There is a wrong-headed “absolute” that’s driving the downtown Manteca debate.
That “absolute” is traffic and parking must be addressed first and foremost before anything else is done to move downtown forward.
The rationale goes like this: Traffic congestion must be addressed as it is a business killer. If people have to park too far from a businesses they will not patronize it.
Ben Cantu during his years as a city planner and now as part of his campaign to get elected Nov. 8 to the Manteca City Council believes traffic circulation needs to be the first thing addressed which is why he favors hiring a well-qualified and reputable consultant out of the gate to guide a private-public sector endeavor.
With all due respect to Cantu, that has been Manteca’s lose-lose approach since 1965. It’s reflected in the graveyard of brilliant traffic circulation plans ranging from one-way streets to the “This-Must-Be-2016-So-The-100-Block-of-North-Main-Gets-to-be-Three-lanes” approach.
It’s more than obvious there’s something about Manteca that makes tackling downtown by hiring a consultant first and addressing future traffic problems a toxic formula for failure given five times up to bat with that strategy has ended in five strikeouts.
And while no sane person will debate the need for a cohesive plan that encompasses traffic circulation that can be used as a blueprint to get downtown Manteca to a better place isn’t needed, it isn’t the most pressing issue.
Case in point: Visit Scores, AT&T, Mr. Pickle’s, Dickie’s BBQ, Chipolte’s In-n-Out Burger, Jamba Juice, and nearby concerns along Hulsey Way on the southwest corner of the Highway 99/Yosemite Avenue interchange. On Fridays, weekends, and even select times during the week parking is non-existent and traffic is on the crazy side.
Based on the formula that has been used repeatedly in unsuccessful bids to jump start downtown’s next act, the dining spots, stores, and services along Hulsey Way should be struggling to keep their doors open due to the parking nightmare and traffic congestion yet business is booming. So what gives? The answer is painfully obvious. People want to patronize the places along Hulsey and because of that they will accept the parking and traffic issues that exist.
It is why the observation former City Manager Steve Pinkerton made seven years ago when asked how to resolve downtown’s parking “problem” rings true. His words: “We need to create a parking problem.”
Back in 1998 when the city was gearing up for the launch of its 2020 Task Force comprised of citizens to devise a vision for Manteca in the year 2020, a chamber group visited downtown Pleasanton. When one of the participants asked a Pleasanton downtown merchant about the lack of parking — the group had to park three blocks away from his specialty store — his response was telling. He said none of his customers complained adding the rebirth of downtown Pleasanton was driven by a desire to make it a destination and not a place you’d make a quick stop to grab a carton of milk, a 35 cent taco at a drive-thru window or a tube of toothpaste.
Manteca needs to keep that in mind.
Meanwhile in the next 87 days you are going to hear some well-meaning folks make their pitch on how they will work to step up downtown’s game.
Frankly, what is needed first is some basic trust.
The city has done an admirable job for the most part with its major redo and expansion of Library Park, adding the transit station with its community room, the upgrading of Moffat, the creation of the Tidewater Bikeway, adding the Tidewater-style street and traffic lights, creating mini-plazas, and support of the mural endeavor.
The problem is follow through on some basic stuff such as alley maintenance. While a plan that creates store “fronts” at the rear of buildings opening up to well-landscaped and inviting parking areas seems like a winning endeavor, it will fall on deaf ears if a consultant or someone else is talking it up while cracks wide enough to swallow bicycle tires and in big enough numbers to create the proverbial mine field for pedestrian aren’t being addressed. This has been a legitimate complaint for 10 years. And while the money has been budgeted for at least two years to tackle a large chunk of the problem it hasn’t happened. Fix the alleys to bring them up to being safe passages then bring people to the table to start talking about the future.
And yes, downtown needs one voice.
For now concentrate on that being the Manteca Chamber of Commerce. They have done a lot of leg work bringing merchants and some property owners together to focus on downtown’s future. Use the chamber to get things going that there is agreement on such as perhaps creating city rules for outdoor dining. Obviously an overall plan would encompass such a strategy and call for the city to create parameters to make it possible.
Once a couple of the pieces to the puzzle are put in place then go for the consultant as well as a free-standing self-funded organization for downtown.
It may not make sense to most to start that way, but 60 plus years of spinning wheels with the same approach hasn’t moved downtown very far down the road to its futue.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.