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Qualex is the wrong site for a Manteca homeless facility
homeless mess
The handiwork of the homeless along the eastbound lanes of the 120 Bypass is seen from Van Ryn Avenue.

If there is such a thing, the best site for a homeless resource center that could one day morph into a drop-in homeless shelter is in the Manteca Industrial Park.

The city, though is pursuing the wrong site.

The options that staff vetted for the Manteca City Council earlier this year failed to include one site because of the parameters elected officials gave them. The caveat in the staff’s analysis of various locations was what property was available.

As a result the most obvious location was not considered. That site is the city’s current solid waste operations yard on Wetmore Avenue.

Technically the site backs up to the industrial park and it is not currently available.

Plans are in motion to move the solid waste division to the wastewater treatment plant. That’s where the liquefied compressed gas fueling station is located for the city’s food waste to fuel program. Refuse collection trucks need to be slowly fueled overnight. Ultimately the entire fleet will be converted.

Manteca can accelerate the move. Meanwhile there is the land underneath the old water tower that can be used to pitch a temporary warming center when needed that can also provide other resources for the homeless.

The solid waste division location is large enough that it can support a resource center and virtually any other need dealing with the homeless including storage area for the belongings of those in the streets using city solid waste carts for individual containers to a shelter if Manteca ultimately goes that route. You could also place shade structures for the open patio concept that Clark County is using in Las Vegas for overflow capacity to provide safe haven for the homeless and a secure location.

The project can move forward sooner than later.

It took the city nine months going with a Butler-style metal prefab structure to get the Moffat Community Center/Veterans Center completed after a previous council chose the site and said get it done.

Butler-style buildings can be any size as the gym/cafeteria/multipurpose room at River Islands Tech Academy shows.

The staff could start on the needs, speculations, and drawing today while at the same time moving forward with prepping to move solid waste to the wastewater treatment plant.

The day solid waste moves out, work can start on a homeless resource/navigation center. While that is happening, the existing solid waste office can be used as a temporary home for a resource center. It could also be used for homeless related services once the resource center is completed.

The site is also big enough that if at some point down the road a shelter is deemed necessary it can be placed there whether it involves using modular structures or Butler-style buildings.

The location can be secured with masonry walls.

Once it opens, the temporary tent under the water tower can be folded and that site along with the adjoining former vehicle maintenance garage and yard and a possibly relocated streets division would provide for parking for Altamont Corridor Express passenger train service stopping in downtown starting in 2023.

The reasons why the solid waste location is superior are as follows:

It is not on a major street.

It is central to where the homeless hang out as well as for homeless prevention services.

It does not border four established employers.

It has city “eyes” given the vehicle maintenance facility is next door and the animal shelter is across the street.

It is a much easier site to provide real time camera surveillance. Not only in the site itself that is devoid of trees but along the street and what could eventually be an ACE parking lot across the street. Police will be able to monitor it effectively and move quickly to avoid tent cities from popping up.

The business to the east is a cement mixing plant.

The city can easily secure it with a 7-foot masonry wall on all four sides.

The city owns the property.

It does not have hidden bombshells that can crater the pocketbooks of taxpayers.

Councilman Dave Breitenbucher was absolutely right earlier this year when he described the Qualex building as a “money pit.”

You would think the city council and municipal staff that like to emphasize Manteca is fiscally responsible would avoid the Qualex location like the plague if it weren’t for the bind they are in to locate a homeless facility — resource center or whatever — in Manteca given it is as popular as telling neighboring property owners that you are going to place a toxic waste dump next door.

From the angle of fiscal responsibility, the Qualex building is cringe worthy even for an advocate of big government.

Through the now defunct Redevelopment Agency, a previous Manteca council spent $3.6 million to buy the Qualex building 14 years ago and almost another $2 million in preliminary work with the intent to convert it into new police headquarters before walking away from the project convinced it was the fiscal black hole. That $4.6 million is from bonds that a large number of Manteca property owners are still paying off for another 15 years. The cost figure does not reflect interest the impacted taxpayers are helping cover.

It will cost the city $1.1 million to purchase the building for a second time. Given it needs a new roof, there are mold problems, the heating and air system is likely needed to be replaced sooner or later, lead paint, and asbestos plus the fact it needs to have an all new interior means the $8 million rough cost that Councilman Gary Singh was able to coax out of staff for bringing the building up to par once the city purchases the structure, you’re talking $9.1 million before factoring in annual operation and maintenance costs.

Keep in mind a previous council was lured into buying the Qualex building in the first place as city staff at the time came to the conclusion retrofitting an existing building would be cheaper than building one from scratch.

The city’s track record on such retrofitting adventures is dismal. At the same time as Qualex they acquired former medical offices on Union Road just north of Louise Avenue for a fire station. They ended up selling the structure at a loss to Manteca CAPS.

The Moffat Community Center is proof that the city — especially if they own the land — can get a significant building up and running from scratch in less than a year. And, if you hear the majority of the current council talk that was back when Manteca apparently was run by the Three Stooges. Imagine what the best and brightest could do today.

Manteca won’t have to wait any longer if they switch to the Wetmore site because the state approval process doesn’t factor into it. Instead it is all on the city.

If they can’t build a basic no thrills structure using pre-fabricated components to design exactly what they need for under $3 million — the Moffat Community Center was less than $1.5 million — then there needs to be more house cleaning at 1001 West Center St.