There was a time when city leaders didn’t need to retain the services of a consultant to tell them - and the world - what Manteca is all about.
You could tell it from what the city did. It is why when Manteca years ago wanted a city motto they didn’t have to hire a branding expert. Instead they came up with the home grown “Family City” moniker.
Now they seem convinced if they build an opulent municipal structure that they will come. The theory is if there is a shining Palace of Government in downtown Fortune 500 companies will swoon and venture capital startups will trip over each other to build vast employment centers in Manteca where no job pays less than $100,000 a year.
Our leaders would do current and future residents a great service if they stopped trying to replicate the Emerald City of their dreams and instead use limited revenue sources to uplift the quality of life of people in Manteca.
You do this by first opening your eyes.
What they should see instead of reruns of “That ‘70s Show” when it comes to how cities grow and operate, is a thing called “reality.”
Even if the Munchkins - aka taxpayers - OK increasing sales tax by one percent to give the City Council $13.8 million more a year to spend on consultants and covering the tabs of putting department heads on ice with full pay and benefits as they now have done for almost six months with Police Chief Jodie Estarziau, it won’t be enough.
There is a pension deficit approaching $100 million. The backlog of road work that needs to be done to maintain streets is in excess of $40 million. Identified new road projects are in excess of $180 million and closer to $400 million if you add back in two major interchanges along Highway 99 where none exist today. Toss in $80 million for recreation facilities such as an aquatic center plus add $7 million for an ice rink that could morph into $200 million for a major events center and top it off with a new city hall for $40 million.
Now we’re talking $1 billion and that doesn’t include interest.
Meanwhile one would hope they’d restore street and sidewalk maintenance crews, actually add to the police force instead of playing catch-up and covering for growth, and add other front-line workers that deliver services instead of those that draft reports on grandiose ideas that get regurgitated much like the plan to save downtown du jour.
Once your eyes are open take a look around at assets Manteca has or it is working on to get in place.
There are 15 community centers that can — with a partnership that is not reminiscent of the Hatfields and McCoys — could address some of the wants and needs sooner, more cost effective and within walking distance of residents. The community centers are called schools.
The city is allowing the ripping up of city streets and sidewalks with shoddy and safety hazard repaving jobs to bring fiber optic service to Manteca.
Taking the two together and actually joining the 21st century work culture instead of bragging about how cutting edge the city is when it can’t even communicate effectively in real time with its citizens during “social distancing” for council meetings, you can start to whittle down the list in terms of needs and wants as well as cost.
With fiber optics Manteca doesn’t need a huge city hall complex. They could even act like business and even the federal government and have a good chunk of their workforce in non-pandemic times work from home.
The magic of the Internet means the city could invest in Butler steel buildings erected barracks style at the wastewater treatment plant to house employees that physically need to be in one place to do their office jobs.
The tech savvy city Manteca likes to say they are on the cusp of being can operate in the virtual world for many of its functions.
If they want a gleaming edifice downtown, partner with Manteca Unified and revamp the Dorothy Mulvihill Theatre at Manteca High as s high tech community venue. Gut the interior. Make sight line and acoustics even better. Turn it into a cutting edge stage for broadcasting and live-streaming. Make it where the City Council and planning commission meets as well as the school district. Use it for plays, concerts and other performances whether they are school, city recreation, community related. It could even be a broadcast/streaming stage for seminars aimed at assisting small businesses.
Have the city add what is needed to house such uses including meeting rooms for closed door council and school board sessions.
Then work out a deal with the school district to erect in-person public access portals for city services at strategic locations throughout Manteca that could be placed at select school sites and/or community parks. Such a use can easily be incorporated for the downtown area in the existing transit center.
The portals would need perhaps two staffers at most. They would interact and assist the public with accessing almost every municipal service possible. Since they wouldn’t be busy full time doing that they would also be assigned other tasks.
If the city wants stylish edifices, there are small prefab structures that will fit the bill that are about the size of a trucking container.
The workers would have computer terminals. Kiosks would be made available to the public. Such public portals could even be tied into the library system to arrange the drop-off of books and other materials. People could pay late water bills, try to troubleshoot an issue, get a dog license, and sign up for recreation classes if they chose to do so in person all from a “mini” city hall in their own neighborhood.
Manteca as a city needs to make the delivery of services in the most efficient and effective manner as possible a top priority. The city should not be in the business of building monuments.
What attracts people to a city and makes it sustainable is not an inspiring city hall. It is safe, clean, and well-maintained streets. It is an abundance of parks and recreation amenities. It is safe trees and sidewalks that aren’t buckled or segments missing. It is dependable water, sewer, and solid waste service. It is dependable and effective police and fire protection. It is a strong sense of community and good schools.
The first step in developing a meaningful community economic development program is not building a new city hall. It’s making the city a great place to live, work, do business, and visits. And having a city government that is nimble, responsive, and effective accomplishes that — not a $40 million Palace of Government.