It is a question voters will ask in November 2022: What has the City Council done for my community and my family in the past four years?
Even with the pandemic marring the time since Mayor Ben Cantu as well as council members Dave Breitenbucher and Jose Nuño all got elected in 2018, it is more than reasonable to expect visible progress that people can “drive over”, “use”, “enjoy”, and “see” to have been made.
It is not enough to say the water still flows out of the faucets, toilets still flush, garbage is collected, and the police and fire respond when you call 9-1-1. That is essential and basic. And while it is true some cities struggle to do the basics that is not where Manteca is at.
Manteca has been among the state’s fastest growing cities for more than a decade going from 146th in size in 2000 to 93rd among the state’s 482 cities. In the last three years that has accelerated putting Manteca in the top 20 consistently. And in 2020, Manteca tied Tracy as California’s third fastest growing city.
No one expects an Emerald City to sprout up overnight. But it is more than reasonable to expect some visible progress in Manteca stepping up its game.
There are some who claim all the “big initiatives” that matter to people in terms of what the city council since 2018 has delivered above and beyond basic expectations of the general public come down to two things: The rebuilding of some 2,000 feet of Lathrop Road east of Airport Way and creating a low-profile food truck court at Library Park.
Everything that has come to fruition of any major consequence in terms of what the public can grasp as progress all started in what now seems like another era.
*The City effort that snared Great Wolf resort with its 600 jobs and economic muscle that will flow right around $2 million annually into the general fund to help pay for police, fire and other day-to-day municipal services.
*The innovative food waste to fuel where food discards are combined with methane gas created in the wastewater treatment plant to produce clean burning compressed liquefied gas to power the city’s solid waste collection truck fleet.
*The diverging diamond interchange at Union Road and the 120 Bypass. Compared to a standard interchange the design not only reduces the potential for collisions but was built with less tax dollars, moves traffic more efficiently (assuming the city ever gets around to synching traffic signals), took less time to build, and didn’t requiring condemning existing homes.
*The installation of what is arguably the most significant and most high profile pedestrian safety project ever in Manteca with the separate pedestrian bridge across the 120 Bypass at Union Road.
*The fifth city fire station built at Woodward Avenue and Atherton Drive.
*The sales tax split deal that landed Living Spaces.
*Major upgrades to the Yosemite Avenue and Main Street corridors.
It should be noted that all of these projects — including touches such as enhanced pedestrian safety around Manteca High — were possible thanks to a nuts and bolts mid-management team along with a solid army of frontline municipal workers.
With broad policy directions from elected leaders through the city manager’s office during periods that the occupants weren’t channeling Chicken Little, Manteca delivered. Those same people for close to three decades squeezed the most they could get out of tax dollars with the prime example being city park maintenance. Manteca has city park acreage per capita than surrounding cities and keeps the day-to-day maintenance up with the lowest per capita cost in the area.
The hope in 2020 was that the game would be stepped up, traffic congestion and safety would be more adequately addressed, and paths toward various amenities not only be identified but executed to move Manteca forward.
That is not what Manteca got.
Instead of fine tuning the city or putting in place a well-thought overhaul, we got the equivalent of a purge.
Worse yet the two key architects of what was supposed to be Manteca’s “new day” — former City Manager Miranda Lutzow and former Assistant Manager Lisa Blackmon — opted to bail for personal reasons.
Given city managers are supposed to steer the ship and do so with the team they build and nurture, Manteca has been left adrift when it comes to major initiatives.
With six key management positions filled with caretakers at a critical juncture in Manteca’s growth, the city will continue to flounder.
An astute observation by Charlie Halford who was elected to the council eight months ago needs to be noted. Halford believes this is the time Manteca needs to get its house in order, make sure where it stands with funds, and then tackle major initiatives. It’s a stance that is not universal among his council colleagues
Pressing for more initiatives when the city has half of its “permanent” senior management team vacant is simply piling on work and creating more snafus and delays with projects.
It didn’t help that Mayor Cantu — who sang to the heavens praising staff for its holistic, innovative approach to North Main Street traffic congestion using pavers to address storm runoff issues and beautifying downwind in December 2019 — jumped at staff’s successful last minute bid to at least stop the project going forward for now so we can fund yet another expensive downtown plan that will prove as useless as those that have been done before.
That’s because the staff is enamored with a consultant who proposes painting buildings instead of addressing the real issue which is the homeless.
As far as the actual plan, it should surprise no one that it will likely end up being no different than the previous one.
Key staff that is green to Manteca suffers from “savior syndrome.”
It’s a term coined by a resident of Mayors Park who is still waiting for the city to re-do streets in his neighborhood that are literally falling apart.
He and his neighbors have been promised by elected councils that work would start in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and now 2021.
It should be noted a mid-management staffer in public works was the one that determined the original seal coating the senior management team wanted to do in 2017 would be a waste of money given there was no base ever put under the streets.
But those new arrivals at the top with “savior syndrome” know more than those already on board at city hall who have kept Manteca moving.
They can’t help themselves. They are convinced their six digit salaries have made them the chosen ones not to build on what was already here when they arrived but to save us all from ourselves.
The most telling symptom is how almost all start out by remodeling the modest office space they are assigned and pushing harder for a new city hall than let’s say a safe and secure police station more suitable for a city of 40,000 as opposed to one that could hit 90,000 before the November 2022 election.
We are told it is all in the name of being more responsive to the public. The city has just undertaken its third remodel in 15 years of the permitting counter all in the name of better serving the public.
Yet the last year had seen the permitting for basic construction endeavors slow down even more.
There is 15 months until the next election when voters will elect a mayor to set the tone for Manteca.
Given that the three people who make made it fairly clear they are running are all now on the City Council — Mayor Cantu as well as Gary Singh and Dave Breitenbucher — voters have a unique chance to see if they are all talk and no action. They also will be able to find out if they just say “no” or if they are capable of focusing on projects and delivering or turn staff into hummingbirds zipping all over the place to address new initiatives they pile on monthly.
The first test may very well be if they can deliver on the Main Street congestion relief project through downtown.
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 email@example.com