Downtown is Manteca’s version of a Rorschach test, Rubik’s Cube, and political psych exam all rolled up into two blocks.
Manteca’s town center is much bigger obviously but the high-profile face of downtown for the never-ending efforts to save it from dying while it is has a whole lot of living going on is the 100 and 200 blocks of West Yosemite Avenue.
It’s a akin to judging Yosemite National Park by sitting in traffic congestion on the valley floor for 50 minutes on a weekend in July instead of by the entirety of the experience of the 1,190 square miles within park boundaries which is overwhelming solitude with a capital “S”.
The exchange that preceded Mayor Ben Cantu being removed from the downtown subcommittee at Tuesday’s City Council meeting nicely underscored what the real problem is. And contrary to what Cantu might say, it’s not Brenda Franklin of Tipton’s and India Janis of Janus Music. Nor is it the clearly frustrated Cantu who after 40 years of chasing the dream must be feeling a bit like Don Quixote these days.
As an aside before going further everyone needs to acknowledge what didn’t happen Tuesday night. Despite pointed words and people dug in passionately to their positions there were no flashes of anger you could have expected for City Council meetings in the 1990s when even a disagreement over whether Manteca should continue to have a downtown parking enforcement officer made a Jerry Springer episode seem like a meditative yoga class. You did not see anyone pull sophomoric gestures as they did at the State of the Union Address by refusing to shake a political adversary’s hand and then that person making sure they were in the same mud hole by ripping up their opponent’s speech afterwards. Such theatrical stunts might take social media by storm but they do nothing but widen the gap between opposing sides which isn’t what you want to do when trying to get things done.
The bottom line from the terse exchanges Tuesday is there is still a will to find a path to go forward.
Now back to Cantu’s frustrations.
Clearly he is not the roadblock given if he had his druthers there would have been a 6-story city hall downtown 20 years ago and the streets would have been paved with gold. All kidding aside Cantu has a deep passion for wanting Manteca to have a thriving city center that will provide Manteca with a healthy heart in terms of cultural, entertainment, retail-services, and as a gathering place when the city turns 150 years old and could easily be pushing 150,000 people.
And it makes no sense for Franklin or Janis to be against any effort that will improve downtown’s lot since they have been in the trenches through thick and thin making a living there for more than 50 years.
So what is the problem?
Is it the fact downtown is the Manteca’s version of the Rorschach ink spot test where everyone sees something different? Does it have to do with too many moving parts that are impossible to align for a solution whether it is traffic, absentee landlords, the homeless, property owners that have an inflated view of the market, too many trains, or a host of other issues?
Or is this an instance where the political psyche in terms of Manteca equates taking on downtown with the same anxiety one would have if Napoleon opted to turn command of the French Army over to them just before it reaches Waterloo so he can enjoy some R&R on the French Riviera?
The truth is out there. And it happens to be a lack of political will.
If Cantu is right and Franklin and Janis indeed are all powerful when it comes to laying asunder to the last five or so downtown plans after massive community input and the outlay of a small fortune to consultants, they are the ultimate Davids in beating back the monstrous Goliath. But given the previous plans were not exactly toxic meaning Goliath — aka the City of Manteca — isn’t the enemy, what is going on here?
There are others that may share Cantu’s conclusion. It does appear that plans have collapsed in the face of minority criticism.
In reality that isn’t the case.
What ails downtown in terms of getting something moving forward is the lack of political will.
Every two years everyone talks the good game when they run for council and make the obligatory promise to revitalize downtown. The big difference with Cantu is not only does he talk the talk but he wants to do the walk.
Cantu struck some downtown merchants as if he wanted to walk right over them. The mayor assured them that wasn’t his intent but even so given Cantu clearly has a vision and he clearly wants to get something done, and he’s clearly in the proverbial bully pulpit as Manteca’s mayor his outline out of the gate to launch the latest effort to change the direction of downtown could have been viewed as heavy handled.
The irony is one would think you’d want the biggest advocate on the council for downtown in your corner given where things go south as they have in the past it was the city that dropped the ball.
Cantu is not going to walk away from his vision for downtown. The odds are if ultimately another course of action is formed and brought to the council lacking implementation and funding strategies and/or the will to move them forward, Cantu will step up.
That’s because the real problem is not 101 competing opinions on where downtown should go or even the fact there are an extraordinary number of moving parts in trying to piece together whatever puzzle you want to pursue.
Manteca’s elected leaders over the years have lacked the political backbone as well as lacked the stomach for the grunt work needed to keep a downtown plan on track. Instead, downtown in most cases is simply carefully crafted words on a campaign mailer fashioned by a political consultant.
In Cantu’s case when it came to downtown, he meant everything he said as a candidate.