There is no delicate way to put this. The folks who run the City of Manteca day-to-day are out of touch with the people they serve.
It’s a malaise that’s not unique to Manteca. Chalk it up to a number of things: A growing city on the cusp of 73,000 residents. Minimal interaction. Time constraints worsened by a large number of commuters. Miscommunications. The assumption that “father knows best,” so to speak.
Two issues speak volumes about the disconnect: The city’s response to the drought and the handling of the homeless problem. In both instances city leadership has spectacularly underestimated the concern and angst of citizens.
The folks running things do get the big picture. You can’t argue with what they have done over the past 15-plus years when it comes to basic infrastructure and keeping costs low for water sewer and garbage compared to virtually any city within the 209. But there is more to life than just flushing toilets, turning on water taps, and your garbage disappearing once a week.
The city also does a Herculean job with basic public safety needs, as well as other municipal services such as parks given the city’s relatively modest level of wealth, tight resources, and limited staff.
But they are still missing the boat by a country mile when it comes to the little things that people perceive as critical to the quality of life.
The worst part is the city was on the verge of implementing a way to more effectively respond to the needs of Manteca residents.
They even invested $60,000 toward creating a neighborhood model that they intended to implement and then replicate upwards to a dozen times throughout the city. It was a community-based government model that San Jose had successfully implemented that Manteca was hoping back in 2011 would help it become even more effective at providing services despite staffing cutbacks due to the Great Recession. But then the state seized redevelopment agency taxes and there was a change in the city manager’s office.
So an idea that staff — all the way down to front-line workers — bought into and spent a considerable amount of time preparing for was tossed aside.
That idea was de-centralized government.
It was about re-inventing the way Manteca does business by borrowing a page from San Jose’s successful game plan that seeks neighborhood level solutions to problems instead of everything funneling through a central bureaucracy.
The goal is to have people take control of neighborhoods, reduce government spending, and speed up staff response to problems.
Essentially, the community would decide what government should do and what they can do for themselves.
Over the years, people have come to expect more and more of government and doing less on their own as an individual or a neighborhood. Having government take care of everything in a neighborhood can be slow and costly. It can also get the neighborhoods solutions that they don’t really want.
San Jose developed community-based government solutions by dividing the city into 14 zones as the South Bay community approached a million residents.
An example in San Jose of how it worked involved littering in a neighborhood from children walking from school.
It was a quality of life issue for neighbors. In the old way of doing things, the city would have spent $300 to $500 on a decorative trash receptacle. In this instance, neighbors working with the city suggested simply buying a $20 trash can and a chain to secure it.
Initially it was put in front of the school but it wasn’t effective.
Neighbors figured out quick that it takes kids two to three minutes to eat after school snacks.
So the neighborhood — in working with a city employee assigned to that area — moved the trash can to another location essentially three minutes away by walking. The littering was drastically reduced.
And instead of the city incurring the cost of having someone go out and change trash bags, a resident in the neighborhood volunteered to do it. He was given a supply of Caltrans issued trash bags. He periodically switches out the bag and puts it with his household garbage for the city to pick up.
The San Jose system eliminated the need to approve many quality of life projects at the top. It fostered solutions that often were substantially cheaper and implemented much quicker.
San Jose has gotten to the point of having neighborhood community centers run entirely by volunteers.
The process also was about changing the culture at city hall. That meant if a worker in any department saw a problem they could take it to the city worker responsible instead of going through channels.
As an example, if a police officer sees a sprinkler head at a city park that is off and spraying water into the street they can directly call the city worker responsible for that area and the fix can get done now instead of later.
It requires a teamwork approach. It also requires identifying what residents may be willing to do in their neighborhoods through community meetings. It might include picking up litter in parks or even helping with some landscaping tasks.
In short, it makes government and citizens partners working on neighborhood level solutions. We definitely need that now with issues such as water waste, homeless problems, and unsupervised youth.
It certainly is more effective than beating up on city staff and nothing getting done.
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.