Down on Main Street.
It’s where you will find the defining issue of the 2022 Manteca mayoral race.
Actually, it’s a trifecta.
The main event is the homeless.
But right behind it is this city’ commitment to police services and how far it should go when it comes to affordable housing.
And we owe it all to a bungled decision 18 years ago that — depending upon your perspective — has created today an opportunity to make real headway in addressing the homeless or will set the stage for the homeless to descend on Manteca like locust.
That opportunity is the biggest undeveloped parcel in the heart of Manteca.
Its 8 acres on South Main Street less than two blocks away from the city’s largest retailer in the form of Walmart as well as directly across from a pre-1970 neighborhood.
The city is in the process of buying the land with a firm commitment to develop a homeless navigation center on the back half separated from the front half by a 7-foot high sound wall.
The current council has left the door open for the front half along Main Street to be used to develop affordable housing or build a new police station to replace the existing security sieve that is inadequate to serve a city half of Manteca’s size.
The odds of Manteca cobbling together an affordable housing project with the current state of tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, construction costs and such are about the same as Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump dumping their spouses and marrying each other.
Then there is the $16 million carrot better known as funding in the approved state budget for Manteca to build a homeless navigation center.
The funding for all practical purposes is locked into the site.
Granted, Councilman Dace Breitenbucher — who up until several months ago was leaning toward running for mayor before opting to run for re-election to the council — has vowed to keep looking for a better site.
Unfortunately, Breitenbucher won’t be channeling Dr. Richard Kimble and his search for the one-armed man in “The Fugitive”. That’s because the only site Breitenbucher has targeted is a block away on Wetmore Street on city property near the water tower.
Not only is it still in striking range, so to speak, of the neighborhood pushing back on the proposed navigation center site but for all practical purposes it would be right on top of downtown.
There is also the little detail of the site’s size.
Before we get to the mayor’s race and the homeless, you should know Breitenbucher devotes a significant amount of hands-on time with Inner City Action in their efforts to efforts to help those that are homeless who are ready to get off the streets to do so.
It gives him street creed when it comes to homeless issues.
That said, each of the three mayoral candidates to date — Ben Cantu, Lei Ann Johnson, and Gary Singh — all bring unique perspectives to the table when it comes to the homeless.
Cantu knows firsthand of the difficulty relatives have in trying to get loved ones off the street.
Johnson lives on one of the prime routes for homeless movements and gets an eye and earful on a daily basis of the antics of those among the homeless that aren’t trying to blend in.
Singh not only gets to clean up the calling cards that the homeless leave on various commercial properties that he manages but he’s also been assaulted by the homeless.
Cantu and Singh believe the navigation center is Manteca’s best shot at addressing much of the homeless problems plaguing the community. Being realists, they understand it is a win if they can keep it from getting worse and can reduce the scope of the problem to a fairly large degree.
Johnson hasn’t exactly said she is opposed to the concept of a navigation center that clearly will be an ineffective conduit to clear the streets of the hardcore homeless off the street as defined by those embracing criminal lifestyles and who simply don’t ever want to follow the rules of society.
But she has made it clear she believes that a navigation center that can effectively deal with the homeless willing to take the steps back to being sheltered and standing on their own two feet will only serve as a magnet to draw the homeless from nearby communities.
You can break that concern down into two groups.
First, the homeless who do want to get off the street who may be lured here by the navigation center and find out here isn’t room. That may prompt them to set up shop somewhere in Manteca and bid their time.
Second, the hardcore homeless. They have no intention of getting off the street and use the other homeless essentially as cover.
Theoretically, the end result would be Manteca taxpayers picking up the bill to deal with homeless that without the navigation center would been on the dime of neighboring communities such as Lathrop and Ripon
Funny, but over the past two years Singh and Cantu have publicly expressed the same concerns which is why they have — along with San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti —advocated a regional approach to solutions.
Johnson might be a long shot for mayor (just as a of folks thought Cantu was), but she could at a minimum force the council’s hand when it comes to moving forward with a police station along South Main.
The city and council have made it clear they do not want a drop-in shelter where the homeless when they need it can scrounge a free meal and such or even grab a bed to sleep. They want a center where the homeless have to commit to working toward an outcome.
They are driven there by the center’s outreach team and can’t simply walk in. They need to stay there to access the services and not roam the streets. And when they are ready to work they are provided transitional housing while they move toward getting back on their feet.
With the police station next door, it would be hard for law enforcement not to see the homeless trying to illegally camp and such near the navigation center even if it is “waiting” for space to open up.
Manteca also needs to work with Lathrop similarly to how it contracts animal shelter services to allow their homeless population eventual access to the navigation center services. That way Lathrop can address their problem and pay their fair share instead of simply hoping the homeless on their town will make their way to navigation centers being built in Manteca or Tracy.
It is clear doing nothing is not a solution.
At the same time, not addressing every possible drawback navigation center could create is not a solution either.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org