The City of Manteca exists for 89,000 reasons.
Yet you can argue the very people who are the reason for Manteca being incorporated, taxes collected, and individuals elected to represent them are being treated as after thoughts.
Do not misunderstand. Water flows from faucets when they are turned on. Toilets flush. Garbage properly placed in carts is collected on a routine basis. Police and fire respond in emergencies. Parks are maintained. And streets, for the most part, are travel-able.
Quality of life concerns expressed by residents by and large are being ignored more and more with each passing year.
The larger the bureaucracy grows with people not anchored in the community, the more the City of Manteca is losing touch with the concerns of the very people they receive a paycheck to serve.
Mayor Ben Cantu is being chastised for operating outside of the bounds for pushing initiatives and comes off as being all over the map due to his seemingly never ending list of endeavors he wants the city to tackle. That said, Cantu is on target when he pursues issues that he correctly perceives reflect a disconnection from 1001 West Center Street and the people of Manteca.
Manteca, as Cantu often laments, never has any money. That’s not exactly true. The real issue is a lack of problem solving power being given to the rank and file as well as the inability to read the community’s growing frustrations.
A case in point is the disgrace that existed for 15 plus years in downtown.
Manteca taxpayers will end up paying over $4 million in redevelopment agency bond principal and interest for improvements made in 2004 to upgrade the downtown environment such as street light standards, crosswalk and sidewalk pavers, and other touches.
Those pavers grew dingy within a year. Other cities such as Riverbank that employed pavers in their downtowns power washed them once or twice a year. Not Manteca.
For 15 years one of the state’s fastest growing cities with a lot more resources than cities the size of Riverbank did not clean its pavers. At one point the red sidewalk pavers were almost consistent with street asphalt coloring.
Whenever the issue came up, staff was ready with an excuse — and the elected officials at the time seemed to accept the excuses given: It would disrupt traffic. There weren’t available power outlets. It would require staff working at night.
Funny but the Miranda Lutzow Era at city hall that everyone seems quick to pass off as 100 percent dysfunctional figured out how to clean the pavers. They contracted the work out. They even made sure the $1.4 million in investment in the form of the Library Park upgrade and expansion was power washed.
It seems a trite and small point but it isn’t. The seeds of discontent are sowed by glossing over the little things, not following through with upkeep on taxpayer investments, and not showing civic pride. Allowing decorative pavers that were sold to the people of this city as a potential source of community pride by upgrading the looks of downtown to become grimy and indistinguishable from pavement is a big deal.
It speaks volumes of city hall disconnect. And it underscores why people are leery or downright hostile to a proposal to launch yet another grand initiative for a plan to “save” downtown. And they want to do so by hiring consultants who make outrageous statements such as blaming “through traffic” on Main Street in downtown as likely tied to those taking a shortcut from Highway 99 at Lathrop Road to reach the 120 Bypass.
Manteca has a less than stellar record at follow through whether it is delivering on a promise made four consecutive years by elected leaders to address the Main Street traffic snafus through downtown by allowing four travel lanes or simply periodically cleaning pavers.
Similar issues exist in neighborhoods.
At one time in 2008 before the Great Recession hit, the city was pondering implementing a model that would build on Neighborhood Watch Groups by making them into neighborhood sounding boards interacting with mid-level as well as rank and file workers.
The idea was in addition to addressing ways of making neighborhoods less susceptible to crime that such groups could work together to advance concerns about traffic, park upkeep and needs, and even litter. Working with the city they could do things ranging from forming volunteers ventures working in tandem with the city to work on neighborhood issues such as at a neighborhood park to get the city to do low cost improvements that would go a long way toward improving the quality of life and public safety.
One example Manteca’s city hall leaders gave at the time was San Jose. They pointed to the community-city hall groups there that came up with solutions to everything from perennial litter to extending recreation services.
In one case a neighborhood was irked at an endless issue of litter at a park near a school. After listening to neighbors, the city relocated a trash can closer to the school. Given the can was not dumped everyday, they enlisted the service of a volunteer who lived across the street. They were supplied with extra liners and gloves. In addition they were provided with an extra city cart to place the filled bags in so the city could collect them without costing the resident higher garbage fees.
Another group was worried about gangs taking over a neighborhood park. They worked with the city to set up an after school playground program at the park staffed by a part-time recreation worker with several volunteer parents working as assistants.
The city does have an app to report issues and problems. While it is fine for burned out street lights, abandoned mattresses, and problematic vehicles it doesn’t work for other issues. That’s because the city has protocols in place that allow department and/or the rank and file to address burned out street lights and such.
But it doesn’t empower those people to address things such as semi-trucks routinely blocking crosswalks that aren’t re-enforced by paint at intersections at Cowell Street and Moffat Boulevard.
Over the years, council members serving as advocates for neighborhood concerns have been effective. But as the city has grown, such efforts have fallen for whatever reason to the wayside. It might be people have bought into the illusion that simply complaining on social media will magically solve the problem.
The odds are it has to do with a growing disconnect due to Manteca’s growth.
Ripon has five elected council members for 16,000 plus residents. Manteca has five for 89,000 people.
It is much harder for council members to pick up on neighborhood issues when there are more people.
As such, the time may have come to actually shift to district elections for four council members and a citywide election for mayor.
That way every council member would have 22,000 residents to have a stepped up focus on neighborhood issues while working with other elected leaders and staff on community wide concerns.
It’s kind of like using your congressman’s office to help you navigate the federal bureaucracy. But in this case it would be to make sure neighborhood concerns don’t get lost in the growing disconnect with city hall.
And while the City Council has budgeted funds for a possible move to district elections, don’t bet the farm it will happen. If staff doesn’t think it is a priority, they’ll either find a way to torpedo it outright or use the bureaucracy to bury it on a back burner.
They are the same people, after all, that basically took over calling the shots on the budgeted item to widen Main Street to four lanes.
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