Jeff Zellner doesn’t want other Manteca families to go through what his did.
Almost two years ago Jeff and his wife were awaken by what sounded like banging on his front door. He checked things out, saw nothing, and assumed some kids were playing doorbell ditch.
The next day he was out helping the Manteca Chamber place signs around town promoting the annual Christmas parade when he got a call from his extremely upset wife who told him she found bullet holes in their young daughter’s bedroom.
He immediately went home and looked at bullets lodged in the door and closet of his daughter’s room as well as a bullet on the floor.
Another inch or two and it could have been tragic.
Manteca Police told him that they long suspected the neighbors of being gang members due to other incidents but couldn’t do anything about it because crime reports hadn’t been filed that would give them the legal leverage that the law required. Their theory was a gang member was running across Zellner’s front yard prompting a rival gang member to shoot toward his house.
Zellner wasn’t going to be satisfied that his family had escaped being serious collateral damage to illegal gang activity. Zellner and his wife had bought in the neighborhood because it had a low crime rate.
“If it could happen here (in our neighborhood), it could happen anywhere,” Zellner said.
So Zellner decided to do something. Police told them that while their hands were tied by the laws, there was a state law that allowed neighbors of a rental where criminal activity was taking place to pressure the landlord. That is exactly what he did. Making it clear they would hold the landlord liable as the process allowed under California law. The renters were evicted.
His family’s story is told by Zellner on his Facebook site “ZellnerForManteca” complete with video of the bullet holes and bullet. It has had more than 8,400 views so far.
Zellner wants Manteca to work harder to fight the gang problem and empower citizens to fight back using the law that targets landlords just like he did.
His supporters include people like Jennifer Christopher of Studio 150 & Spa in downtown Manteca who believe Zellner can step up efforts to address problems the lawless homeless create while helping those on the streets who are not posing a threat to the community.
Christopher posted a connection to Zellner’s Facebook site for a YouTube video addressing her personal experiences with Manteca’s homeless problem she created.
Christopher on the video tells how her business has had numerous broken windows, products stolen, planters smashed, and her property littered with garbage, needles and other drug paraphernalia Some mornings she comes to work and the first thing she has to do is clean up human feces. She has also encountered naked people at mid-day getting dressed and has had homeless performing sex acts behind her building. There was even an incident where an individual was beating another with a gun.
She tells how 18 months ago Zellner came up to her at a Manteca Chamber of Commerce meeting and asked how her business was doing. Christopher relayed what she had been experiencing.
Christopher said Zellner then stepped up and “made every effort” to help her resolve the problem. He arranged meetings with city officials and helped her explain the problems and outline what steps were needed to address the issues.
The link to the video can be found by searching for “Jennifer Christopher” under community on Zellner’s Facebook page.
Zellner — who was homeless as a child for a period of time as his single mom struggled to make ends meet — is currently chairman of the HOPE Family Shelters governing board.
Zellner is part of the “new wave” of candidates aged 24 to their mid-30s who are campaigning a bit differently. Not only do they integrate social media more effectively into their campaigns but they also are bringing new perspectives.
David Cushman, for example, is a 24-year-old who holds a job in Manteca as well as his wife. The affordable housing crisis isn’t an abstract for him. He’s trying to deal with it on a personal level.
Gary Singh, the other mid-30s candidate, has made an aggressive effort to connect with different segments of the community other than just those that take a strong interest in city affairs. He also knows where Christopher is coming from as he’s had to deal with problematic homeless as well at commercial property his family owns.
The other candidates also offer unique perspectives. Eric Hayes is a major commuter working in San Francisco. Given a large chunk of Manteca residents commute to job rich Bay Area, it is a perspective that has been represented on the City Council since the mid-1990s when Jay Smart served on the council.
Ben Cantu offers 30 years of history in helping shape Manteca as a municipal planner.
Debbie Moorhead is the lone incumbent.
That said, Zellner is problem the only candidate to run for Manteca council besides former Mayor Willie Weatherford who served for years as the city police chief who has a firsthand perspective on why working to reduce the presence of gangs is critical for the entire community’s well-being.