Not one, not two, but three Manteca City Council members Tuesday lamented how Tracy — and Lathrop to a lesser degree — was kicking Manteca’s proverbial backside when it comes to the issue that drives everything and was captured so precisely in three words uttered repeatedly by former Mayor Carlon Perry: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
The funny thing about Tuesday is how the council at times seemed clueless about how jobs are created while stumbling over trying to justify a $57,500 expenditure for branding that includes a revamp of the city’s website that was just overhauled eight months ago and praised as essentially the cat’s meow by the current incumbents.
If a spiffy website designed by someone who consulted with the likes of Microsoft and Micron does the trick, why doesn’t someone call up San Joaquin County and ask them how many jobs they’ve landed thanks to the same consultant Manteca is hiring after he revamped the county’s Internet presence?
The reason they don’t is because they know the assertion a municipal website design and a snappy little slogan attached to a vision statement is going to allow Manteca to snare the next Amazon is silly. They were looking for ways to justify spending the tax dollars so they could support City Manager Elena Reyes’ proposal to brand Manteca so residents will have a grasp of what the city does.
The branding guru might want to start by explaining to “the customers” why it will take close to $1 million as budgeted to remove seven bulb outs in the 100 block of North Main Street and convert the bock to three lanes of through traffic.
In defense of Reyes, there should be no dispute about bulking up the city manager/economic development staff. The reason Tracy and Lathrop seem to be having more success these days is simple: They are nimble and have the manpower to pursue jobs. However, that is a no go without two other key elements — land that is ready to build and developers that are sticking their necks out and hustling to make a buck.
That is how Manteca for a brief period became the envy of Tracy, Lathrop, and virtually every city in the 209. It took developers like Mike Atherton and Bill Filios to risk capital and put together deals. It’s what converted a shuttered sugar factory into 2,500 jobs. It’s what landed Bass Pro Shops. It is what gave Manteca Del Webb at Woodbridge.
It wouldn’t have happened without the city stepping up. But here’s the catch: The city isn’t the messiah when it comes to job generation. They are more like the Wizard of Oz.
One hopes a main reason why the City Council plucked Reyes from her post at San Joaquin County overseeing economic development had to do with a blind faith that she actually might know how to work with the private sector to land jobs.
Let’s review two of Manteca’s biggest failures — or what appear to be colossal failures in the making — when it comes to “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Although Manteca was supposedly on the short list for Amazon, it is abundantly clear it was only a bargaining chip move to leverage Tracy. The Austin Road Business Park — heralded as the future job mecca for Manteca by previous councils — was well on its way to imploding at the time. There are a lot of moving parts to blame but the fact the city dragged its feet on the key development agreement was a big contributor.
The other is the Great Wolf Resort. Former Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford is no fan of the family entertainment zone plan that city staff came up with to make the indoor water park project more attractive in their minds. That’s because Great Wolf was ready to move years ago but the city in playing private sector developer believed the 209 was ready for a family entertainment zone which required more study. Manteca traded a sure thing for what is beginning to look like a pipe dream.
And even if McWhinney & Co retained by the city to land a waterpark resort and hotel operating comes through, the entire family entertainment zone is no safe bet given the excess zoning capacity for commercial along the 120 Bypass plus how Internet sales are altering traditional retail.
The city still might pull the water park off and maybe even the family entertainment zone. But if they don’t they’ve blown more than $12 million in residual redevelopment agency bond money that could have gone under the language connected with the RDA bond sale for upgrading community parks in Manteca and other things.
No one that lives in Manteca and is invested in Manteca whether they own a home or a business should be rooting for the city to fail.
They should get nervous though when elected leaders start acting as if they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
It hasn’t gotten that desperate, at least not yet. But someone had better be on the bridge steering policy that makes sense for job generation and the overall vitality of Manteca instead of answering their own complaint about Tracy and Lathrop winning the job sweepstakes by gushing over a $57,500 branding exercise as Manteca’s economic deliverance.