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No photo finish: The city needs to drop Qualex as homeless solution
sprung structure
Sprung Structures complete with restrooms and showers in use as a homeless navigation center.

It’s tough not to agree with Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu.

Two years and counting with no physical progress on establishing a navigation center is unacceptable.

And if the City Council continues wasting staff time pursing the rabbit hole that the Qualex building has been to Manteca taxpayers whether it comes out of money taken from them to pay off redevelopment agency bonds or bankroll the general fund, they will have nothing to show for it two years from now as well.

Actually, that is not exactly true. City councils —- past and present — will have spent well over $8 million on the property at 555 Industrial Park Drive chasing first the “best solution” for a new police station and now the “best solution” for a “homeless navigation center.”

The city could have a functional homeless navigation center up and running in a year.

Here’s how that can happen:

*Move the solid waste division on Wetmore Street as planned to the solid waste treatment plant given that is where all collection trucks will ultimately need to be fueled overnight using compressed liquid gas created for from the city’s cutting edge food waste to fuel program. This requires asphalting an area for containers and bins, park fueled vehicles, put in a wash rack, and build office space.

The mayor might be interested to know this was supposed to have been done by now. The cost is on the back of solid waste ratepayers.

*Use all or part of the existing solid waste division yard for the homeless navigation center.

There is reluctance from city management to do this because that is where they hope to relocate the city’s street division that is now across the street. They are planning on federal funds to develop where the streets division is now located for commuter parking when downtown Altamont Corridor Express service starts in 2023.

There might be enough space to accommodate the streets operations and the homeless facility where solid waste is currently. The city could also explore space possibilities at the solid waste site. If neither is feasible, the city should look to buy property for the streets division.

It is clearly easier to site a city corporation yard than it is a homeless facility. And if a desire to have all city operations clustered together is a deal breaker, perhaps someone should remind the council and city management that addressing the homeless problem has been the top municipal priority for three years running, not keeping city operations clustered in one, two or three places.

*Do not build a permanent structure. Instead use Sprung Structures.

They are proven effective ways to house homeless operations. The city can purchase additional structures as needed in a more cost and time effective manner. Used Sprung Structures are sold all of the time. That means they can be moved.

This is important because 25 years or so from now the Wetmore Street site could have more valuable uses for the city while Manteca with almost 140,000 residents may have a better location for homeless facilities.

Even if the city sinks another $3 million into buying the Qualex building a second time and actually prepping it for municipal use, it provides no flexibility.

*To ease the sting to the general fund, use all proceeds from the city’s share of the sale of surplus redevelopment agency property including the former Qualex building to go toward prepping the solid waste division site and acquiring Sprung Structures. The RDA property sales may end up yielding close to $1 million for the city.

By all means the city needs to pursue whatever federal and state grants they can to offset the costs of getting a homeless navigation center in place.

*Do everyone a favor and fund a full time city position that addresses homeless and affordable housing issues. They are arguably two of the most perplexing problems facing Manteca yet there is no targeted manpower day-to-day working on them.

Going with the Wetmore solid division site provides the city with the maximum flexibility to address homeless issues. They also already have legal ownership of the land.

The Wetmore site poses fewer challenges for neighbors. It is flanked by the city’s vehicle maintenance building and a cement mixing plant. Across the street is the animal shelter and a future parking lot for rail commuters. Behind it is almost 10 acres of former RDA property recently sold at auction. All the city needs to do is put in place an 8-foot masonry wall and the problem of homeless cutting through fencing to access that property — or even the neighboring cement plant — from the shelter site is resolved.

City leaders by not going with the Wetmore site will have a lot of explaining to do.

If they were honest the No. 1 reason they went with Qualex was to avoid stirring up people to grab pitchforks and torches and descending on city hall. The neighboring property to 555 Industrial Park Drive are neither homes or high-trafficked commercial ventures. They are small scale industrial scale employers. As such they will create little political fallout for the city to deal with.

However, to be OK with the 555 Industrial Park Drive site requires sticking your head in the sand. The potential is real for overflow issues to damage the long-term viability of neighboring — and nearby parcels — as employment centers.

This is where the advantage of the Wetmore site comes in. First it is the only site the city looked at where at least two of the neighbors of the homeless navigation center would be the City of Manteca. A third would be a parking lot controlled by a government agency.

The fourth is a concrete mixing yard, not nearly as problematic to secure as it doesn’t provide the usual attraction for illegal intrusions by the homeless. As for the fifth neighbor — the future users of the former RDA parcel — the city can resolve issues by erecting an 8-foot masonry wall now instead of later.

That means besides the homeless shelter staff the city would have other eyes on the Wetmore Street corridor.

In short city management will have a higher investment in keeping the area around a navigation center on Wetmore Street from deteriorating into a version of the St. Mary’s Dining Hall and shelter in Stockton.

Wetmore Street beats the Qualex site hands down on costs, security, flexibility, a location that makes sense for serving the homeless community, and even speed at getting a navigation center up and running.

Clutching on to the Qualex site as a solution is not just myopic but it also speaks volumes about government ineptness created by self-imposed blinders such as the need to not disrupt plans to congregate public works divisions even if it means sending costs sky high to jam the proverbial square peg into a round hole so the homeless center can be at 555 Industrial Park Drive.

The only photo finish for converting the former film processing complex into a homeless center will be mug shots of city officials and leaders forcing it to happen that will hang for eternity in the Taxpayers’ Hall of Shame.