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Stockton can learn from Manteca on how not to beautify freeways, reduce homeless visibility
ramp rocks
Boulders Caltrans placed along the Yosemite Avenue offramp on southbound Highway 99 in 2022 ended homeless encampments along the sound wall including one where they had hauled in a desk, bed, and bookcases.

Manteca — and every other city in San Joaquin County — has a vested interest in Stockton’s success.

The reason is simple.

We are not an island.

If Stockton gets a bad rap, we get a bad rap.

It’s guilt by association.

As California’s 13th largest city with 320,000 residents, Stockton is San Joaquin County’s biggest calling card.

We are part of the Stockton Metro Area socio-economic data. It is used by many to make first judgments on areas.

Major concerns use it.

Clearly, it doesn’t turn everyone off or else Stockton wouldn’t have landed a long list of ventures over the years.

It has its share of Amazon fulfillment centers and such as well as one of three California cities with a Dillard’s — an upscale department store chain.

That said, Stockton based on its size can draw more — and varied — regional employment opportunities than Manteca.

It already draws its share of economic “touches” that people covet such as dining and shopping options.

It also has venues that cities like Manteca, Tracy, Lathrop, and Ripon can only dream of. The Stockton Arena. Banner Island Ballpark. Weber Point Event Center. The adjoining waterfront. Bob Hope Theatre. The Haggin Museum.

And you’d be remiss not to mention the cultural programming for the greater community facilities at Delta College and the University of the Pacific provide.

It is safe to say, for the most part, people from the South County — Manteca, Tracy, Mountain House, Lathrop, Ripon, and Escalon — aren’t drawn to Stockton.

For many, it would be off the beaten track given the South County’s orientation toward the Bay Area.

But in the case of Manteca and Lathrop, we are joined almost at the proverbial hip with Stockton.

So why the disconnect?

The reputation Stockton has developed, earned, received — however it happened — is the 900-pound albatross around that city’s neck.

And given in more than a few instances, its problems are similar, a bit worse, and in some cases, not as severe as Modesto that a number of locals have a kinder view of, there is clearly another reason.

In the scheme of things that “reason” is borderline superficial but it’s human.

Most concerns investing serious money on a community will analyze a city’s calling cards created from data.

The rest of the world tends not to be that analytic.

They are more into “billboards.”

And by “billboards”, that is what a quick look going by at 55 mph on a freeway gives you.

It is why a suggestion by San Joaquin County Supervisor Tom Patti and embraced by his board colleagues makes a lot of sense.

The supervisors last week put up $300,000, with Stockton and Caltrans kicking in the rest of the $500,000 cost, to devise a master plan to beautify the key entrances to the city — interchanges.

Such a plan would allow Stockton to compete for federal and state funds allocated for the specific purpose of transportation project beautification.

In the federal level, that is roughly 2 percent of the funding in select transportation categories that can’t be spent for anything else.

It is what Manteca went after 16 years ago when the federal government was shoveling out American Recovery Act funds to take the edge off the Great Recession that was triggered by the mortgage meltdown housing crisis.

When Congress pumped more money into transportation programs, it also ballooned the slice of the pie that by statute is dedication to beatification endeavors.

Manteca, with the help of the San Joaquin Council of Governments, crafted a prerequisite beautification master plan for the 120 Bypass and Highway 99 corridors that pass through the city.

As plans go, it was grandiose.

That’s because Caltrans personnel in Sacramento working with a consultant devised a truly visionary centerpiece for the effort.

It was the deployment of 1,000 trees and shrubs alone on land within the Highway 99/120 Bypass interchange.

The design used various species to scale up to redwood trees in the middle. It was seen as a lush urban forest of sorts creating a visual delight on land that couldn’t be used for anything else.

The rest of the plan had trees and shrubs at interchanges at Yosemite Avenue, Main Street, Union Road, and Airport Way.

Along both freeway corridors were additional shrubs and the deployment of grass by hydro seeding.

Then Manteca City Councilman Steve DeBrum had his doubts.

As someone who grew up on a working farm and who had spent his adult life working supporting agricultural endeavors in the Central Valley, he had a clear understanding of the climate, water needs, and what it would take to make it work.

Given Caltrans had no stomach to pay for ongoing maintenance, it was going to be on the city’s dime if Manteca accepted what ended up being a $2 million grant that included a two- to three-year maintenance period with the firm eventually awarded the contract. It included periodic watering via a tank truck.

When DeBrum pointed out the city lacked money going forward after the contracted maintenance period to deploy water tanks, let alone install a massive irrigation system, he was told essentially not to worry.

That’s because the experts said the landscaping would be firmly established within three years and could survive via the natural order of things.

A short drive can show you how that turned out.

Worse yet, it created areas within interchanges and along soundwalls that ended up with clusters of surviving bushes and trees that have helped many a homeless set up illegal encampments.

Patti, who currently represents Manteca north of Yosemite Avenue along with Lathrop and parts of Stockton, is in a runoff for the Stockton’s mayor’s job.

A cynic at first glance might see it as a waste of money to get votes.

But rest assured it is almost borderline genius.

That’s because the $500,000 master plan to beautify Stockton’s interchanges along Interstate 5, Highway 99, and the Crosstown Freeway (Highway 4) can do that and deter homeless encampments at the same time.

The way to do that is via hardscape and low-profile water miserly xeriscape plantings.

Of course, that should exclude throwable rocks for obvious reasons.

Hardscape can be in many forms that are eye-pleasing.

They also, by their very nature, repel homeless encampments.

And along tight ramps that are found on non-cloverleaf interchanges, the judicious placement of decorative boulders has gone a long way to making such areas homeless-proof. The southbound Highway 99 off ramp to Yosemite Avenue in Manteca that Caltrans deployed such a fix on its proof that it works.

Getting rid of the homeless such as along the long Fremont Avenue ramp off the northbound Highway 99 ramp that starts after the Crosstown Freeway will go a long way to beautifying Stockton’s interchanges,

And in doing so, it will upgrade Stockton’s image to the 200,000 plus people that pass thru the city on freeways on any given day.

 This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at