Twenty years ago, the Moffat Boulevard corridor was an embarrassment, to say the least.
It had been “the entrance” to the city from the south for nearly 60 years before the current alignment of Highway 99 was completed in 1955.
Its downhill slide started when once flourishing highway services — gas stations, old-school motor lodges, and industrial uses — started declining. The old concrete highway that was paved over repeatedly deteriorated into a jarring ride by any measure.
Trucks parked at will, mostly on city property. Trash was dumped repeatedly in the middle of the night between where trucks were parked 24/7. There were no sidewalks. Curbs and gutters were almost non-existent.
Aging trailer parks and motels because became cancerous sores. Not because the poor populated them but due to criminal and drug elements that were allowed to flourish.
City hall— or more precisely key bureaucrats — treated Moffat as if it were an unwanted stepchild despite the fact it was a corridor that brought people right to the heart of Manteca.
The downhill slide of Moffat included a series of arson fires in abandoned buildings as well as motels that had turned into virtual police substations based on the number of seriously calls to the locations on almost a daily basis.
The initial development of Spreckels Park unmasked the deteriorating of the Moffat corridor to more people. But more important one council member stepped up — John Harris.
Harris succeeded in getting other council members focused on the cancerous conditions on Moffat stressing a need to avoid it from spreading elsewhere and working to reverse it.
Manteca at the start of the century the city invested close to $14 million in upgrading the Moffat Boulevard corridor.
It included sidewalks, curbs and gutters, repaving from Moffat to Woodward, the transit center, a storm retention basin that was landscaped as opposed to being left as a fenced weed infested area, the transit center, and the Spreckels BMX Park.
Concurrently the private sector from Woodward Avenue to Main Street pumped in significant investment as well. That included the Spreckels Park and Manteca Commerce business parks as well as the Crossroads Community Church.
Manteca rolled out a coordinated multi-department effort to tackle ongoing issues. A small trailer park that was semi-abandoned and had become a flophouse of sorts was cleaned out. Problematic motels were forced to be brought up to code and criminal elements aggressively pressured.
Illegal truck parking was heavily ticketed over the course of a month until truckers got the message. Illegal dumping also was tackled and virtually ceased.
So what is happening today?
Manteca Unified is proceeding with reorientation of the functional face of Manteca High toward Moffat via a $52 million modernization that includes a new swimming pool, new main gym, and other upgrades.
The city is taking steps to prepare for the coming of Altamont Corridor Express service in 2023 through the acquisition and development of commuter parking lots.
What is not happening is aggressively addressing quality of life concerns such as the city did at the turn of the century to combat illegal trucking, illegal dumping, and, for want of a better term, squatting.
Take a drive down Moffat. A de facto truck terminal is now operating on a city street across from a location that city staff has told nearby neighbors is not a legally permitted truck yard.
The homeless are still along the corridor but their presence is now more prevalent near the 120 Bypass overcrossing.
Nothing says “welcome to Manteca” or that the city is on top of quality of life issues than what you will see under the overpass.
For close to a week an obviously stolen vehicle has been stripped and abandoned has been left alongside Moffat. The under crossing is marred with graffiti including the gem, “homeless lives matter.”
This is where you will find the de facto crossing to reach illegal homeless encampments on either side of Moffat along the 120 Bypass. On some days you will see a number of cars pulling into the area on the east side, driving around barriers, and into the freeway right-of-way.
The city doesn’t have an ongoing coordinated inter-department effort — or even periodic targeted enforcement —to address qualify of life issues in Manteca except perhaps at Library Park where keeping the area from being conceded to the homeless and drug abusers is a constant daily battle for the Manteca Police community resource officers and park maintenance crews.
Why this matters is simple. The broken window theory is real. Blight begets blight. If not aggressively and consistently addressed, it can ultimately negate what investment has been made and undermine any future efforts to upgrade the corridor.
This is not just a Moffat corridor or downtown issue. Take a look around town. Better yet, drive down the 120 Bypass. Take note of the illegal encampments within the Airport Way interchange. See how the sound walls are starting to look like the walls of abandoned buildings within inner cities covered with graffiti. It sends a message that chips away at the positive statement about Manteca made in the nearby $180 million private sector in the form of the Great Wolf indoor waterpark resort.
This, of course, is within Caltrans’ jurisdiction. While cleaning up illegal encampments is clearly something that needs to be left as a Caltrans’ function due to a myriad of legal considerations, the graffiti removal is something the city has tackled much more effectively on its own in the past.
The loss of Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic is reflected by the fact the city hasn’t stayed on top of graffiti. Unfortunately if it isn’t nipped in the bud it grows.
The city clearly needs to come up with a way — even if it develops a volunteer corps to work on the issue until such time as SHARP is back— to address graffiti now.
But more importantly there needs to be someone at city hall who is a working czar of sorts to identify and address “first tier” blight and find manpower — city staff and/or volunteers — to get rid of it. By “first tier blight”, that references graffiti, trash being dumped, illegal truck parking, and other issues basically in or along public right of ways that aren’t building and landscape upkeep issues on private property that have a legal course the city must pursue.
Relying on the public to report such issues and then having the city react is clearly not effective.
The bottom line: The city needs a day-to-day effort to stay atop of first-tier blight so it doesn’t diminish the quality of life and undermine private and public sector investments.
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