Does Manteca need a new city hall?
Before I answer that question, have you ever wondered why the Manteca Police Department has never conducted open house tours like many departments do?
There is a cozy lobby that’s slightly bigger than a bread box with less bullet-proof glass than a gas station open 24/7 in East Oakland. The hallways between offices are open air affairs and about as secure as your backyard. The working space for a police force of a city of 85,000 is just slightly larger than nine average new tract homes combined. The dispatch center is cozier than a shoe box. Ripon, a city one-fifth Manteca’s size has a more secure and adequate work space for those who protect their city.
In the grand scheme of things, if the new city hall complex is done in phases based on the city’s being able to finance the work a new police facility is needed first.
Given the City Council that got bogged down Tuesday in the minutiae of the California building codes and wireless nodes and didn’t get around to issuing a request for proposals to assess city hall space needs — a process that will burn through $100,000 — perhaps council members can do some serious reflection on the most troublesome part of the proposal. It’s not the assessment per se but the colossal waste of time on the three alternative sites the winning consultant will be charged to look at for a possible city hall site.
The criteria apparently for selecting potential alternate sites was that they had to be city owned parcels and located downtown, if possible. The city owned part makes sense, but why downtown? It’s been bantered about that’s because it would be more accessible and would stimulate economic activity.
That assumes the current site is atrocious in terms of accessibility. You can’t get more off the beaten track apparently than being a block off Union Road. It’s a corridor that is so out of it the city is now making a $23.7 million investment to build the first diverging diamond interchange in California on Union Road and the 120 Bypass that’s just a mile away from city hall.
Then there is the ongoing effort by the city to make interaction with citizens so convenient they can do it from their smartphone or — if they have a small building project — from a computer equipped with email. How location is such a critical issue is questionable especially given at least one if not two of the site options attached to the request for proposals (RFP) are about as accessible as locating Manteca’s new city hall in Stockton.
If you wanted to create the most inaccessible city hall as possible, then go for the option in the RFP to place it at the end at the dead-end on South Maple Avenue in downtown where a triangle-shaped city parking lot now sits behind the south side of the 200 block of West Yosemite. Was this placed in the RFP because someone simply used Google maps to assess the site? There is only one city street (assuming you don’t count the alley going to South Main Street) accessing the site. Besides being narrow the nearest street Maple crosses is Yosemite Avenue. That intersection is routinely blocked with traffic heading east waiting to clear Main Street. It also goes into gridlock often when trains pass through Manteca due to traffic being backed up at both the Main Street and Yosemite Avenue crossings.
It may be the Joni Mitchell in me channeling but for paving over paradise and putting up a parking lot mentality you can’t beat the Library Park/Wilson Park site. It is an effective way of glossing over the $400,000 interactive water play feature built on the cheap without a recycling water component functionally rendering it useless much of the time in drought prone California. It also takes out the urban oasis that the city spent $1.4 million to expand not too long ago in a bid to create a downtown gathering place. Other cities try to create urban green space. Manteca wants to tear it out and put up a city hall tower.
The third option in Union Road Park — the rarely used green space across from PL Fry Mortuary and to the left as you drive into the municipal golf course parking lot — defies logic. It is a block away from the current site that apparently has issues because of accessibility. But given the city may not have any qualms about plopping a city hall building next to — and in the middle of — recreational uses such as the golf course, the tennis center, and Morezone Baseball Field it raises the question why other city owned property wedded to recreational uses that are more pliable and accessible were not list as optional locations in the RFP.
Why not carve out a small part of the 100 acres or so of the city’s proposed family entertainment zone on the extension of Daniels Street between Airport Way and McKinley Avenue. It’s across the street from the Great Wolf Lodge and next door to Big League Dreams. You’d still have to go up but there isn’t the problem of needing to build an expensive parking structure. And if having 300 to 400 city employees in one place is a potential way of drawing more restaurants it would be the perfect fit for what the city is trying to do with the FEZ.
Assuming the new city hall would qualify as a Class “A” type office structure it would fit well with what the city wants to do on its parcel near the southeast corner of where Daniels Street intersects Fishback Road east of Airport Way.
Speaking of “Class A” office buildings, if the RFP the city has circulated for that site to develop such a structure there doesn’t get any bites why not re-pitch it as a “Class A” office building for city hall with additional space (more floors) for private sector leasing? Let’s say half of the building when completed met current and short-term future needs. That would leave future space the city could lease to let city hall keep growing as Manteca does. Better yet, if the city is convinced there is a demand for “Class A” office buildings why not take the initiative and build a “Class A” office building twice the size as is now needed for city hall functions and lease the remaining space? Then as city hall space needs grow, they can take over what leased space they need. Surely they can come up with a financing package to make such a strategy a win-win for the city.
Also one option in the RFP should be what an “ideal” city hall campus would look like in terms of buildings and such so that the city could use that as a template to possibly consider sites they don’t currently own that could serve to jumpstart development elsewhere along the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 corridors. As such it could be used as leverage to secure a deal for land — whether it is a land trade or some other approach — that could end up securing the best possible site.
Everyone needs to keep in mind Manteca before we know it will be a city of 125,000 people.
We need to let go of past assumptions, remember the cheapest option in the long run is often not the least expensive, and understand that we are talking about a city hall that will serve Manteca likely for the rest of the 21st century making a 20th century approach counterproductive.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.