Moffat Boulevard 20 years ago was what might politely be called a pigsty.
The once main entrance to Manteca from the south for Highway 99 traffic before the freeway was built in 1955 had fallen into a mishmash of shuttered buildings and abandoned gas stations.
Stretches served as an inner-city dumping ground for those too lazy or too cheap to take their trash to the Lovelace Transfer Station. Dozens of trucks parked overnight including more than a few campers.
There were no trees along the Tidewater Bikeway. The abandoned buildings became group homes for the homeless. Three of those buildings ended up burning.
The street was riddled with cracks and potholes.
The Moffat Feedlot — responsible for that distinct smell along with sugar beet pulp that prompted some to call Manteca “Manstinka” — greeted those coming into town.
Spreckels Road — a washboard two-lane country road T-intersected into Moffat behind the just shuttered Spreckels Sugar plant.
There was a dive bar along with businesses operating out of dilapidated buildings. Sidewalks were hit and miss on the north side of Moffat and non-existent on the south side.
Take a drive down Moffat Boulevard today.
It is one of the smoothest streets in town complete with sidewalks, curbs, and gutters on both sides from Main to Spreckels Avenue.
The intersection at Moffat/Spreckels/Industrial Park Drive that didn’t exist a decade ago is now one of the city’s busiest helping take pressure off Main Street.
The Tidewater is lined with trees thanks in part to work parties from Crossroads Grace Community Church that planted the city supplied trees and then maintained them for three years so they could get established.
The abandoned buildings have been torn down, a substandard trailer court taken out and the gas stations removed.
The city has built a transit station, the Manteca Veterans Center, and the Spreckels Park BMX track.
The private sector has delivered as well. Not only have businesses in older buildings stepped up property care but new construction has popped up — Manteca Veterinary Clinic, California Welding, the Hunsaker distribution center building and Frito-Lay that is part of Spreckels Park, Crossroads Community Church, and a large business park. Union Pacific has even added cyclone fencing along the length of the Tidewater to enhance safety by discouraging people from taking shortcuts across the tracks.
All told the city has invested close to $14 million along the Moffat corridor in the past 15 years or so with the private sector not far behind.
And make no mistake about it. The Moffat renaissance has been driven by the political will of elected council members.
When everyone else was writing off Moffat including members of the city’s senior staff, the council didn’t.
A telling exchange showed the distance between the council’s agenda and where municipal staff’s collective mind was at.
Former Public Works Director Mike Brinton had advanced a storm drainage basin for along Moffat as a temporary project until a larger one could be built someday south of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Brinton wanted to fence it off and leave it in its natural state meaning weeds.
Councilman Vince Hernandez asked Brinton what he meant by temporary. Brinton responded 30 to 40 years.
Hernandez heard enough. He convinced his fellow council members to direct staff to landscape the basin as well as plant trees in it.
It is clear that Hernandez and his fellow council members have a vision for Moffat.
The council did not abandon the inner city contrary to what some distractors believe.
And let’s be clear on this point: Moffat goes right to the historic heart of the city. For all practical purposes, it is an extension of downtown.
Moffat is now situated to help uplift the central district.
That could mean re-orientating Manteca High to face Moffat Boulevard.
Such a move is something that no one in their right mind would have considered 20 years ago.
And the reason Moffat is so positioned is not because of high paid consultants or even the municipal staff. It is due to the direction and vision of the elected City Council.
Moffat Boulevard is a study in perseverance. Transformations of blighted areas don’t happen overnight. They are a long haul process. There is still a ways to go on Moffat but it’ll get there as long as the people we entrust with developing visions for the city not only do that part of the job but keep municipal staff on the right course.
The council saw the importance of Moffat for connecting old and new Manteca. They also viewed the neighborhoods that border Moffat as just as worthy as the ones in Woodard Park, Union Ranch, Del Webb or Chadwick Square.
Rest assured if someone from 1996 standing on Moffat did a Rip Van Winkle act and woke up at the same spot today they’d believe they were looking at a miracle.