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How Manteca can chip away at bad streets
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Manteca is in a state of deterioration.
If you doubt that drive East Yosemite Avenue, South Main Street, Lathrop Road, Union Road north of the 120 Bypass, Industrial Park Drive, Spreckels Avenue, and segments of Airport Way to name a few.
The fact Manteca’s streets are slowly crumbling hasn’t been lost on Public Works Director Mark Houghton and his staff. Each year when the city budget is being cobbled together they make the obligatory observation backed with survey data. And each year the consensus among powers that be is that there is no money.
If there is no money for basic needs such as road maintenance how can a council without much thought because City Manager Elena Reyes requested it spend $57,000 to hire a consultant that she worked with at San Joaquin County to develop a brand for Manteca and monkey with a website that had just been overhauled on the false premise that a click from some business surfing cyberspace will magically move 200 jobs to Manteca? If elected leaders need to be jarred back to reality perhaps they should take a Sunday drive on all of Manteca’s major streets and soak it all in at one time.
If nothing else, it will inspire them to run as quickly as they can to their bank to withdraw savings to invest in an alignment and tire shop.
As for branding, they could have simply slapped “Shake, Rattle & Roll in Manteca” on the website and convinced anyone driving around looking to build an employment center that major streets have potholes, roughshod pavement, and massive cracks by design.
It’s easy to make fun of the situation and to slam whoever is in office for letting Manteca’s streets crumble.
In fairness, Manteca is not alone when it comes to street maintenance backlog and lack of funds. You can look at any city in any direction from Manteca.
Part of the problem are vehicles with better gas mileage, gas prices that have stayed relatively flat, and a proliferation of taxpayer subsidized electric vehicles that use no gas so therefore don’t pay a cent toward road maintenance. The state and cities split gas taxes with the expressed purpose of maintaining the roads consumers are buying gas to drive on.
Even if the California Legislature raised gas taxes it wouldn’t solve all of the problem. It would also punish poor people that tend to drive older cars that have the worst gas mileage and it would let the fairly well off that get a $7,000 income tax subsidy to buy a Tesla get away scott-free as they won’t be buying gas and therefore pay no taxes towards road upkeep.
The City Council has been told they have upwards of $30 million of road maintenance that needs to be addressed in the coming years or else face spending as much as 30-fold more for costlier reconstruction. That is what pavement experts told the city in 2014 regarding the condition of the city’s 219 miles of roads. 
Meanwhile the city squirrels away general fund money when spending $750,000 a year could avoid spending 30 times that much down the road.
We are not talking about the targeted 25 percent general fund reserve but rather the $2.4 million slush fund that grows by $750,000 a year. The city, of course, doesn’t call it a slush fund. They dubbed it the Assigned Economic Revitalization (AER) Fund,
This is money homeowners are paying as property taxes every year who are part of the redevelopment agency areas that no longer exists to fund economic stimulus, fight blight, or provide low income housing. The $750,000 annual amount is the city’s share of the tax spread across all taxing agencies in Manteca after the RDA bond payments are met.
Top tier city staff came up with the brilliant suggestion to not combine the money with other general property taxes because — and I’m not making this us — the city got along fine without it for years. Instead they created the AER slush fund that Reyes tapped into so the city can write her handpicked consultant a $57,000 check to brand the city. About the only thing that is going to get branded are those who were duped into the scheme and they will likely be branded as fools.
It is clear Manteca did not get along well with all of the money not going to the general fund for years unless you call deteriorating streets and half the number of street maintenance workers (eight) that there were 10 years ago despite more street miles and traffic being added as the city getting along just fine.
The council hates going to bid for jobs they can do in house but that has been the case with cement work involving curbs, gutters, and sidewalks for the past 10 years because the streets division has been slashed to the bone. The result has been more expensive contract work that means less sidewalk maintenance which means an even bigger backlog.
Manteca can get on the right path fairly easily. During the upcoming budget workshop they can instruct staff to do three things:
Eliminate the AER fund.
Divert what money hasn’t been earmarked and the tax receipts from this year to fund a major street rehabilitation project. This could provide in the neighborhood of $3 million.
Direct the future $750,000 a year in tax receipts to go the street division with the proviso at least two positions be added and the rest to go toward street maintenance.
It’s a small start. But to do nothing just makes the ultimate price tag much more costly.