It’s a move worthy of the late American chess grand master Bobby Fischer.
Should the City of Manteca require a two-thirds vote of the electorate before any land designated agriculture or open space is converted to urban uses such as residential?
Should the City of Manteca require a majority of its voters to approve a subdivision that may pose significant — or add to existing — traffic congestion if all improvements aren’t paid for and installed upfront by the developer and the city?
In a text alert heard around Manteca on Thursday, Delicato Vineyards has made its tiff between its neighbors a citywide issue.
Two smartphone survey questions more than hinted at the end game of the world’s fifth largest winery.
They are willing to engage in an all-out community war on growth or at least make the threat of it clear enough to get what they want.
And what they want, from their perspective, is to protect their $120 million investment from the possibility of being forced by a state agency down the road to install a treatment process for the wastewater they create by crushing and processing wine grapes.
But from the perspective of a dozen or so of their neighbors that have supported their families with small farming operations over the years, Delicato wants to use zoning as a de facto taking of their land to protect their profit margins.
The survey commissioned by Delicato Vineyards that popped up on smartphones of registered voters, revealed the referendum process that the winery launched for what it is — a hollow gesture.
Despite riling up people about the integrity of police and firefighters, traffic congestion, crime, the integrity of individual council members, and the proverbial kitchen sink, at the end of the day if the referendum ever makes it on the ballot at all and passes, it would never do what Delicato wants it to do.
Nor would it do what many people were led to believe it would do when they signed petitions, which is slowdown or stop growth.
All it would have done is reject the adopted general plan document and keep the one fashioned in 2003 in place.
Of course, it would mean development would move forward without built-in assurances the general plan update includes to rectify the city has made with growth.
In short, the voters — the people who don’t run around in the circles of multi-millionaires like Francis Coppola, who sits on the Delicato board and has a piece of the action but are trying to keep their heads above water while raising families — are mere pawns.
Their concerns are expendable in the chess game Delicato is playing.
And make no mistake about it, it is a game.
A very high stakes game involving legal and political maneuvering.
The latest survey may never morph into an actual initiative petition drive.
But rest assured it will be used to hammer a majority of the five council members elected by Manteca residents — and not whoever is holding Delicato’s $120 million debt — into submission.
It’s a cold, calculated and — quite frankly — a brilliant move.
It doesn’t take a genius to anticipate the answers the questions in the latest survey being dangled in front of people for a quick reflexive response in 45 seconds.
Those responses —prompted to be made a clear simplistic fashion by Delicato’s political and legal strategists — will be done with minimal, if any, reflection.
They also will happen without benefit of a thorough debate of the issues at hand and the consequences and/or collateral damage either of the two alluded initiative paths would create.
The survey “data” will be shown to elected officials to get them to roll over without community input.
Wait, you say.
Isn’t Delicato making sounds like they are going to head to the ballot box to give Manteca a chance to debate the issues of growth and planning decisions in the most public way possible in a campaign that ends at the ballot box?
Surely you know the Lucy maneuver.
It’s the one where she tees up the football for Charlie Brown to kick.
And each time, Charlie Brown putting complete faith in Lucy’s actions of being sincere, goes for it and Lucy yanks it away at the last second.
Well, Manteca voters and their signatures are Charlie Brown.
Delicato will use what they can to get get city leaders to submit to their will.
And showing them polling results that shows the voters would overwhelming tie up growth especially over the hot button issue of traffic that is in essence the ultimate chicken or egg first issue when it comes to development, is what they are counting on to get elected leaders to bend.
There’s nothing sinister about it.
Lawyers do it all the time.
You want to avoid going to court in cases where the “facts” make a jury trial dicey at best.
The voters are the ultimate jury.
Delicato has no intention of wanting to risk a long “court case” — read that campaign — where others can present arguments that would likely raise more than a reasonable doubt about the course they are trying to force is really in anyone’s best interests beside that of Delicato Vineyards.
It is much better to devote your energies to pressuring three people to do your bidding than a majority of 47,000 potential voters.
Frankly, Delicato is right in terms of the need to place those two inferred initiatives on the municipal ballot.
A frank, robust and serious discussion and debate on growth and where it is taking Manteca is long overdue.
So is a serious discussion about how government works and how public infrastructure and amenities are financed.
The logic behind Delicato’s suggested initiative is rather simplistic.
It means the first 400 homes built around Woodward Park back in 1999 and 2000 should have $500,000 paid each on top of their mortgage to upgrade Main Street south off the 120 Bypass as well as the interchange.
But that is not what Delicato wants.
They want to dictate the future direction of Manteca behind closed doors in negotiations away from the public eye.
And they brilliantly provided the perfect legal cover for that by concurrently filling a lawsuit against city over the general plan’s environmental certification.
As pending litigation, the Brown Act allows elected leaders and Delicato to decide the city’s future away from public scrutiny. A pending referendum doesn’t afford that type of cover.
After all, you don’t become the world’s fifth largest winery by being a lousy chess player.
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 email@example.com