So what are Manteca taxpayers’ getting for the $475,000 investment in a parks and recreation master plan produced by the RJM Design Group that wasn’t so ridiculously obvious or the city wasn’t already in the process of doing?
Only one thing stands out: Manteca needs equestrian trails.
You read that right. The only recommendation the firm made that the city wasn’t already pursuing for the future was a need for the city to accommodate horses and to allow — when practical — for horses to share bike paths and such with bicyclists, walkers, and joggers.
Little wonder RJM Design Group is headquartered in San Juan Capistrano, a place noted as being for the birds.
Let’s be brutally honest here. This $475,000 exercise has been one of the biggest wastes of Manteca public resources since the city spent $90,000 on a traffic consultant 22 years ago that told them banning left turns from southbound Main onto eastbound Yosemite would solve all of downtown’s traffic woes.
The 162-page draft master plan includes the obligatory rehash of statistics and boilerplate goals and objectives. It brings nothing new or bold to the table except saying the city should encourage the dropping of piles of horse dung on bike paths to generate more flies in residential neighborhoods.
It doesn’t matter whether such a master plan meets some state mandate. It is a gross waste of money that conveniently side-stepped things residents participating in phone surveys and workshops said were lacking in Manteca such as a teen center and that weren’t already in the city’s planning process. Teens not participating in sports don’t matter but horses do.
What did the world do before consultants? Was it divine providence that got New York Central Park, San Francisco Golden Gate Park and Manteca Woodward Park and even Big League Dreams? No, it was the vision of municipal leaders in each city working in concert with staff that relied on their ability to harness resources and their feel for their communities. It wasn’t Wizard of Oz productions of consultants that at the end of the day when you draw back the razzle dazzle simply reaffirms what people already knew and possessed.
Look around. Manteca has 54 neighborhood parks, four community parks, a Big League Dreams sports complex, BMX track that’s second to none, a skate park, an 18-hole golf course, a tennis center, swimming pool, the backbone and extensions of arguably the best bike path system in the Central Valley as it actually gets you places besides being available for recreation uses, updated youth baseball fields at Morezone and Lincoln parks, a swimming pool, and a senior center. The city is in the process of adding a dog park and upgrading and retrofitting existing parks and playgrounds. They are moving toward a massive multi-use sports field complex by BLD with a possible expanding of that facility as well. There is also a water play feature in place that the city is trying to get permission from the state to turn back on with the intent of using it sparingly only on hot days or for special events.
Now look at nearby cities. Do any of them come close to what Manteca — with 75,000 residents — offers?
City parks and recreation staff headed over the years by the likes of Curly Boyd, Steve Houx, and Kevin Fant working with elected leaders haven’t done a bad job. Scratch that. Given how frontline workers have dedicated their careers to top-notch upkeep given budget restraints and such Manteca municipal staff has done a banged up job.
Could things be better? Always. Could things move faster? Perhaps next time instead of spending $475,000 on generating mush elected leaders might want to take the money and augment municipal staff so projects such as the dog park can proceed at a faster pace.
One wonders where we would be today if community leaders a century ago relied on consultants. Would South San Joaquin Irrigation District secured and developed water rights on the Stanislaus River watershed or would the SSJID even existed?
Would Manteca have made the first deal using municipal resources for luring Spreckels Sugar from plans to build in Stockton just like it snared Bass Pro from opting for Modesto or Costco delaying an expansion decision for 10 years and locating instead along the Interstate 5 corridor in Lathrop?
Some like to argue — primarily those that want to control the course of government to line their pockets as consultants and such — that it is reckless not to call in the experts.
Then there are those who want to be able to hide behind a master plan and such in case something goes south so they can use it to deflect ownership.
Manteca hasn’t done a bad job in selecting elected leaders to guide the city. But what is needed is a step up in their game to counter the gravitational pull of government by bureaucracy so initiatives undertaken can become more robust, limber and move forward faster.
The council needs to have tighter reins on the journey that projects make through the maze of the bureaucracy not to micro-manage but to make it clear they have confidence not just in their vision but the proven ability of staff to execute goals.
Staff flounders when you pile on and don’t prioritize.
Manteca’s existing parks and recreation program are a shining example of what staff does when directions are clear and the council backs them up.
And remember, what you see today didn’t require spending $475,000 to tell Manteca that this is what they needed in terms of parks and recreation.