All four of Manteca’s City Council members live in neighborhoods built in the last 15 years. Two reside in the Woodward Park neighborhood, one along the Airport Way corridor and the other in Union Ranch. All three neighborhoods are in the outer ring of the city.
You will find all of Manteca’s McMansions in the outer ring as well as less than 10 percent of all apartments and few, if any duplexes and triplexes. And since there are no alleys or any nooks and crannies on the developed landscape, the homeless tend to be few and far between.
The California Voting Right Act of 2001 set the stage for lawsuits forcing many cities to seek voter approval to switch to council members elected by district instead of at-large. The rationale was that at-large elections dilute the voting power of minorities therefore making it difficult for them to get elected.
The 2010 Census put Manteca’s race breakdown as 49.6 percent white, 43.6 percent Hispanic or Latino, 12.1 percent Asian, 11.4 percent Pacific-Islander, 9.8 percent black, and 1.1 percent Native American. There is one Hispanic-Latino council member, Vince Hernandez. The only other Hispanic-Latino to serve on the council during the past 30 years was Wayne Flores. Neither man makes a big issue out of ethnicity. Both have global or big tent approaches and emphasized the need for the city to serve youth and seek employment opportunities although their politics differed.
A case could be made that Manteca should switch to district elections of council members. But the bigger justification wouldn’t be making it possible for a minority to get elected although percentages show that to be the case in the abstract. The core of Manteca isn’t represented on the council.
That is not to say the current council — or previous councils for that matter — have ignored the central city. For the most part the city over the last 40 years has labored mightily to make sure growth doesn’t occur at the expense of existing residents and that growth benefits the quality of life of everyone.
But as the city inches steadily toward 100,000 residents, it is clear there is a need to make sure there aren’t two Mantecas — a core that is deteriorating and is allowed to become the de facto affordable housing solution and haven for the homeless.
The city’s core has a different set of issues in terms of neighborhoods than the newer outer ring.
And while it is safe to say current and past council members have done a good job of representing both the core and outer ring, the day is coming when the sheer size of Manteca will make it tougher and tougher for elected leaders to stay in touch with the people they were elected to represent.
Right now, each council member represents 72,000 people. If they were elected by district, they’d represent a more manageable 18,000 people each.
And while a council always acts as one and will always have their collective ears bent by developers and special interest concerns in the community, it is getting more and more difficult to stay connected on the neighborhood level.
The city before the Great Recession hit was exploring a system based on what San Jose implemented to empower neighborhoods and municipal staff that serve them to work more effectively on providing what people wanted as well as what they needed. It also was designed to enlist neighborhood manpower to improve neighborhoods with city help. But that initiative went to the wayside.
Having council members working to engage 18,000 people is more effective than engaging 72,000 people. That doesn’t mean they ignore the needs of the other 44,000 Manteca residents. It’s just that every 18,000 residents would have the ear of one council member making it less plausible that neighborhood concerns will get buried.
The mayor would still be elected at large with district elections.
And for the record, Mayor Steve DeBrum lives in the outer ring as well although with a definite twist. He resides in the rural area on the city’s eastern fringe along Austin Road where agriculture still dominates even inside the city boundaries.
And while many council members currently and over the years have worked to not simply press the flesh but to be available at community functions, as the city grows there was be a widening disconnect between the people elected and the people they serve.
District elections for council members with the mayor elected at large is one way to slow down and even reserve the trend.
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.