Wayne Flores back in the early 1990s made an issue not of just the need for more jobs but the growing frustrations many parents had that once their children graduated high school and landed a job in the community they grew up in, the possibility of them buying a home in Manteca was shaky.
Flores was elected to two city council terms. He was viewed by those more firmly in power as an enigma at best and a troublemaker at worst. Flores was sometimes his own worst enemy in how he went about making a point, but in many ways time has proven him right. He was sincere in his concern about younger people championing causes such as the building of the skate parks. Some say he bullied the Council majority into honoring a previous commitment they made to build a skate park and then gave lip service to that promise. Skaters back in the 1990s were viewed by many local voters as hooligans and a step or so above members of gangs which the Manteca power structure wearing rose colored glasses at the time adamantly denied existed in the Family City.
Flores for making such a big adieu about gang problems that those in authority denied publicly would was much of a problem in Manteca, had the late San Joaquin County District Attorney John Phillips sicced on him by the powers that be. As for the skate park, the Council majority back then managed to find the worst possible location for it. They authorized a phased approach to its construction. It conveniently ended after the first phase despite a big dog and pony show about funds being plugged into future capital improvement spending plans.
This little tidbit from Manteca’s past dovetailed into an invitation I was privileged to have this week to Roger Knauss’ class at Manteca High to discuss problems facing the city so students could conduct an exercise in trying to find solutions.
The issue of housing came up. There were facial expressions that genuinely conveyed being stunned when I shared that a studio apartment at Westwood Village — a nicely kept, older middle of the road complex on Center Street — was pushing $1,100 a month for rent. I wasn’t too sure they’d have reference points for such a monthly expenditure but judging by the looks that a few of them gave me they have a much firmer grip of the reality of what that staggering amount means to many people than almost every adult that has ever served or wants to serve as a council member.
Affordable housing in Manteca is no longer an issue of those working locally being able to afford to buy a home here but whether they can afford to even rent.
Such a concern had been lost on a generation of Manteca leaders as the city has nothing to show for its affordable housing efforts except for a coming tidal wave of homes affordable to Bay Area paychecks and the appropriate colors on city maps saying they’ve addressed the issue in concept.
Some students had a concern about random shots being fired in the night and had a fear for the safety of their younger siblings. A spirited exchange led a few in the class to conclude most of that noise was illegal fireworks and such. While the nearly nightly shooting galleries back in the summer of 2003 some neighborhoods enjoyed courtesy of gang members that fortunately lacked luck or skill to hit anything breathing dissipated to a large degree thanks to the combined response of targeted policing and a community-based effort to dull the lure of gangs, they still exist as a concern in Manteca. It may not be as bad in 2003 but they are still here.
But if you want a measured sense of what that means for Manteca, you’re better stay off social media where the Chicken Littles flock and instead listen to Knauss’ students.
Two of the students — one that moved here from Oakland and another from San Bernardino — shared how Manteca is much closer to heaven and safer than their former cities of residence. They described what it was like living in those cities as a teen. It isn’t pretty.
That said they were more concerned about traffic safety and the number of deaths and accidents on Manteca’s streets.
They don’t need stats to know the score. And while they have hopes and fears just as people of all ages do, they manage to keep fears in check by reality. There is violent crime in Manteca that for the most part evolves around existing criminal activity such as gangs and the occasional home invasion rooted in illegal drug activity. But they fear the more real and more pressing concern of traffic safety.
Several knew personally of someone that had been killed or seriously injured over the years in Manteca traffic accidents. They also know how crushing the costs of a non-injury accident can be on a struggling family’s budget. The same couldn’t be said about gang violence.
Their solution: We need more police to go after traffic safety issues.
It was a free-wheeling conversation about Manteca.
And to be honest I’d put more stock in observations the students made than pulse readings political consultants get from asking voters carefully crafted questions or the instantaneous rantings that flow freely on social media.
The big question is who will those running in the November municipal election listen to?