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Time for council to get real about tackling Manteca traffic safety needs
Dennis Wyatt

Too many of us speed and make bonehead moves that impact safety whether it is on major streets like Yosemite Avenue or what is supposed to be a quiet neighborhood street.

We want the city to do something now not next month and certainly not a year or two down the road.

At the same time the city is operating with roughly the same personnel that they had in 2008 when the Great Recession hit. Meanwhile Manteca has added 17,000 residents. Efficiencies and Herculean efforts by staff from the frontline that you see in public patrolling streets, maintaining parks and such as well as those you don’t see at places like the wastewater treatment plant and city hall keep trying to innovate and find more efficient ways to do things and not violate the law or expose the city to liability. A lot of employees are juggling at lot of tasks and projects.

The same is true for the private sector that has to stay lean and mean to survive and thrive with one big exception. There are by far a lot more mandates on city government handed down by the state and federal bureaucracies and elected officials. 

The possibility of getting permanent solutions in place on a case by case basis to try and restore sanity to our streets is expected to take a year or more once a new traffic calming program is in place is more than irksome for Manteca’s elected leaders. For the rest of us it’s infuriating.

City Manager Tim Ogden has boldly said he will work with staff to shrink the timeline to six months.

Unless the solution comes with funding for a new position devoted primarily if not exclusively to traffic safety and related issues, there will be unintended costly consequences.

Let’s take a short stroll down memory lane. The last time a city manager by the name of Elena Reyes tried to get by on the cheap with personnel by not hiring and instead raiding staffing in public works to address what was seen as a backlog of work in city administration, it slowed down progress on a number of projects due to the workload of the employee being distributed among remaining staff. Not only did it push back the delivery date of promised projects but the delays increased costs due to construction inflation.

Back when Manteca last had a dedicated traffic engineer position neighborhood issues were addressed in relatively short order. Stop signs where justified after neighbors complained managed to get in place in six months or less. The same went for the simple placement of crosswalks. Dave Vickers, who was the last dedicated traffic guy, not only addressed traffic issues on existing streets but looked at new projects with only one thing in mind — making sure the best possible traffic design was attained.

By the very nature of the projects public works handles you don’t want them to cut corners. Add liability concerns framed by litigation and Sacramento and you better make sure every “t” is crossed and “i” is dotted.

So the real question here isn’t whether Ogden can rearrange the proverbial deck chairs as he certainly can’t gut steps in the process with setting the stage for a future disaster but whether the council is serious about addressing traffic issues.

A council meeting doesn’t go by that an elected leader doesn’t bring up a traffic safety issue or mention how people are ready to grab pitchforks and torches.

Since Ogden and staff must operate in the general parameters the council adopts, the people who can provide the tools for a workable solution address traffic concerns in a timely manner need to do two things.

First, immediately change the general fund reserve policy from 30 percent to roughly 29 percent for the purpose of freeing up $400,000 to pay for a traffic engineering position as well as have $300,000 or so available to pay for traffic calming improvements once they are identified. If that makes the council queasy then raid the economic development slush fund. Given that one typical non-injury accident can set back a Manteca resident $7,000 in damages and such surely an argument could be made traffic calming can free up consumer dollars to stimulate the economy. It’s less of a stretch than taking $1million generated from a sewer account asset to put toward efforts to entice — some say subsidize — new businesses.

Once the funding source is settled, the council needs to compile a list of all well-known areas for traffic safety concerns in Manteca, prioritize them, and tell the staff to get to it.

Based on what traffic concerns have been brought up it could keep whoever is hired busy until they retire.

Talk is cheap. That’s why most people do it instead of making the hard decisions that may require scaling back on financial edicts.

If anyone on the council truly believes that Ogden can squeeze water from a stone and do so without creating costly delays elsewhere as well as keeping the traffic calming process within narrow lines to avoid exposing the city to unnecessary risk given parameters in place they probably also believe there’s no such thing as California rolling stops in Manteca.

On second thought, California rolling stops would be a vast improvement given the growing number of drivers that no longer slow down for a stop sign.

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 or 209.249.3519.