and Pleasanton thrive as city centers for dining, cultural, and social events.

The former bean company site along with the Perry property and perhaps a few adjoining parcels would be ideal for new a transit village type of development with shops, services, and dining on the ground floor and housing above.

It might not happen until the city gets closer to 100,000 and the city’s demographics keep getting stronger but it can be a viable option for the private sector.

A large parking structure would squander the opportunity train service in downtown creates to leverage a true transit village experience where housing tends to cater to younger people on an upperward mobility curve. They can walk across the street to ride to jobs in the Silicon Valley while napping or working via wireless service on a train and return home in the evening to enjoy a semi-urban lifestyle in housing that is much more affordable than west of the Altamont Pass.


Manteca has two things that could turn into big lemons — a hemmed in downtown and a transit center that could easily dump 750 more cars on downtown Manteca without nary a dime in economic benefit. But those lemons can also be combined to make lemonade.

But as things stand now you can hear the trains a’ coming and it looks as if downtown will be ground zero for a massive train wreck of squandered opportunities.