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So how hairy of a misstep is it to call Manteca an ‘armpit’?
dennis wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Manteca: The Armpit of the Valley.

Don’t expect it to become Manteca’s city slogan any time soon after being used to describe Manteca twice during Tuesday’s City Council meeting — once by Stephanie Kong to use in her bid to describe where she apparently believes Manteca is today and once by Richard Silverman who tried to make light of Kong’s reference.

The two were among eight of the nine applicants for the Manteca Planning Commission making their case to the City Council as to why they should be appointed. It was clear Silverman was aiming for brevity via the earlier reference made by Kong. As for Kong, it likely wasn’t the right word to use to convey the point she was trying to make.

Kong made her reference while talking about things Manteca was lacking and how she’d like to be part of an effort to work toward securing them. Intended or not, she then talked about Turlock and Lodi being better destinations than Manteca creating a clear pecking order.

Being a fifth generation Central Valley guy,  I’m used to those who make disparaging remarks about where I live as they compare what we have here to places they are more comfortable or familiar with such as San Jose or San Francisco.

More often than not once they get past the artificial “drive by” assessment and immerse themselves in the climate, geography, culture, and the people the need to rubber stamp the valley with labels dissipates.

Of course there are those who carefully craft their words to create an image that often times can be incorrect given they’re trying to be witty and urbane. The best examples of that have occurred over the years on the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. Two stick out. One was during the 1997 flood when a reporter felt the urge to use tragedy to wax eloquently about his knowledge of John Steinbeck by comparing a line of vehicles fleeing the flooded rural area south of Manteca that were laden with belongings and pulling trailers filled with livestock “as the modern day version of the Grapes of Wrath Joad family.” Funny but you never see the Chronicle trying to be flippant when writing about victims of Bay Area earthquakes or human tragedies along Coastal California.

The other was referring to Modesto as being part of California’s Bible Belt “littered” with unsightly billboards, RV dealerships, and ratty looking buildings. This characterization was made about a decade ago by a reporter who admitted it was based on observations made while passing through Salida and Modesto at 65 mph on Highway 99. I had to wonder whether the reporter had ever driven south of downtown San Francisco on Highway 101 toward the airport to enjoy the views his beloved city offered of dilapidated buildings, clusters of billboards, and industrial decay. “Armpit” would come to mind before “cosmopolitan city.”

The references are a tad old but they are prime examples made by those who periodically venture out into the provinces where the serfs reside and feel inclined either by design or ignorance to paint the valley with a sweeping brush as a cultural desert hell-hole devoid of beauty, substance, and being.

However such observations when made by those who actually chose to move and live here flies in the face of nature where animals rarely soil where they sleep.

Do not misunderstand the point. Manteca has warts. Our shortcomings should never be swept under the rug. And they need to be addressed.

But to argue that “armpit” status is somehow exclusive to Manteca when comparing it to other cities such as Lodi and Turlock whether it’s about appearances or offerings is really myopic.

Everyone and everyplace have armpits. 

I like Lodi, Turlock, Stockton, Modesto, San Francisco and San Jose just as I like Manteca although I have a natural bias to like where I have decided to live and work a little bit more. But there are armpits in all of those cities. You could even make the case Manteca is not that far up on the armpit chart in comparison.

Someone suggested the “armpit’” reference may have been in regards to the homeless. People really need to get out more. Modesto opened an entire park for the homeless to take over. Turlock recently dismantled an encampment that had up to 50 homeless individuals. Stockton has the magnet near Interstate 5 and the Crosstown Freeway known as St. Mary’s Dining Room. Lodi has issues more on par with Manteca and San Francisco has Market Street plus street crews that go about the city washing down walls and sidewalks the homeless urinate on as well as scooping up human feces the homeless deposit in sidewalks. 

Normally when you use the word “armpit” you’re describing what a place looks like. This may come as a shock but because older areas aren’t cookie cutter replicas of newer areas doesn’t mean they are armpits. Yes, there are older areas that look trashy and have people you might describe as trashy but so do many newer areas after they’ve been in place a few years. 

But sometimes what makes an area trashy to some people is a bit of a shock. After a council meeting a few years back, a woman who had moved here from San Ramon and had appeared before the council to argue against smaller homes being built adjacent to her neighborhood, stopped me to share her thoughts on Manteca planning.

She told me the city got it right in Woodward Park but messed others parts of the city up. I asked her which part and she went on to describe a neighborhood I lived in at the time that consisted of 1950s era custom homes on larger lots. Instead of being defensive, I asked her how the city messed up the neighborhood. Her answer: They didn’t put power lines underground and it made the neighborhood look unsightly.

The fact the neighborhood was built in a different era was irrelevant. Based on her standards and where she chose or ended up living, the neighborhood looked undesirable. It was not based on property upkeep or the people. It was based on her dislike of power poles running down a residential street.

Our weather and climate also gives the valley a different look and feel than the East Bay valleys that once were home to endless orchards and farms and are now jammed with wall-to-wall housing. 

That said more than 2,000 residents a year are moving to a place that has been described as an “armpit” making it one of the fastest growing cities in California.

I’d like to believe Kong simply had a poor word selection talking off the cuff. Looking back she may realize that using the word “armpit” to describe Manteca when she was trying to get appointed to the Manteca Planning Commission probably didn’t help her cause.