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Paradise Lost: Let’s be blunt. The 2020 Vision for Library Park in downtown Manteca has been killed by homeless
bollards poplar
This 2010 photo shows a segment of Poplar Avenue that had been blocked off with bollards to accommodate community events before the pavement was ripped out and replaced with grass to expand Library Park in 2011.

It was, as municipal initiatives go, a bold move.

The city — inspired by a 1998 exercise dubbed Vision 2020 with two dozen citizens that devised a list of things they’d like to see Manteca have by the year 2020  — decided to do a different take on Joni Mitchell’s lament in “Big Yellow Taxi”.

They decided to tear out a street and put in place paradise, at least a little bit of it.

The idea was to do a land swap with Contel and rip out a section of Poplar Avenue to more than double the size of Library Park to 1.33 acres.

The goal was to make Library Park into a town square of sorts.

Library Park is on land that originally was the baseball diamond where Manteca’s first town baseball team in the 1910s took on teams from Turlock, Stockton, Tracy, Escalon,  and Patterson on Sunday afternoons.

In 1961 when ground broke on the library, it was christened Library Park.

For a half century the park in its current and previous configurations hosted community gatherings and was a favorite place for people to enjoy a lunch or read books checked out from the library.

It even had its share of weddings especially after the late Antone Raymus donated funding to build the original gazebo as “a gift to the children of Manteca.”

The vision was simple. Library Park’s makeover would inspire more community use — organized and otherwise — to help spur a downtown rebirth.

It included a new, larger gazebo with an amphitheater seating 75. A bocce court and two playgrounds. A series of murals depicting Manteca history including the original baseball  field.

And the crowning touch — a unique interactive water play feature with “railroad car” seats cast in concrete to resemble train cars. They are placed along pseudo track impressions in three lines curving from the water feature whose surface includes durable artwork depicting nearby rivers and Manteca’s Yokuts roots.

It also include a water spray sequence with water jets shooting up that gave you a sense of a train locomotive approaching.  It was capped  with a crossing signal.

It was a nod to the fact that just a mere dozen or so feet away was where the Southern Pacific Railroad station stood for more than half a century before being torn down in the 1960s.

Over the course of 12 years — starting with the restrooms — Manteca poured almost $1.2 million into Library Park using redevelopment agency funds and growth fees.

It was not an easy path to take.

The City Council in 2000 started negotiations for the land swap when Contel was still the landline provider in Manteca. The land swap wasn’t completed until 2010 due to delays attributed to the phone companies.

Yes, phone companies, as in plural. By the time the deal was completed, the Manteca phone system went from being owned by Contel, then GTE, and then Verizon that has since sold to Frontier.

In 2002 after the late Jack Snyder was reappointed to the council to fill a vacancy, he threw a wrench into the city’s plans.

He was adamant that it made no sense until — ready for this —  the city “cleaned up” the homeless problem at Library Park.

Snyder knew what he was talking about. He lived just a block from Library Park at that time for 40 years. He saw almost on a daily basis over the years how the homeless were slowly taking over Library Park.

The council concurred. City Manager Bob Adams gave the Manteca Police Department its marching orders.

The situation improved. Snyder voted “yes” to keep the negotiations going forward and to move toward issuing a call for bids. He did so saying that he still had his doubts.

The park expansion was finished in 2011. By the time 2014 rolled around, Snyder’s worst fears were realized.

One by one organizations pulled events out of Library Park due to the abundant and persistent presence of homeless simply hanging out when they weren’t illegally camping.

People had a perception it wasn’t safe to use Library Park. And it certainly didn’t give off an appealing vibe with as many as two dozen homeless hanging out during the day.

The homeless becoming almost the exclusive users of the 75-seat amphitheater.

They were the main users of the restrooms and also the main people who were vandalizing and trashing them.

The gazebo has been used almost exclusively for the past seven years by homeless milling about.
And before the city enforced its ordinance that all city parks closed at 8 p.m. to everyone unless there was an exception granted by council action — the gazebo was the biggest “homeless shelter “in Manteca.

The only exceptions are six days a year when the Crossroads Street Fair and Pumpkin Fair take place.

Some homeless showed little respect for the murals or the fact it was a park.

They urinated on sidewalks. Defecated in bushes. They etched drug-related and obscene graffiti on the “train benches” designed for the use of kids. They hung out near the playgrounds. They vandalized murals. They even perched a basketball hoop on the top of the wall and then repeatedly pounded the art work over and over again with basketballs.

Let’s be clear on one point. The city — acting with legal constraints as dictated by the 9th District Court of Appeals — has done a herculean job on a daily basis for the past five years removing all traces of homeless trash and other issues before most people pass the park.

That includes things such as drug paraphernalia and general trash.

Almost all the homeless have also worked with the officer assigned to homeless concerns to distance themselves from the playgrounds hence their gatherings to the “rear” of the park off the proverbial beaten path near the gazebo.

The homeless still pitch tents, makeshift temporary shelters,  and roll out sleeping bags on the wide sidewalk in front of the library along Center Street every night as they are allowed to do by law. But all traces of their camping — including trash left behind — are cleared out by parks crews working in concert with Manteca Police.

Yes, the homeless still hang out at the park during the day. They do almost exclusively at the amphitheater, gazebo and the area in front of the baseball mural.

That, as they say, is the problem.

The damage has been done to Library Park’s reputation.

One of the reasons why homeless hang out at the park in the daytime is it is not heavily trafficked by other people, especially the southern acre of the 2.58-acre parcel that includes the park, library, and parking lot.

That brings us to the city exploring declaring that acre as surplus property in a bid to secure a private sector investment that could be a restaurant or some other use that would bring people to that end of downtown frequently.

If done right, they believe it could help momentum grow for downtown, building on the recent opening of The Veranda events center, the Brethren Brewing Company and soon the Deaf Puppy Comedy Club.

The city is not contemplating such action in a heartless vacuum.

They have amassed $20 million to invest in building what would arguably be a holistic approach to assist the homeless with a navigation center to address issues needed for them to get off the streets. The effort will include transitional housing.

In another era perhaps it would constitute blasphemy to sell off a part of a park.

But the southern acre of Library Park has ceased being the park it was designed to be a long time ago.

Invoke nostalgia all you want, but to do so means you won’t be looking to improving downtown and Manteca as a whole.

In all honesty, the park should be renamed like it was in 1961 to reflect the major draw to the grassy area under the stately sycamores which is the library

And that name is Homeless Hang Out Park.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at