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Manteca squirrels away money as police security & library suffer
police station

As you read this the men and women who put their lives on the line for you and me who operate out of a tin can of a headquarters built in the 1970s that is a security nightmare thanks to exposed walkways, no bullet proof glass in the lobby, and ironically has a new evidence building that is arguably 100 times more secure than the rest of the station are going about their business.

Meanwhile the city has been sitting on $19.5 million in government facilities growth fees since last June that could be used to bring the Manteca Police Department headquarters out of Third World status.

Down the road a ways on Center Street where almost two dozen homeless gather like clockwork outside the courtyard fencing every night shortly after 7 p.m. sits a library last expanded in 1977 with space designed to accommodate a municipal population of 32,000. It speaks volumes of the premium the city doesn’t place on education or pursuing 21st century learning centers that are critical parts of teeming economies that support the unicorn elected leaders say they are chasing every election cycle in the form of head of household jobs.

Yet all we seem to hear from 1001 West Center Street is how city hall is bursting at the seams.

This is where Mayor Ben Cantu comes into play.

Cantu wants that money put to use instead of stored away in a bank account. Given our growth rate, what has been approved, and how we are situated in the region the government facilities fee account will generate well over $500,000 in a typical year. He gets that the money in hand can be used to leverage things Manteca needed — as he astutely points out at every opportunity — 20 years ago.

Cantu is the one that can lead us out of the wilderness we’ve been in where Manteca has been caught in the time warp of being squirrels in a fall that never ends constantly stashing nuts and not consuming them.

We need to spend the money we have and commit what is coming in to address deficiencies that the leadership in the neighboring cities of Ripon and Lathrop addressed in their respective communities a long time ago or are now physically doing when it comes to police department headquarters, libraries, and city halls.

The absolute first priority, hands down, must be a new police department. And let’s not do this on the cheap. The last time we did the city sunk $5 million into the Qualex building for a police station and had nothing to show for it. Before that they bought land on South Main Street for a criminal justice center with courts and police together for $2 million and have nothing to show for it.

It is par for the course. Fifteen years ago another bright plan to save money was to buy a shuttered medical office building on Union Road just north of Louise Avenue for conversion into a fire station. Needless to say after buying it they discovered it would be a money pit to convert. They ended up selling it and not breaking even given what they paid for it and other costs “exploring” the idea. They ended up building the station on Lathrop Road west of Union Road instead.

Next on the list that needs to be addressed are library deficiencies. Dead last among the three is a new city hall. No one likes to rent but let’s be brutally honest. Portable buildings that can have a life expectancy will over 40 years as demonstrated by the Manteca Unified School District are suited for most city hall space. The police and library need specialized buildings.

Back in December when a staff member was pitching the need for a new nexus study to update the government facilities, he spoke eloquently to his reasoning why a state-of-the-art new city hall should be the top priority given he said you need it to attract a Millennial workforce loathe to work just anywhere.

What about having a modern learning center aka library where residents struggling to survive can access in a bid to strengthen their lot in life whether it is adults learning to read, getting kids hooked on additional learning much the way sports leagues get kids hooked on physical activity or people who don’t have access to the Internet in a meaningful manner can go to learn skills that will improve their lives.

Cantu may be onto something with his proposed redo of the library roughly in its current footprint including the courtyard and adding several smaller libraries sites around the community.

With all due respect, though, Cantu’s rationale that relocating city hall downtown will help jumpstart private sector investment is weak at best.

Most of the city hall foot traffic today is folks around my age who are entrenched in their ways and pay utility bills in person — I actually use snail mail — or are paying in person to avoid having their water shut off.

Those who make their way to city hall while current in their bills likely patronize downtown businesses already. And they certainly aren’t the bread and butter people needed to support teaming dining options on weekday evenings and weekends that serve as the cornerstone of every downtown Manteca’s leaders say they want to emulate.

As for those with 48 hour shut off notices I doubt they are in a position to drop a few dimes at restaurants and trendy shops if they had to go to a city hall located in downtown.

The myth that city hall workers on lunch hours would inundate downtown to such a degree it would be worth spending millions to buy property for a city hall there plus another $30 million or so to build it is insane. Door dash and such aside, if downtown venues were a draw for city hall workers it would be happening now at lunch given the two aren’t even 10 blocks apart.

As an aside downtown is pretty healthy, thank you. There are robust ethnic markets and businesses, services and shops, seven banks, four furniture stores and more. The rub is downtown isn’t the gathering place and dining spot most seem to think they want.

A city hall lunch crowd — even if it was more than just a handful on any given day — isn’t going to get you that type of downtown.

Manteca already has the land at 1001 W. Center St. There is also land directly across the street under transmission lines that could be purchased for additional parking.

Staying put not only stretches the buying power of the $19.5 million and future fees that are collected but it also gives a workable site for the city hall to keep growing 50 years down road when Manteca’s population could very well be closing in in 200,000. Any site downtown — Cantu’s former bean company location across from the transit center or those that want to cannibalize Library Park — is limited and likely to eventually create a parking problem that could stunt downtown’s growth once it is going down the track to wherever people want it to grow.

The city needs to maximize dollars without going squirrelly cheap as they have in the past. The monument to cutting corners sits unused much of the long hot summered the interactive water play feature for kids was put in place for $100,000 less because it didn’t include a system to treat and recycle water. Now the $400,000 investment in order to get robust use due to changes in state laws during the last drought needs another $400,000 to put in the system they cut out to save $100,000 so it can be used daily spring thrust fall without sending water down the drain.

Cantu’s exact vision may not be the best way to go about addressing police, city hall, and library needs. But he is absolutely correct things have to change. No one is saying spend with abandon, but to sit on $19.5 million when the needs for police facilities, to the library and city hall in that order are so great and construction inflation easily outpaces interest payments on idle money is borderline criminal.