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How to find the political will Mayor Cantu says councils have lacked when it comes to downtown
lancaster downtown
A downtown street in Lancaster with diagonal parking in the middle that inspired Councilman Gary Singh’s vision for Yosemite in downtown Manteca. The only difference would be the elimination of curb side parking for travel lanes due to the narrow width of Yosemite Avenue.

Manteca residents elect council members.

They do not elect department heads and city managers.

Nor do they elect consultants.

And for that reason it is time to stop spinning wheels when it comes to downtown.

It is clear after 53 years that some type of broad based consensus much more specific than simply wanting to improve downtown’s future is needed from the council before they hire a consultant.

When the council decides they want to build a road to go from point A to point B they know the route they want to take. The details — nuances often you will — access points and such — are fleshed out primarily by staff and consultants vetting the issues with the public.

It’s time to use the same approach to downtown.

Not to slam staff, but the full-scale exercise in futility they want the council to embrace Tuesday has been done in the “two-prong approach” format they propose at least three before among various downtown master planning endeavors.

They’ve made it a tad more appealing by harping on a “walkable downtown.” But quite frankly before staff gushes and sings the praises of making Main Street, downtown, or anywhere in Manteca “walkable” they might want to spend money on actually addressing uplifted sidewalks and other pedestrian tripping hazards that riddle a good number of public sidewalks under the city’s jurisdiction making them “un-walkable”.

And as much as Mayor Ben Cantu whose determination to do something to enhance downtown that seemingly makes him come across as Sybil with his seemingly shifting positions, it is a behavior born in the 53-year quagmire.

If you roll the council meeting video library back a few years ago, you will come across what arguably was the most sensible suggestion any elected leader has made regarding downtown in the last five decades.

The mayor, in short, made the case that the city didn’t need to hire another consultant until after a general decision more specific than “improve downtown” was made on what they wanted to do.

Cantu noted downtown in terms of traffic, economic potential, and such had essentially been studied more than World War II. The mayor asserted the time had come to build political will instead of everyone running for cover once a consultant’s study was done and whatever was proposed started coming under fire whether it was an all-out frontal attack, isolated sniping, or even friendly fire.

His idea was for elected leaders using past studies, looking at solutions they were familiar with that other cities used, and leaning on community input to help devise the outline of what they wanted to happen downtown.

Once the council agreed and had buy in to a more specific concept, then the consultant could be hired to hammer out a detailed plan that had a component identifying steps required to implant actions that would move downtown forward to reach the vision. Such an approach would have to require political buy in at the start of a planning process as opposed to looking at the end product and deciding it just isn’t their style or something they would be willing to weather attacks and criticism to keep moving forward.

That was what was behind the formation of the council subcommittee on downtown. Cantu was part of this subcommittee until he was replaced by his colleagues when he let his enthusiasm for what he wanted to see eclipse input from his fellow subcommittee appointee and input for stakeholders to shape a workable framework.

A perfect example of how a consensus first approach might work is what to do with Yosemite Avenue where sidewalks were widened in spots after Highway 120 traffic was diverted to the Bypass in the 1970s.

Councilman Gary Singh, as an example, wants to see Yosemite Avenue made “walkable” to encourage the private sector development of dining spots with al fresco seating, low-key entertainment venues and boutique shops that a lot of people say they want to see in downtown,

He clearly gets Main Street with a host of extremely viable businesses from banks to furniture stores along it isn’t the place for such a strategy. Singh gets it because unlike staff or consultants he has a clear understanding of Manteca issues and pitfalls. That also rings true for other council members. It is why they were elected to office.

What Singh is suggesting isn’t far off from the concept Cantu has said he would like to see. And it clearly touches on insights offered by every current and former council member on what would be ideal to further improve the dynamics of downtown.

Traffic is the big issue that needs to be addressed given how Manteca — unlike other downtowns that have been converted into “walkable” areas — did not get pushed off to the side as the city grew but is still in the center of things.

It is clear from the point staff is embracing too much traffic can kill efforts to transform a city’s center. But at the same time Main Street — and to a lesser degree — Yosemite Avenue — is a key street for traffic movement that will only increase as the city grows.

Breaking up the Yosemite Avenue flow will have far less negative impacts and will likely result in changes to downtown people say they want a lot quicker.

Singh would reroute through traffic to a “bypass road” running along the Tidewater from the railroad crossing near Library Park to tie in with Moffat at an existing four-way signal at Main Street.

The city owns parking lots in the area impacted. They would have to pay to relocate Don’s Mobile Glass if that were to happen.

Singh noted businesses on the south side of the 200 block of West Yosemite Avenue would then be able to develop two entrances.

Traffic heading east on Moffat have numerous points to turn left to get to downtown points. If they are trying to reach the Target/Home Depot area they can turn in Spreckels. Given Moffat is a straight shot and the fact if you eliminate parking it could accommodate four lanes, it would move east-west traffic through downtown more efficiently.

It also has the bonus of Moffat connecting to the new Austin Road interchange that Caltrans will break ground on next year as well as provide access to existing and future southeast Manteca neighborhoods.

Yosemite Avenue from Library Park east to Manteca High would modify an upgrade Lancaster did. Singh would eliminate parallel parking, push travel lanes to the curb and create diagonal parking in the center

It would add parking spaces and work to reduce speeds which in turns makes Yosemite Avenue more “walkable”.

No consultant — or even staff member — is going to come up with a solution like that. It’s because they only see downtown and Main Street as a textbook planning issues instead of part of the somewhat unique reality Manteca is dealing with complete with a major rail line slicing through Manteca with eight at grade-crossings.

It would make more sense for the council to explore, debate, and then —  if that is what they can buy into politically which is necessary for the follow through to make it work — embrace a general concept involving traffic flow much like they did in Main Street before a “pained” staff derailed their resolve.

And after there is buy in on the east-west traffic issue then hire the consultant to come up with the plan to make it work as well as add the other elements to enhance downtown within the clear perimeter the council has created.



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