If you are among the 30,000 plus people heading downtown this weekend for the 33rd annual Sunrise Kiwanis Manteca Pumpkin Fair, make sure you take inventory.
In the six to nine block area that traditionally is thought of as downtown where the Pumpkin Fair takes place you will notice more than a few positive things.
There are four thriving furniture stores.
There are six banks.
In recent years the private sector has poured a lot of money into downtown to upgrade buildings — the dentist office on Sycamore, buildings along Maple, American Furniture, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory/Iron Horse Deli, the 90-year-old building where Frutas has relocated, and much more.
There are several bustling specialty markets as well as specialty stores and services.
Nearly 30 pieces of stunning art — murals — grace building walls.
The streetscape featuring dawn-of-the-20th-century style light poles, traffic signals, and benches line the streets.
Library Park with its stately sycamores and expanded footprint that includes the inter-active water play feature is a true community square.
There’s the nearby Manteca Transit Center with its stunning architecture.
The list goes on and on.
Downtown is not dying. You would not see six banks still in downtown or a number of thriving concerns such as four furniture stores if it were. That said it is not what it was 30 years ago because times change.
Now let’s ponder the warts.
Take a look at the two-story building at Sycamore and Yosemite avenues ravaged by fire two years ago and in an arrested state of decay. On Monday evening a homeless individual was seen getting in through the front and taking his bicycle with him. Two years is two years too long to wait for the city to do its job and force the property owner either to repair the hazard or tear it down.
You’ll see other buildings that lack TLC — to put it politely — and are vacant. Most are concentrated in the 200 block of East Yosemite which is why some are left with the false impression all of downtown has gone downhill — it hasn’t.
You’ll see lack of maintenance on city property as well. Curbing on planters in parking lots are busted and crumbling, parking lots and alleys are riddled with potholes, tree planters missing trees, sidewalk brick pavers that are dingy and dirty because they haven’t been power washed even once since being installed 14 years ago. There are two dozen or so sign posts that have been sign-less for more than a decade that add to a blight feel besides being safety hazards.
The biggest issues — the homeless, druggies, and assorted vagrants — likely won’t be anywhere to be found during the weekend. That’s because what they say is absolutely true: If you want to prevent such people from populating an area all you need to do is have activities.
They’re kind of like coyotes if you have ever lived in the country around or in orchards. They’re wait until the lights are all off to swoop in and try to raid the hen house. They don’t do it when people are around because they don’t want to draw attention. The best way to address issues of homeless and druggies congregating is to use downtown more. If the community uses it less, then it’s virtually a self-fulfilling prophecy that vagrants will take over.
If you take nothing else away from a visit to the Pumpkin Fair this weekend is that downtown is far from a hell hole and public safety nightmare as one council member created the impression that it was which in turn fed the narrative some like to espouse that downtown — and Manteca for that matter — are toast.
What ails downtown are not the homeless although they don’t help matters when they engage in quality of life crimes.
The issues are a few irresponsible property owners, the see-no evil unless someone complains approach the city takes to code enforcement even when it involves a fire trap just begging to be re-ignited by vagrants, home-grown drug users, and the deplorable condition of some segments of city owned property from parking lots to the dingy pavers complete with random “sign less” sign posts.
If you believe downtown is worth the effort to make it significantly more vibrant than it already is, explore it to see if there is a reason to go there. At the same time be part of the solution. That doesn’t mean giving the city a free pass. Quite the contrary. Join the effort to insist the most flagrant health and safety issues and pressing code enforcement concerns are aggressively pursued and resolved such as not repairing a severely fire damaged building for almost two years.
City Manager Tim Ogden has rolled out a new mantra for the City of Manteca. He is calling for the city staff to partner with the community instead of viewing them as customers.
It’s tough to think of a better place to put such a philosophy to work.
So how about it partner? If people like dentist Mas’ood Cajee steps up and not only buys but invests heavily in a building a half a block away from the fire-ravaged Sycamore Arms, will the city do its part and use the means at its disposal to force the improvement or removal of the cancerous blight they’ve let stand for almost two years?