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Manteca needs amenities reflecting our reality, not Emerald City dreams
emerald city

Manteca’s streets are not paved with gold. They are paved with asphalt.

That is why our elected leaders need a reality check before they start fashioning grandiose plans to build their version of civic nirvana.

Most taxpayers do not see themselves as a city taxpayer, a school taxpayer, a state taxpayer, and a federal taxpayer separately. They see themselves simply as taxpayers. They are not into fiefdom building. They see a school gym or school swimming pool sitting empty half the year and they don’t get why the city wants to build their own so they can sit half empty half the year as well.

Even before the coronavirus hit city leaders had their heads in the clouds and their feet planted anywhere but firmly on the ground. For years they’ve talked about wanting to build this and that edifice or maybe taxpayer funding of a bronze statue here and there or some grandiose entrance sign to the city but they very nicely skirt one hideous truth. It’s like the cousin you don’t want to talk about that managed to be caught up in an outlaw motorcycle gang and is doing 200 years to life in a Texas prison. That cousin is how you are going to pay for every little want and need that will convert the Family City into the Emerald City.

There are a series of inconvenient truths no one seems thrilled to share with residents although Mayor Ben Cantu deserves high marks for telling people if they want everything Pleasanton, Lodi, Livermore or what every city and/or hamlet they want to transform Manteca into it that it will cost money and they will have to tax themselves to get it.

Those who are buying new homes in Manteca that perhaps most of us already living here could not afford to buy aren’t exactly flush with money. They may spend $550,000 to buy a new home but that doesn’t mean they are Daddy Warbucks. In many cases the city, to reduce pressure on the general fund, has imposed community facility districts that put the cost of neighborhood parks and street lighting upkeep and operations on their backs along with landscaped areas. Add in Mello-Roos taxes to pay for part of their impact on school facilities and you’re talking about a $7,000 a year base tax bill.

Those who are supported by a typical non-professional job based in the valley who own or rent are not swimming in money. Renters in a way are hit harder given when increased costs are passed on it usually is not simply a $1 per $1 rent hike.

Whatever amenity the city wants to build — a new city hall, interchange, recreation complex, or police station — growth can only legally pay its fair share. That means 60 percent of the money has to come from somewhere else. That somewhere else is the pocketbook of exiting residents.

And since City Council meetings often turn into a course on Manteca Governance History 101 let’s have a more of an in-depth lecture instead of being superficial.

What we have not built in the last 20 years means we have dug a hole. That means to start building now what was envisioned two decades ago will be exorbitantly more expensive. At the same time the world has changed. Many businesses are able to operate with less people and less space. Technology has changed work as well as play. 

A lot of what has been built — the animal shelter as an example — relied on redevelopment funds that previous councils treated like mad money and the current council would likely do the same if they had it at their disposal.

The RDA taxes came out of the same wallets of a lot of existing residents that also pay city property taxes. The city has a well-established track record before the state pulled the plug of tossing RDA taxes around like extra money they had to splurge at Nevada casinos.

The most stunning example is the money pit at 555 Industrial Park Drive. More than $5 million in RDA bond proceeds were poured into the building for a police station that never materialized. That’s really in excess of $7 million once Manteca property owners in the RDA boundaries finish paying off the bond principal and interest. Now that the city has lost the building to the state they are contemplating spending millions more to buy it back and convert it into a solution for the city’s homeless problems.

Then there are issues of liberal bookkeeping as to whether the city legally exceeded the proportion of growth fees that could go toward a facility such as the new animal shelter. The city may have $19.5 million or so they’ve collected so far in growth fees for government facilities but in order not to break the law if they spend all of it on city hall et al the city will need to come up with $30 million from non-growth sources in order to do so legally.

None of this should be construed as an argument against Cantu and the rest of the council to pursue major projects that are needs or wants.

However going forward we’ve got to stop acting like the three monkeys of see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil fame.

We may not like it but we can’t afford everything we desire. That is why everything needs to be looked at as a whole and not simply to take in descending order of need or want. Instead the city needs to list everything that it absolutely believes must be pursued. Once they do that they need to take an educated and realistic guess at how much money they can likely rustle up. Then they need to take ballpark costs and match them against money while keeping in mind construction inflation.

After that they need to do the one thing that staff over the years has resisted and those dreaming of Manteca as the Emerald City refuse to consider — looking at different ways toward building and securing facilities including shared uses with the school district.

You will hear staff talk about scheduling and “history” in terms of shared use.

But let’s set some things straight. The city is getting shared use at various community gyms at schools sites they were promised even though the city’s share toward helping secure state funding to build them in the first place was actually money Manteca Unified was entitled to in the first place to receive from the city RDA.

And perhaps historians on the City Council might want to check with former Mayor Willie Weatherford and ask him who initially — and for a half year after the idea was being pursued — were dead set against the Big League Dreams sports complex and the private/public partnership that made it possible.

It was the city’s Parks & Recreation Department. Keep in mind this applies to all departments and how people tend to see the world from what they can control and is not an indictment against any current municipal staff save for the fact the level of willingness any government agency has with another to team up to maximize the impact of tax dollars.

We would not have an indoor soccer arena or the six lighted ball fields today that are not a burden in the city’s general fund to operate if a previous City Council hadn’t abandoned myopic vision and looked for cost effective solutions that deliver results that are clearly outside of the traditional bureaucratic box.