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Homeless taking over Library Park?
Growing uneasiness over behavior of some
Some of the people hanging out at Library Park including many homeless are starting to chase families away. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Chatter – punctuated by choice obscenities – was rising along with the mid-day temperature on Thursday as two men argued beneath the stately Sycamore trees of Library Park.

More than a few people sleeping nearby were oblivious to the ruckus.

The park – by head count – is well used. The problem, though, is that a growing number of Manteca residents are growing leery of venturing to the park where the city plans to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars turning into a de facto city plaza in the fall. The reason has to do with homeless, vagrants, and/or malcontents who have made Library Park their daytime respite from living on the streets.

The number – and some say rudeness – of the homeless is what have generated complaints to organizers of the weekly farmers market on Tuesdays at Library Park for the first year ever. Police have been called almost every Tuesday so far, except last week, to handle a disturbance call. On one market day police responded three times.

No one’s safety has been threatened but there is a growing uneasiness among those who are attending events at Library Park this year. It is one reason why the interactive water play feature that was going non-stop last year now only gets sporadic use by kids accompanied by their parents.

That said, organizers of the farmers market are seriously considering pulling up stakes downtown if things don’t improve by the end of August and move the popular summer event south to The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley.

The homeless, for the most part, aren’t breaking any laws. They have just as much right to use the park as anyone else. But the few that become belligerent are creating more than just issues. They are starting to chase people away.

A few years back Manteca Police did a Herculean job of cleaning up the park and downtown. There was a time when needles were prevalent, drinking of alcohol took place illegally in the park, and hardly a night didn’t go by when someone wasn’t trying to camp in the park.

Downtown’s commercial corridors have been spared impacts so far from Library Park’s current problems. However once it takes more permanent root it could start impacting downtown once again.

It is against this backdrop that the city is moving forward with plans to invest upwards of $1.2 million in ripping out segments of two streets and taking over of the nearby Verizon fenced-in parking lot to expand Library Park. A grassy “glade” envisioned for everything from Frisbee to frolicking to a new gazebo and 75-seat grassy and concrete amphitheatre will be for naught if people feel uncomfortable venturing to Library Park.

A few years back, then City Councilman Jack Snyder made it clear he was unwilling to invest a dime in the water play feature if the city didn’t first address cleaning up Library Park.

Snyder’s stern posturing ultimately got the ball rolling to improving things.
Now, no one is sounding the alarm. Instead, the response is to flee Library Park.

It begs the question: Why proceed with spending $1.2 million if it is simply for the homeless enjoy?

The issue at hand is bigger than downtown and what any hopeful for council or mayor would like to see done in the central district. It will all be for naught –  even the status quo – if something isn’t done to address the problem of the homeless.

It is a problem Manteca can no longer afford to ignore as the city grows and the stakes for downtown’s future becomes even higher.