Ah, for the good of days when Manteca’s city leaders were debating the wisdom of spending tax dollars on a brass statue of a family welcoming folks to “The Family City” somewhere in the vicinity of the Highway 99 interchange on Yosemite Avenue.
Today most people would be happy if the city could simply find a way to evict the homeless guy with the illegal encampment complete with a home office along the south off-ramp perhaps a 100 feet or so from the spot in the median planter on Yosemite Avenue where the mayor first suggested placing a statute of a family.
Last month the council latched onto a slightly less lofty goal than placing a statue at the city’s entrance. They made one of the city’s top tier goals for the budget year starting July 1 to “beautify” the city.
That, of course, is akin to calling a skunk a cat. What they really mean is find ways to reverse what might politely be called the “trashing of Manteca.”
If you haven’t noticed there seems to be an all-out assault on Manteca between criminals stripping cars and leaving them along city streets, the homeless that are hoarders setting up camps where ever they can take advantage of the government bureaucracy’s inability to coordinate with other agencies to find more responsive solutions to addressing blight, graffiti vandals, illegal dumping, and those who occupy property — whether they own or rent — whose yards would embarrass poor people living on Tobacco Road.
It is clear that Manteca needs to get its act together.
First the city needs to revisit things that actually worked in the past instead of acting like they need to re-invent everything.
Let’s start with illegal homeless encampments that are admittedly the biggest problem along Caltrans right-of-way. While there are lots of situations that are difficult to enforce when it comes to illegal camping, setting up housekeeping within a state freeway right-of-way isn’t one of them.
Yes, this is Caltrans’ jurisdiction but that shouldn’t stop the city from finding a solution. While it is clearly a safety issue the back eye the encampments provide are on Manteca not Caltrans.
Years ago when the 120 Bypass right-of-way was burning non-stop because Caltrans wasn’t aggressive enough to abate weeds, Manteca got nowhere with simply corresponding with District 10 officials. So they stepped up their game and started issuing the state weed abatement citations and hauled them into court.
That got Caltrans’ attention. Now the weeds are abated before the Bypass turns into weed burning training for the Manteca Fire Department.
This time around instead of a hammer, the city should try a carrot.
They need to work out protocols where the city, not Caltrans, on a monthly basis, can clear out the encampments. Consider it a hyped up version of Adopt-a-Highway. The city does all the work but Caltrans pays for the tipping fees to dispose of the junk.
The city — as they have in the past — could use those required to perform community work as part of their court sentences along with municipal crews. The work would be done on a Saturday. The city workers can be paid overtime so it doesn’t detract from their regular workload.
It may require waiting until we slip down a tier or so in the COVID protocols if court ordered community service labor can’t be used at the moment.
As for graffiti, it is clear that the Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) are worth their weight in gold. But they have been sidelined during the pandemic.
Until they are able to return to doing the incredible positive impact they have on the quality of life in Manteca, how about hiring a couple of “consultants” to handle graffiti.
Their task would be to log and photograph the graffiti as SHARP did and then paint it over.
If the city offered a contract for $1,200 for 48 hours of week for such services with the proviso and time not needed to address graffiti is devoted to litter collection, they could bridge the gap until SHARP is back in the saddle.
The city would supply the paint and rollers while whoever has the contract would provide their own vehicle.
A two-person endeavor could work three 8 hour days. That figures out to $25 an hour. Keep in mind the city would not be paying for things such as the vehicle and payroll related costs. A non-profit could even do it. Inner City Action comes to mind.
Such a plan would come to $64,400 a year. It’s a small price to pay to prevent blight from establishing a beachhead.
And if an organization like Inner City gets the gig they could provide jobs for the former homeless they helped get off the streets.
Another idea that could help keep the city on top of things is to create a webpage on the city’s website devoted to how citizens can help Manteca stop from being turned into a cesspool.
Ideally it would include downloading a user friendly version of the city’s reporting app tailored to fighting blight. It would zero in in how to use the app to report issues such as graffiti, illegal dumping, pilfered and abandoned shopping carts, homeless encampments, stripped cars, street lights that aren’t functioning and other items that don’t rise to a level a code enforcement officer needs to get involved. The app wedded to a smartphone’s camera along with GPS capabilities being activated should provide the city with a clear picture of where the problems are.
Yes, the city’s reporting app can do that now but it is clear it is not being marketed right.
If going forward and the SHARP resume graffiti abatement and other quality of life issues such as abandoned shopping carts and the city lacks staff to do handle illegal dumping and such, they could contract out for “x” hours of blight-related work a week.
As for code enforcement issues on private property, here’s a crazy idea. Hire more code enforcement officers so that the city can make a difference. Better yet, after you’ve made sure all current positions allocated are filled and have doubled the staffing with new positions the council can decide every year on one or two problem issues such as vehicles parked in yards that they want to see citywide proactive enforcement instead of simply waiting for people to make complaints.
What will probably happen in reality is the city will give lip service to the issue, address a thing or two and then let everything backslide.
Now there is a challenge for the regime in charge of the “new day” at City Hall. Let’s see if they can tackle a quality of life and blight issues effectively and then make sure what progress they make isn’t for naught a year or so later.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org