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Time to get rid of city’s Manteca Recreation Fee Review & Rubber Stamping Commission
hutchins street aquare
The auditorium at Hutchins Street Square in Lodi.

It’s ironic.

Manteca’s elected leaders selected a city manager who clearly has a passion — and a deep understanding — of how important recreation, culture, and interactions are in helping strengthen the fabric of a community.

Yet, they have given little attention to parks, recreation, and culture.

I get it.

There are a lot of things on the plate of a growing city.

But here’s the problem.

Twenty years from now, thanks to steps being put in motion today, Manteca will go beyond catching up with public safety needs to instituting pro-active measures to enhance public safety.

It also looks like the transformation of downtown will be real, ACE service will change the course of the central district, and key road problems will be addressed.

Yet, as a city of 125,000 or so residents, Manteca will likely still have the recreation and cultural amenities it did in 1970.

This city has a severely understaffed community services division.

It has a dearth of recreational amenities.

I know. I know.

The council is channeling Santa Claus with leftover federal COVID pass through funds.

Manteca may be getting an interactive water play feature that actually works, pickleball court lighting, a cricket pitch, a community garden, and a coin-operated (or ATM swipe-able) doggie bath.

But let’s be honest.

It’s akin to tossing the community a few bones.

Nothing more will come of it.

Sure, there’ll be talk, but that’s about it.

It costs money.

What doesn’t?

And there are always other pressing matters.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

This council can change the course of the quality of life for future generations.

And they can start by getting rid of the Manteca Recreation Fee Review & Rubber Stamping Commission.

It’s better known as the Manteca Recreation Commission that was “neutered” of any park-related duties and oversight years ago.

If you question whether that is a fair assessment, take a gander at the commission’s meeting agendas.

The council can replace it with a Manteca Recreation & Community Services Commission.

Make it what the Planning Commission is to the Development Services division and then some.

It would not be to micromanage the Recreation & Community Services division.

The primary purpose would be three-fold.

1) To serve as a catalyst to forge community-based partnerships using the facilities of the two main players — the City of Manteca and Manteca Unified School — to put in place cultural and recreation programs that go beyond soccer, softball, and such.

It could serve as the catalyst to seed a community theater group, develop a concert series, promote creative arts, expand literacy offerings, or even create club-style endeavors that promote and build generational interest in things such as chess, poetry, bicycling, running, organized walks, community gardens, and more

Manteca has a shocking dearth of such offerings.

The worst part, is Manteca at one time actually had more things like that.

The list once included bicycling and running clubs, organized art shows, community theater and more.

A perfect place to make a hub for such endeavors is the transit center’s community room in downtown.

It is the most underutilized city facility in Manteca.

It’s a beautiful iconic building. And it should be used to develop a beautiful sense of community.

2) To work toward developing and securing long-term recreation and cultural amenities.

First and foremost, they would do so under the direction of the City Council.

Why it is needed is obvious.

This city spent almost six years coming up with a general plan yet failed to include another community park site that a previous council agreed was needed after commissioning a $200,000 park master plan and then tossing it into a black hole at 1001 W. Center St.

It took the city being sued and facing a possible referendum on the general plan to get a second community park location designation rolling.

The same is true of $120,000 spent 20 years ago on basic planning for a new library, plus spent more not once, but twice, on preliminary requirements in the past 40 years to start the ball rolling toward developing a performing arts center of some sort.

If you think Manteca is doing an adequate job when it comes to community facilities, drop by the Lincoln Pool sometime.

3) To be a true sounding board and go to body for real community input.

It’s the best way to get community buy-in up front.

The community garden debacle is one example.

While it may indeed check all the boxes, who decided it was the best location?

Elected leaders and staff is the short answer.

It may be a solid location, but is it the best at developing community partnerships?

Given the city is planning to spend money on wrought iron fencing to secure it, there are other under used city property with access to water that could work.

One that comes to mind is the L-shaped parcel on Moffat Boulevard between the water treatment facility, Tidewater Bikeway, and the Moffat Community Center parking lot.

It is right by Manteca High.

As such, it could be the ideal location for a robust collaboration between the community, the high school horticulture/agricultural program, and the city.

While the site near Del Webb is beautiful and likely can work without any problems for neighbors, it is somewhat out of sight and smaller in size.

Besides, it would require tearing out established landscaping while a community garden on the L-shaped parcel would replace a weed-infested, dirt area.

The Moffat Boulevard site is definitely high profile.

The common thread between all three areas of concern that a fully functional city commission would address is developing community buy-in and support.

Both are essential for the long haul process needed to bring people with common goals and wishes together as a community.

The wrong way to do it, is to believe plans devised by consultants based on a survey will ignite imagination and passion to strengthen the community’s interactions and cultural fabric.

Lodi, as an example, started its road to the 90,000-square-foot Hutchins Street Square performing arts center and community center by endeavors such as a fledgling community theater group staging plays in a converted gas station garage with risers and folding chairs.

And Manteca doesn’t need a Gallo Center.

Moonshots are nice dreams, but having a place on planet earth during the  life expectancy of the city’s youngest current residents would meet needs that aren’t being met.

Manteca has its own version of a potential Hutchins Street Square complex near the central district in the form of the old Lindbergh School campus.

It would be more modest but it has an auditorium with stage and beautiful wooden floor classrooms ideal for dance, aerobic classes, as well as art classes.

You could even devote space to an art gallery with interchangeable exhibits as well as house the community and recreation staff there along with the city’s pre-school style program.

That would even free up space at the Civic Center.

The council and city can’t do it alone.

It is why a robust commission charged with bringing the community, non-profits, the school district, and city together is the best chance for Manteca to have a robust sense of community and a strong cultural heart as it grows bigger and bigger.

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