Jeff Zellner was right. Manteca made a big mistake.
And if the current Manteca City Council doesn’t take steps to correct it, they may end up destroying downtown, imperiling Manteca High, laying ruin to other commercial areas as the city grows, and deteriorating the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods as collateral damage.
Three years ago the city planning staff — realizing they were not in compliance with a 2007 state law requiring that jurisdictions designate at least one zone where homeless shelters had to be allowed without a permit – arbitrarily picked general commercial.
Zellner, a Manteca Planning Commission member, pointed out that the zone most other cities opted for was light industrial.
Staff couldn’t see his point. Maybe it’s because they didn’t think a homeless shelter would ever be an issue in Manteca. Maybe it’s because the people who recommended the general commercial zone didn’t live in town, or did their homework on potential impacts by using Google maps. Maybe it’s because they automatically believed they are the experts given they have degrees in planning.
Why give any weight to a layperson’s observation? What does a non-planning professional know about such matters?
Zellner happened to be fairly well-versed in homeless issues given he serves on the HOPE Family Shelters board and as a teen was homeless himself. Staff chose to dismiss his advice and not give their position additional consideration. Perhaps that is why Zellner — a businessman with a young family — decided to run for City Council in 2016, barely missing securing a seat. It was another example of what he believed was shortsightedness on the city’s part.
So why does it matter what zone the city selects where a homeless shelter can go and as long as they meet standard codes can do nothing to stop it from happening?
Take a look at a city zoning map then drive around Manteca. A homeless shelter is allowed next door to Manteca High, just down Moffat from the high school campus, across the tracks from downtown, and in pockets throughout the city, and in new commercial developments 30 years from now that may be candidates for such a facility.
There are plenty of properties in areas zoned for general commercial that are likely within the price range of a non-profit to open a single adult homeless shelter. As for the likelihood of it happening — something staff three years ago dismissed as not something that would be of a concern anytime in the near future — there’s movement toward establishing such a shelter for single adults in Manteca.
The City Council needs to be proactive and change the zoning code to allow homeless shelters without a permit only in light industrial zones. They would not be allowed uses in other zones without major use permits being granted as was the case with the single moms with children and family shelters already operating in Manteca.
By switching the allowed zone to light industrial, the city would significantly reduce the places a single adult shelter could locate without a permit. Making such a move would provide the city with the best possible way of keeping a handle on homeless issues in the future.
Light industrial zones aren’t as prevalent. They are also better located strategically when it comes to proximity to residential development and schools.
Homeless advocates are correct in noting a day center for the homeless needs to be where the homeless are to be effective. Day centers are currently allowed with a minor use permit in several zones including general commercial where homeless shelters are an accepted use.
That is why the city should change city zoning to restrict day centers for homeless to light industrial only as well.
Homeless advocates cannot argue that the homeless wouldn’t be near light industrial zones in the city.
For the past 18 years, the invisible homeless — not the druggies et al — that are mostly homegrown have made Sprecklels Park and nearby areas their home territory. They pick places to bed down that are not easily visible. The recent rash of homeless encampments along the 120 Bypass the city has managed to get under control is an aberration over at least the last two decades.
A predawn jog Sunday counted eight homeless in the general area that were bedded down. Two were sleeping by the water well building on Moffat near the BMX track, one along the fence near the railroad tracks along the Tidewater, one in the shrubs on the north side of American Modular (there are likely more farther back), one behind Chase Bank, and three under the Lincoln Park picnic shelter although they were awake.
An hour later after sunrise they were all gone.
All of the areas mentioned plus other haunts homeless bed down in are all close to the Manteca Industrial Park that had several older structures including some occupied currently by some city operations that are of the size and — should they become available — price range for non-profits wanting to open a single adult shelter or a homeless day center.
The Council, in failing to act now to correct a bad decision, will forfeit the only opportunity they have of containing homeless issues in the future when the day comes that an adult only shelter locates in Manteca.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.