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Is the grass really greener in Vernalis or Montana compared to Manteca?
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

So why did any of us — or our forefathers — move to Manteca?

Why not Vernalis, an unincorporated rural community 21 miles south of Manteca nudged against San Joaquin County’s southwestern  border with Stanislaus County that you can reach by taking Airport Way south across the San Joaquin River and then turning left on Kasson Road, jogging right at Greenwood Road, heading west a short way on Highway 132, and then turning left on Westly Road and heading toward Highway 33.

Vernalis had a post office in 1851, way before Manteca was even a wide spot on a road or a milk stop along a rail line.

The short answer why most of us didn’t opt to move there would seemingly be that most of us didn’t even know where it is. But the real reason is after the seeds of the community were planted shortly after gold was discovered in California, they didn’t grow much.

Why does Vernalis matter? It’s because those who seem to despise Manteca even though they reside here or those that view growth as the equivalent of chugging hemlock more likely than not could not live in Vernalis and other places like it that growth has passed by.

There isn’t much of a housing inventory in Vernalis and certainly no new subdivisions. You can’t really buy a new house per se in Vernalis that so many seem to want without building it yourself and making sure the property drains properly in a storm. You will also have to drill your own well for water and put in a septic system.

Unless you can get a job at a nearby farm there are no jobs in Vernalis. Virtually everyone is a commuter.

And given it is off the beaten track, commutes to employment centers are daunting at best. Unlike the jammed 120 Bypass with its impatient drivers, your biggest fear on the commute is deadly valley tule fog.

As for streets, Manteca’s are flawless and seemingly paved in gold in comparison. It doesn’t have a Trader Joe’s or Winco, just like Manteca doesn’t. But then again shopping options in Manteca are more than just a pricey semi-grocery store a ways down the road.

You won’t find very many people complaining about the schools in Vernalis because there aren’t any. As far as parks and community recreational facilities, perhaps you could mow down a field of weeds and create a makeshift baseball field.

Good luck finding a police officer when you need one. But then again crime isn’t exactly a big problem. Traffic isn’t an issue either.

There are no homeless because even the homeless realize there isn’t much there.

In 2017, Manteca grew by almost 2,000 residents. That’s seven times the entire population of Vernalis.

The odds are most folks in Vernalis like where they live. They picked it, after all. There are a lot of tradeoffs to live in places like Vernalis just as there are to live in places like Manteca.

That said if Manteca is going to hell in a hand basket as some claim then why aren’t they packing up and moving on?

For most of us, the answer is simple. We like to bellyache. We also don’t see problems with any perspective much beyond we wanted them fixed yesterday. Context isn’t part of the equation when we slam Manteca.

We are very good at sticking it to everyone’s voodoo dolls — developers — and blaming them for all what is evil and wrong with Manteca. They are supposedly ruining a good thing by continuing to build more homes.

That begs the question: Just what are they ruining?

If it’s converting farmland or open space into streets, houses, and buildings then we all are guilty as we either bought a brand new home or we bought an older home that is here only because the original buyer years ago was willing to buy it thus creating a demand to convert open space and farmland into housing.

As for pure evil, wouldn’t that honor go to Joshua Cowell who laid out the original Manteca town site and then sold parcels to people to develop? Cowell, who arrived in what is now Manteca in 1862 after walking across the Sierra, would be amazed at what he would see if he were alive today. Those that think he might be disappointed seem to forget the biggest boosters of growth ever to walk the sandy plains are those that founded Manteca.

Most people do not buy homes in places like Vernalis because it doesn’t offer what Manteca, Tracy, Ripon, Lathrop or a multitude of other small, medium, and large communities offer. It is also progressively less expensive to live in a place like Manteca compared to a place like Vernalis. True, the household income in Vernalis is significantly lower but the lifestyle residents have isn’t one that you’ll find in a new neighborhood south of the 120 Bypass. There are a lot of tradeoffs. It doesn’t mean the quality of life in Vernalis is lower than Manteca, or vice versa. You simply have to give up things to live in either place.

Not living on a “crowded” street with seemingly cookie cutter housing means a trip to the store in Vernalis is a fairly major undertaking. It’s doubtful that those living in Vernalis are bemoaning the fact dining options are limited given dining out in Vernalis means going over to a neighbor’s for dinner.

I get people don’t like growth. But it is also what brings employment, more shopping options, and more “things to do.”

So how bad is Manteca? Crime wise for the serious stuff such as felonies and burglaries, it has flat-lined in terms of incidents for the past 10 years while the city has added 14,591 residents. When you compare apples with apples in terms of felonies and burglaries per 1,000 residents, crime is down 20 percent since 2009.

You’re likely to disagree crime has gotten better if you are a crime victim or a drug house is on your block.

It does seem people are getting a bit less courteous but that could be perception. More people means more people that we don’t know. Instead of grousing, giving into road rage or getting our daily dose of exercise via frequent finger salutes why don’t we try to be kinder and not let jerks color our outlook.

There are problems in Manteca. Always has been and always will be.

And if you think the best things to do is pack up and move away basically allowing problems to chase you off instead of working with neighbors to make things better, go in peace. Just remember that moving isn’t going to stop the societal cancers, real and perceived, from spreading.

I can name at least two families that moved from Manteca 20 years ago fed up with the meth epidemic at the time and the fact Manteca Police were busting a meth lab every other week for several years including portable ones operating out of car trunks and large-scale ones in the garages of new McMansions.

So guess what one of the leading states is now for meth labs is plus what state ranks No. 2 nationally in terms of per 1,000 people for both teens and adults for meth abuse? It’s Montana.

The grass always seems greener elsewhere when in fact it is often simply because we don’t want to the time and energy to keep up the grass we have or are standing idly by while crabgrass kills off the grass we have that is really just a slightly different shade of green than the grass in our minds we seem to think we long for.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.