Here we go again.
The underbelly neighborhood of Manteca — downtown second floor housing — has been exposed for all to see.
Do not act shocked. We saw this in 2008, We saw it in 2006. We saw it in 2000. And we saw it before then.
Boarding house rooms piled with filth. Exposed wiring. Broken windows. Holes punched through walls. Animals don’t live like this. But those abusing drugs, alcohol, or who have mental issues do.
Yes, this is how some people live. And they aren’t among the city’s 88 unsheltered homeless.
But that’s not the worst of it. This is also where single moms reside. You will find adults working minimum wage jobs that are civilized as well as farm workers from time-to-time. They have no choice but to live among the squalor and drug addicts as they struggle to make ends meet while staying off the streets and praying to find housing elsewhere
It’s tempting to blame the landlords. But before you do, consider this: Over the years there have been landlords determined to do the right thing only to be buried by the subculture populated by segments of both the homeless community and those who aren’t that serve as living proof legalizing drugs would be akin to civilization committing suicide. There is a reason why some of the downtown second-floor housing over the years have been dubbed “Meth Manor”, “Tweeker Towers”, and “Heroin Heights.”
The reason why downtown during the day is a fairly pleasant and safe place to be is a testimony to the hard work and tenacity of merchants, professionals with offices, and restaurant owners who deal as effectively as they can. You don’t see traces of vulgar activities conducted under darkness in the wee morning hours in alleys, in doorways or on roof tops because merchants diligently remove all traces of them. And it’s not just in the downtown area. One store off North Main each morning regularly cleans out sheds for sale that are left outside to remove items such as needles and spent condoms.
The reality is simple. Until such time the second floor housing issue is addressed, downtown Manteca can never reach its full potential let alone the next level. The real problem isn’t parking, traffic, medians, paved crosswalks, or landscaping bulbs. It’s the dregs of society that are holding downtown back.
Yes, absentee landlords don’t help. But the truth of the matter is inconsistent city policy doesn’t help either.
If you doubt that, consider how previous police efforts to deal with homeless issues have gone. For the past two decades, public outrage is sparked inevitably by bad behavior of the homeless and others that take over Library Park. This prompts the council to demand action which in turn triggers police sweeps. The situation improves for four months and then slowly starts backsliding to the point that everything is back to “normal.” And then a year or two later the cycle repeats itself.
This time around, the outcome at Library Park may indeed be different. That can be credited to a decision by Police Chief Nick Obligacion to take a holistic approach to the homeless problem. By engaging community resources to step up and provide help for those that want to get off the street to do so and holding firm to a zero tolerance policy of lawless acts by homeless, the potential for the homeless problem in Manteca to be kept under control is great. It is never going to go away but given the current course it won’t eat away at the community’s fabric.
But as Monday’s court-ordered eviction of the Sycamore Arms due to bankruptcy made clear what ails downtown is much greater than the homeless falling asleep on bedrolls at Library Park or panhandling young mothers at nearby playground equipment.
Seven years ago the building housing the Sycamore Arms on the northeast corner of Sycamore and Yosemite avenues underwent major renovations. The new owner out of Marin County had worked for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and had extensive experience with efficiency apartments/boarding houses such as the one she was remodeling in Manteca.
She even added an on-site manager and offered tenants the use of a communal computer to obtain email.
In short, the Sycamore Arms was the shining example of what downtown boarding houses could be.
It would be worth the city’s time to find out what went wrong. Did the on-site manager quit or were they just overwhelmed? How long did the computer that was placed near an open area by the window where the hallway made an “L” last before it was stolen or destroyed? Did drugs play a role in the boarding house’s demise?
And now for a bigger question: Why aren’t quarterly multi-agency inspections done of all downtown boarding housing? The safety and living conditions found by inspectors on Monday were deplorable. They were relatively the same as those found during a high-profile coordinated sweep in 2008 by health department inspectors, firefighters, police, and building inspectors of all downtown housing that turned up numerous infractions and turned up the heat on both landlords and tenants alike to get their acts together.
Tagged items were followed up by various agencies to make sure deficiencies were corrected.
What Sycamore Arms turned into didn’t happen overnight
It is clear downtown is a special case. It is not an apartment complex. A fire in any of the buildings could have major consequences.
The city needs to step up and do its job.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.