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Singh has a better idea for locating Manteca homeless navigation center
singh RDA
This is an aerial view of the 8.04 acres (the large empty space in the middle) that may hold the key to putting in place the best possible homeless solution for Manteca.

Manteca is pondering buying the wrong former redevelopment agency property in its search to step up its efforts to address homeless issues.

Instead of the Qualex site at 555 Industrial Park Drive it should purchase the 8.04 acres the RDA acquired from American Modular more than 15 years ago that fronts South Main Street between Funsten Flooring and Extra Space Storage.

It’s an idea Councilman Gary Singh plans to advance by building upon Councilman Dave Britenbucher’s suggestion that the council passed on over a year ago to site the homeless navigation center on Wetmore Street.

Once you look at Singh’s vision, it is easy to see how it not just addresses the homeless situation but also opens the door for the city to expand its public works operations as the city grows and have land in reserve for future municipal users or even to sell down the road for development.

It also gives the city two options for siting a homeless navigation center.

It will be clear within a month or so — if not already — that the Qualex site is the equivalent of hanging an albatross around the proverbial neck of efforts for advancing efforts to address homeless issues. The purchase price of Qualex will be at least $1.5 million. To get the building shell up to standards is at least $1 million and that doesn’t include electrical issues. The city also has no idea what it will cost to do the interior so it will work for a homeless navigation center. The absolute minimum number that has been tossed about is another $1 million.

That means the city will have to spend at least $3.5 million to get to the point it could actually open doors on a navigation center. It could easily take until early 2023 for that to happen given the hurdles that have to be crossed. And when it is done the city will have no flexibility given they have a stationary 57,000-square-for facility and a site geared for only one purpose — a homeless navigation center.

What the South Main Street site does is give Manteca maximum flexibility and the ability to start on a solution literally in months and not later.

And it is all possible because the $2.5 million bid for the South Main Street property fell out of escrow.

Here is why Brietenbucher’s site preference built on by Singh makes sense for Manteca overall and not just the homeless.

The city could start moving dumpster bins, collection carts and some of the trucks out of the solid waste yard to the wastewater treatment plant now.

The plan has always been to move solid waste to the treatment plant given the fleet will eventually be all fueled overnight using compressed liquid gas produced by the city’s food waste to fuel program that uses methane gas from the sewer treatment process. All that is needed to finish moving solid waste to the treatment plant is a truck wash rack and a small office, all of which would be covered as planned from the city’s solid waste funds.

Next the city would need to purchase an initial Sprung Structure for less than $1 million with everything inside ready to go. It would be placed where the solid waste yard is now. Keep in mind that Sprung Structures such as the one the city has looked at are routinely used for emergency housing after disasters for two to three years and then relocated.

The city can still keep the streets division within the Manteca Industrial Park if federal funds are used to allow the Altamont Corridor Express to buy the city property along Wetmore where the streets and the former vehicle maintenance building and water tower east of the animal shelter are located for commuter parking when ACE service is launched at the downtown transit center in 2023.

But instead of going when the solid waste is today, the streets division can be relocated to part of the 8.04 acres that is accessed via a cul-de-sac off of Mellon Avenue.

One of the pluses of Qualex for city management is that the 4.8-acre site has room to expand the homeless effort such as for providing transitional housing and/or parking for homeless living in vehicles. The solid waste yard is too small for that.

That is where the 8.04 acres come into play.

It is clear the city can’t develop their vision for addressing homeless issues all at once so nothing is compromised by establishing it at solid waste yard site.

With the street division at the 8.04 acre site, there would easily be 6 acres left over.

Part of the 6 acres could be used for larger homeless related operations sometime in the future. All or part or part of the 6 acres also could be held in reserve for future public works needs as the city grows or for some other public use fronting South Main Street.

One possible use is offering three acres to a non-profit to develop affordable rentals.

Whether the city opts to do housing or to keep it for city use, a masonry wall with landscaping  can go along South Main Street or at a point behind the three acres to screen off the navigation center and other city uses such as for the streets division.

There is also another option. The city could buy the 8.04 acres, carve out 4 acres for present and future homeless solutions and locate the homeless navigation center there now and hold the remaining 4.04 acres in reserve or sell it at some point in the future. That way the streets division could go where solid waste is today.

Access to the homeless center in that case would be off of a cul-de-sac from Mellon Avenue.

How does the city pay for the land purchase? It can by taking its share of the proceeds from the sale of the RDA property at Daniel Street and Airport Way, the Qualex building and the South Main Street land that will be close to $1 million and put it toward the purchase of the 8.04 acres for $2.5 million. The sale of the public works land south of Wetmore where the street division and such are located should easily cover the balance.

The solid waste move would be funded by ratepayers.

That leaves the $1 million needed to get the initial homeless navigation center up and running.

It also would place the homeless navigation center in a location where it doesn’t intrude on downtown but is close enough to be an effective draw for the homeless as they are coaxed to start working on the steps they need to take to get off the street and on the road to being able to shelter their selves.

Manteca also would be able to assure that the public works division can grow as the city grows.

Should the council opt for pursuing the South Main property instead of Qualex by the end of this year, it is feasible to have a Sprung Structure in place and a homeless navigation center up and running by next summer either on the cul-de-sac off Mellon Avenue or on Wetmore Street.

Breitenbucher’s idea that Singh wants to build on is the best solution. It not only gets a navigation center in place the quickest but does so with less than the third of the money. At the same time it gives Manteca’s public works streets division and other uses room to grow and could even offer an added bonus of possibly providing more affordable rental housing.