It’s painfully obvious by now what Downtown Manteca needs.
Spending a dime let alone $92,500 on a consultant to determine how the city should spend another $600,000 or so for what would end up being worthless words on yet another plan to transform downtown was a non-starter. It is why the council earlier this month wisely rejected hiring another consultant.
Now the council needs to do one more thing — direct via a public vote to tell city staff to do their jobs.
Yes, I know. The boogeyman of downtown are absentee landlords. It’s time though for the city to stop acting as if creating more paperwork is the starting point to make downtown more appealing for people to invest money either in opening a business, shopping there or even buy property to renovate it.
You can’t “save” downtown if there is nothing left to save. It is why the city needs to revisit the one action they have taken in the past 25 years that truly changed the basic business climate downtown. That action is putting together a multi-agency task force to hammer property owners downtown into complying with city laws while at the same time taking a no-tolerance approach to public urination and defecation, homeless taking over Library Park, and other clear violations of city rules.
Don’t palm this one off on the police department and don’t hide behind the line “we only enforce code violations by complaint.” The long-term solution isn’t a pure policing matter. Nor should the city be allowed to turn the other cheek.
You are not going to get businesses downtown to make complaints when one merchant — as an example — has spent $5,000 in one year replacing broken windows. They get broken after they call police about things such as the homeless and druggies urinating and defecating against their buildings in broad day light as customers enter. It’s a form of intimidation perpetuated by homeless and druggie enforcers that have laid claim to significant swaths of downtown Manteca as their territory.
Frankly, this has happened because the city hasn’t done its job.
Start with burned out and vacant structures that are attractive nuisances.
In what world is it OK for a roofless building to stand more than two decades at the heart of a city? From the looks of it sound walls built today are sturdier.
The boarded up Club Leon and Sycamore Arms were in clear violation of a city ordinance adopted during the height of the foreclosure crisis that requires plywood placed over doors and windows to match the adjoining paint colors. The plywood on the Sycamore Arms was painted months after the fire and only after a complaint was made.
There are laws that allow cities to combat attractive nuisances such as burned out buildings and vacant structures that have turned into havens for the homeless and druggies. For years this city looked the other way while wayward youth, the homeless, and drug users broke into the shuttered burned out hull of the old El Rey during the 1990s.
Resurrect the multi-agency task force involving enforcement, the fire department, the health department, the building department and police and code enforcement of the upstairs living quarters in downtown. Make the absentee landlords maintain their properties to city codes.
And, I repeat, don’t use “but no one has filed a complaint” as an excuse to do nothing. The multi-task force approach was used a decade ago to make significant inroads into the grip gangs had on the Southside Park neighborhood just south of downtown.
Back then the city leadership didn’t wait for complaints or dismiss it as people simply being comfortable with the level of blight in their neighborhood. They talked to law-abiding neighbors and found they didn’t complain to the city out of fear of being victims of retaliation. The same situation exists today in downtown Manteca.
This is also a matter of the city protecting taxpayer investments in excess of $15 million in downtown over the past 12 years in the form of the Transit Station, Library Park expansion and makeover, and streetscape improvements. Jack Snyder on his second go around on the City Council was adamant about not sinking $3.1 million into improving Library Park until the city could address the homeless and druggie problem that plagued the park. The city went to work and assured the council they would stay on top of the problem.
Now there is a very real possibility that Manteca spent $3.1 million to just create a very nice park for the homeless. Yes, being homeless isn’t a crime but if the homeless commit crimes they are criminals.
These are not homeless individuals trying to be invisible. Their wanton vandalism along with that of druggies are what’s ailing downtown along with complicit absentee landlords.
If the council is serious about making sure downtown can survive and thrive, they maybe they might want to take a different approach to spending the $2.5 million they had set aside for economic development.
As Mike Atherton astutely points out, anyone can develop vacant land. But revitalizing developed areas is a different cat.
Maybe the $2.5 million can fund the hiring of an additional police officer or two to patrol downtown on foot and “walk the beat” in other problem plagued areas of Manteca such as Southside Park or even Spreckels Marketplace anchored by Food-4-Less that is turning into a Motel 6 for the homeless.
Perhaps it can fund targeted legal action to address egregious property maintenance problems primarily in downtown but also where it threatens to deteriorate the quality of life.
Downtown Manteca isn’t exactly a hell hole but if the city holds the course on it’s see no evil stance it’s just a matter of time that the city borrows a page from Stockton’s playbook and cancerous blight takes hold.
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.