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Manteca needs to take back Library Park
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Has the City of Manteca abandoned Downtown Manteca?
Library Park’s expansion and makeover — a $3.1 million plus endeavor on the taxpayer’s dime — was rolled out as a centerpiece of the last serious effort to breathe new life into the city’s heart by giving it a soul.
The vision was clear: Create a family friendly place that easily morphs into a de facto town square for Manteca. Once a critical mass was reached, private entrepreneurs would see the possibilities and seek out vacant storefronts to open cafes, boutiques and other specialty stores. In time investors would follow with building renovations.
This isn’t a fantasy. It’s happened in other growing communities. This “vision” came to community members acting in concert with the city for the Vision 2020 Task Force. It was part of an overall general blueprint for what the city ideally should be as a place to work, live and play when the year 2020 rolled around. The working theory was you couldn’t go wrong given Manteca’s growth.
That was 22,000 residents ago when Manteca’s population was at 52,000. Now with Manteca four years away from 2020 when it is likely to have 80,000 people, the great leap forward has turned into an all-out retreat.
The biggest private sector investment to come out of those heady days was Kelley Brothers Brewing Co. By no fault of the city’s it has been shuttered for years.
 The fact the city hasn’t actively helped the private sector property owners to shop the shuttered remake of the El Rey Theatre while spending millions in redevelopment agency funds (which are still tax dollars) chasing the elusive Great Wolf and not even pocket change trying to revive the most prominent space in downtown speaks volumes.
Compared to the city walking away from its own property — Library Park — any sins imagined or otherwise regarding the El Rey/Kelley Brothers Brewing Co. and the rest of downtown are negligible.
That’s not saying the city doesn’t mow the lawns, pick-up the trash or even schedule community events such as the street fair, Pumpkin Fair, and assorted smaller events such as the upcoming Art in the Park Day for Kids. They do. But the use of Library Park is essentially the same as when it was smaller and before the city invested $3.1 million.
It’s because the city has abandoned the vision for Library Park conceding this piece of prime civic real estate to the homeless and the druggies.
Locking the restrooms at Library Park to stop them from being used by drug users to shoot up and leave their needles strewn on the floor, by prostitutes and the homeless to engage in sex acts, by those who felt a need to dump on the floor instead of in the toilet, and by homeless looking for overnight accommodations wasn’t a solution. It was a reaction. And while no one could argue that it wasn’t the right step at the time, more than a year has passed with no game plan on the horizon to allow law-abiding citizens access to the restrooms while using the park except for special events.
The best way to take back Library Park is to lure families there.
It’s tough to do that when the much ballyhooed interactive water play feature is dry.
Granted the drought has been an issue but moving forward even with the new reality about water the play feature could be used. However the state has signaled their intentions to ban the use of all non-recirculating water features and the council has placed such language in a water conservation ordinance.
Manteca opted to build its $400,000 water play feature without water recycling ability to save on yearly maintenance costs. The city needs to get this one right and not take 15 years as they did on the Main Street bulb-outs. At this point even if it costs $400,000 to retrofit the water play feature, spend the money. You could make a case that the $2.5 million set aside for economic development could be used because that was the bottom line of Library Park’s makeover in the first place. To not do so means the city spent $400,000 for a static piece of art that is doing downtown, the community, and — most important of all — kids no good.
What would the City Council rather see — the homeless passed out and congregating as if Library Park was their version of the Best Western — or frolicking kids giggling and staying cool while attentive parents sit nearby?
The water play feature is too big of a lure to keep kids and their parents away. Their mere presence will reduce the congregation of homeless. But more important it will bring pressure to keep out the troublemakers and the druggies as well.
If you doubt this then ask yourself this question: why is it that Lincoln Park, which is another homeless magnet, doesn’t need its restrooms locked during the day? That’s because the homeless are kept in check during the day through healthy use of the park from youth baseball games and family picnics under the shelter and around the pool, as well as the use of the playgrounds and then the swimming pool in the summer.
The homeless can’t just arbitrarily be chased out of city parks nor should they be. But unlike at Lincoln Park, the city has created a situation that discourages daily use of Library Park. In doing so the numbers of homeless have soared with troublemakers among their ranks enjoying relative impunity to use Library Park as a base to impose their will on downtown.
The city needs to reclaim Library Park. If not for the sake of downtown, then for the sake of the kids.

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 or 209.249.3519.