Had Saint Bernard of Clairvaux been pondering downtown Manteca’s fate and not damnation he might have uttered, “the road to purgatory is lined with good intentions.”
For 55 years and counting we’ve been told of the need for a plan to save downtown. Retired educator Marion Elliott’s forays into the microfilm of past Bulletin editions yields coverage of no less than six efforts by the city to implement strategies to “save” downtown. Candidates faithfully every two years speak of saving downtown although their thoughts aren’t as specific as Ben Cantu who advocates boosting downtown’s fortunes by returning city hall to the heart of the city, remodeling the Civic Center into other municipal uses such as for a library, recreation, theater (the current council chambers) and expanding police station space while converting the existing library to a community center. He also has advocated developing plan No. 7 to save downtown.
Now that we’ve invested more than half of the city’s existence in Don Quixote style crusades to slay what ails downtown, its time we all act like grownups. That means accepting realities and dropping the Peter Pan scenarios.
First and foremost downtown “is” a viable center of commerce. Name the number of Central Valley downtowns that after 100 years can say they have seven banks or financial institutions, five furniture stores, a variety of other concerns and even a post office. What downtown isn’t is a trendy gathering place that offers the type of boutique businesses, entertainment, and extensive dining options that urban planners and many people believe is necessary for it to flourish in the changing world of commerce and do double duty as the place that fosters the growth of a city’s soul as it speeds toward — and past — the 100,000 resident mark.
This is not to say downtown doesn’t have serious issues. But here’s the rub: Those issues are no different than what plagues or can befall older and even newer neighborhoods. They cover two categories. The failure of a handful of private sector owners to either care about their property and who they allow to move in — or to rent a second floor room — that bring with them behavior that plants the seed of blight. The other is the city’s limited success at enforcing serious property maintenance issues in a timely enough manner not to put a drag on a neighborhood or downtown as well as address quality of life crimes that law enforcement has built the broken window theory upon. Allow enough “broken windows” to pop up and not be fixed and you’ll allow the seeds of crime and blight to grow strong roots and squeeze the vitality and safety out of a neighborhood.
The amazing thing is how resilient the rank and file private sector on the ground day in and day has been at battling “broken windows.”
One of the greatest lines from the much ado about nothing rhetoric of those that want to take downtown to the next level is the lack of a ruby mine to raid to finance opulent plans. What happens is akin to a homeowner determining they don’t have enough money to add a second story, a play room, a four-car garage, tennis courts, and a a swimming pool with outdoor kitchen deciding there is no reason to invest in fixing the leaking roof, sprucing up the front yard, and giving their home TLC so it is the best if can be.
That analogy applies to the city as well as a handful of private property owners who should do everyone a favor and sell. That won’t happen, of course, since they have an inflated value of their property especially given they have made little or no effort to invest in it.
This brings us to the latest effort to “help” downtown by addressing some of the Third World alleys and parking lots.
The solution driven by a consultant given a limited budget and orders to address all specified areas is akin to using a Band-Aid to treat gangrene. No matter how deplorable the alleys and parking lots look now, what the city is moving forward with is short-sighted and about as inspirational as a slab of concrete at 3 p.m. on Aug. 10 in the middle of Death Valley.
The city wants to replace the concrete parking lots that have a 50-year life with asphalt that has a 25-year life. Since the city has been talking about doing something about the alleys and parking lots for close to a quarter of a century, the proposal doesn’t seem prudent. The city plan calls for alleys to have a re-enforced base to address truck issues while being topped with concrete that oozes with about as much charm as a cell block at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy.
Why not build on the downtown plan inspired by the Vision 2020 effort that brought us the Library Park expansion and upgrade, the transit center with community room and the Tidewater-style street lights? That plan called for upgrading back entrances to serve as main entrances.
Cut the scope and concentrate on one area. Put in street pavers instead of concrete and asphalt. Add Tidewater-style light fixtures and landscaping. Set the stage for private sector investments.
The pavers can be lifted up and replaced to make repairs or to “trench” to access utilities to prevent a repeat of what you now see. As for future funding to continue the treatment, tap the economic development reserve when you can.
Doing what the city is now planning will have significantly less impact and benefits.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.