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From out of the darkness Manteca elected DeBrum to the City Council
Dennis Wyatt

It was arguably one of the darkest moments in Manteca’s political history.

A sitting City Council member was charged by the San Joaquin County District Attorney — and later convicted — of trying to extort the city attorney.

The councilman’s resignation created a need for a special election. The year was 2003. The candidate that prevailed was a newcomer by the name of Steve DeBrum.

DeBrum at the time was — and still is — extremely active in endeavors that help sew the community’s fabric together such as the Boys & Girls Club, Kiwanis, the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, Knights of Columbus, and other such organizations.

His 15-year run on the City Council including the last four as mayor comes to an end this afternoon shortly after 5 o’clock when the results of the Nov. 6 election are certified and Ben Cantu — a fellow Kiwanian, fellow Catholic, and fellow Manteca advocate — takes the oath of office.

DeBrum is sincere when he wishes Cantu success. That’s because like those who have served before him, DeBrum understands the sum total of Manteca is built on a lot of things that people have done before and will be built by people yet to serve.

You can count DeBrum as being one of those who set in motion things that will benefit Manteca residents for generations to come. At the same time keep in mind DeBrum, like everyone else, is not infallible. People may not have rejected DeBrum per se on Nov. 6 as much as they were restless for a change. 

That was clear 10 years ago when Debby Moorhead, after being sworn in as a council member, used her first few words as an elected official to sing the praises of Jack Snyder as being what she called “Manteca’s best Council member ever.” Some may disagree with that assessment but it is worthy to mention as Moorhead chose to run against “Manteca’s best Council member ever” and defeated him to gain election. 

Moorhead’s seemingly counter intuitive comment wasn’t. Virtually everyone driven to run for local elected office does so out of a desire to serve. And people tend to like change.

DeBrum, like all elected officials including his successor, has his detractors. It’s one of the things about elected office. You will never make everyone happy on any decision you make. And even if your hands are tied from making a decision people want whether it’s due to state law, contractual obligations or a court order rest assured that will rarely satisfy those who want you to take a course of action you decline to do so based on legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

There are two things that standout among all of the decisions that DeBrum made that have a potential to pay big dividends for decades to come.

One is the Great Wolf project and the other is the effort to secure a solution for the 120 Bypass/Highway 99 debacle.

The positive impact of the Great Wolf deal that converts 30 acres once reserved spray fields for the wastewater treatment plant into a $180 million private sector investment cannot be overstated.

To those still disappointed it is not your father’s waterslide park and that its business model is that of a self-contained resort and not a drop-by entertainment for kids to be left on their own, get over it.

Based on conservative projections using the track record of other Great Wolf locations, after its first full-year of being open, the 500-room hotel and indoor water park will bring $1.4 million annually in room taxes to the city’s general fund. With 62 percent of the general fund going to public safety, that could allow almost seven more police officers to be hired at the entry level pay if a future council decided to go that route. Essentially in one fell swoop Manteca could almost have enough officers to bring staffing levels to the much touted 1 officer per 1,000 residents. It gets better. After the 15th year, the city’s room tax would jump to $2 million in constant 2018 dollars. Then after 25 years of operation the city would get it all —  $5.6 million — in constant 2018 dollars. Virtually every last penny of the room taxes will be paid by Great Wolf patrons who do not live in Manteca. That means not only would Manteca see the largest sustainable jump ever in a source of revenue for the general fund to pay for day-to-day municipal services but it won’t be out of the pockets of city residents.

DeBrum has been active in the Great Wolf talks from the start. Then Mayor Willie Weatherford paired him first with council member Vince Hernandez. Then after he became mayor and Hernandez opted not to seek re-election, DeBrum had Mike Morowit join him on the council subcommittee.

Staff obviously did the heavy lifting with City Manager Tim Ogden doing most of it after eschewing his predecessor’s preference to lean heavily on outside consultants to do the negotiations grind, but it was DeBrum who lent the political will much like Weatherford did with Big League Dreams.

The 500 permanent jobs Great Wolf will bring — 250 full-time and 250 part-time — is nothing to sneeze at even if a slight majority start at $15 an hour when the resort opens in 2020.

DeBrum’s role in getting movement of a solution for the 120 Bypass/99 interchange snafu also can’t be overstated.

Before DeBrum in his dual role of San Joaquin Council of Governments chairman started cobbling together regional support to address the most congested interchange and deadliest stretch of freeway in the 209, a solution wasn’t even on the radar for transportation planning that extended to 2040.

The $82 million solution that is still in need of full funding is now on the radar thanks to DeBrum. Work could start as early as 2022 assuming there is still the political will to push funding forward.

DeBrum has indicated he’d like the City Council to consider him as the citizen appointee that Manteca is allowed for the coming year to serve on SJCOG. They’d be hard press to find a better option for the best interests of Manteca and the region than DeBrum.

The chapter that DeBrum helped write on the ongoing story of Manteca is coming to a close.

Cantu’s chapter is next building on the storyline that had been in the making for 100 years.

And if all goes well it will continue to be a best seller as evidenced by Manteca’s sustained growth and its growing attraction as a place to locate employment centers and large scale leisure dollar investments such as Great Wolf.

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 or 209.249.3519.