Qualex — for those unfamiliar with the firm that closed 16 years ago in the Manteca Industrial Park — was highly successful at turning negatives into positives.
It was part of the photo processing arm of Kodak that once ruled the world before digital cameras and then smartphones started taking large bytes out of its business model.
Today most people know it in Manteca as ground zero in the ongoing struggle to try and find a workable solution to ease homeless issues without running afoul with the 9th District Court of Appeals, enraging people who don’t want vagrants wandering through their neighborhoods, or breaking the municipal piggy bank.
The City Council, for better or worse, last December zeroed in on the Qualex site. It wasn’t as much for the 57,000-square-foot building as it was the location. Of all the potentially workable sites, it was the least problematic meaning the public backlash would be relatively minimal.
It is true what Mayor Ben Cantu keeps saying. There is no good place to locate a homeless navigation center, warming center or — if Manteca ultimately has no choice but to go that route so they can legally take steps to prevent the homeless from taking over the city — a drop-in shelter.
The potential cost associated with Qualex has prompted council members to make it clear they want a Plan B in the wings. That is likely to be the current solid waste yard on Wetmore Street. That could crimp plans to adequately provide parking for ACE commuters when train service starts at the Manteca Transit Center in 2023.
Councilman Gary Singh gets that the biggest — and seemingly most insurmountable — obstacle to clear are solid concerns of what the homeless will do in the vicinity of such a facility whether it is a navigation center, resource center, or shelter of some sort. For anyone to downplay such a concern as being frivolous or something that can be mitigated by the city they should take a drive by St. Mary’s Dining Hall in Stockton. If they like what they see, then they should welcome a homeless facility into their neighborhood with open arms.
Singh also knows Manteca is long overdue for a police station that is secure, has adequate space, and is able to handle 21st century law enforcement needs. A location more central to quick access to reach much of Manteca would be opportune as well.
Those reasons are exactly a previous City Council used redevelopment agency funds to snap up the Qualex site in the first place.
That brings us to Singh’s suggestion that the city might want to pursue a plan that turns two negatives into a positive.
It would involve buying the Qualex site and then tearing down the building.
The city would then put in place a multi-story police station fronting Industrial Park Drive and on the back portion of the property have parking as well as a homeless resource center, warming center and, if needed, a homeless shelter.
That way the homeless facility and the area immediately around it would be under 24/7 surveillance of the police. Neighboring property would be protected by building a 7-foot-high masonry wall to secure both the police station and homeless facility.
It addresses two perplexing issues.
The first is what the homeless either going to and from or simply gathering in close proximity to a one-stop resource center create in terms of problems for the surrounding neighborhood.
The second is it opens the door for Manteca to have a path of reasonable certainty to again to be able to enforce legitimate quality of life laws by police pressuring the problematic homeless.
Three things are clear.
*The “low hanging fruit” among the homeless community are those Manteca Police community resource officers working with various non-profit groups have been successful at working with to get off the streets after building trust and want to get off the street and are willing to work and follow rules to do so.
*The 9th District litmus test that says if there are available beds in a homeless shelter and a homeless individual refuses to take advantage of them law enforcement can roust them from essentially from sleeping on the street and illegally camping.
*There are homeless who are never going to follow the rules and want everything on their terms that are highly unlikely to ever get off the streets.
Under Singh’s plan, it is virtually impossible that any of the hardcore homeless would ever opt to stay in a shelter of any type where they would be subject to a police presence 24/7. That means Manteca could likely establish a 218-bed or smaller shelter and continue working to get people off the streets and be able to enforce laws.
As it is now, the magic number of beds is 218. But if there are available beds and the homeless refuse to use them, the court is clear the ball is back in a city’s court on what to do.
How a scenario such as Singh is suggesting could unfold is fairly straight forward. Taking Singh’s basic idea and applying specifics shows it is within the realm of possibility
The city proceeds with purchasing the Qualex site but primarily with its share of funds from the sale of all surplus RDA properties. That way it is not encumbered by a grant to be used as a homeless facility.
The city, should it secure $2 million plus in grants, initially places two Sprung Structures in the northwest corner of the existing parking lot.
The city would them demolish the Qualex building.
The next step would be to build a multi-story structure for the Manteca Police Department with a footprint of 20,000-square feet that would likely need to be three stories to serve the city for the next 50 years.
Given the 4.91 acre site has 213,879 square feet, the 20,000-square-foot footprint of a new three-story, 60,000-square-foot police station would leave 193,879 square feet for parking, landscaping, the homeless facilities and other needs. Police station parking based on 144 vehicles an acre would consume 43,560 square feet. Assume another 20,000 square feet are needed for landscaping, driveways, and mechanical needs that would leave 130,000 square feet of area for homeless related needs.
If the city goes with 4,800-quare-foot Sprung Structures (there are larger versions that would reduce the per square-foot cost), they could place five of them on the remaining parcel space and close to 100,000 square feet left over. Five structures could house up to 250 beds. That leaves plenty of room.
Although the city has plans to “remodel” the existing 22,000 square feet of the police department built 44 years ago, it would only be a Band-Aid approach at best.
There is no subtle way to say this but the current police department even if you enclosed open breezeways that connect offices is not a safe and secure design to protect those we rely on to protect us. What is needed is a building that allows law enforcement to do its job in an efficient and secure manner.
Police departments do not have to be joined at the hip — and rarely are — with city hall.
It also weds the two top issues in Manteca — addressing the homeless and public safety.
The beauty of it is the police won’t have to go far to make sure the homeless facility — resource center or otherwise — is drawing the usual auxiliary problems that lead to a deterioration of business districts and/or neighborhoods where they are located.