By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Time to shed light on the darkness ‘the saviors’ have created in Manteca
PERSPECTIVE
downtown manteca
Yosemite Avenue is shown in downtown Manteca just after twilight.

There was a time not too long ago the men and women the community elected to guide Manteca actually were able to make a difference.

When a city manager by the name of Rich Jones told the late Jack Snyder he essentially was out of his gourd for pushing to take the county up on an offer to buy a run-down county park or else they’d sell it to a housing developer, Snyder didn’t bow to the hired hand.

Jones told him the city couldn’t afford it. He told Snyder the city couldn’t maintain it. And, surprise, he told him the city should ask for expert advice before adding a city park.

Jones worked to convince the majority of the council the city could ill afford it and there were better things to spend money on. After all, he was the expert and should know.

Actually the real expert when it came to Manteca was Snyder and not Jones.

Jones was a competent city manager but he was schooled in city management not what a specific community needed.

Snyder didn’t need to spend $800,000 or so of hard-earned taxpayer dollars to tell him what Manteca needed. He saw a big need for recreational opportunities for the community’s youth. Snyder had a feel for the community given that — unlike most city managers and department heads — he actually lived in Manteca, raised his family here, and invested time and resources heavily into community undertakings. Serving as a Manteca council member wasn’t just a job for him. It was a passion that was a borderline calling.

Manteca wasn’t just a paycheck or a stop along the way.

Snyder much to the dismay of Jones convinced the council majority to buy the land.

Today Northgate Park is heavily used by youth and families. And so is Woodward Park, another community park that exists not because a consultant paid $100,000 to do a study said it was needed, but because Snyder and his fellow council members knew it was needed.

Not only does the community make heavy use of the park, but it is one of the premier spots for NorCal soccer tournaments to use. It was a consultant-free park.

Manteca also decided to go after a Big League Dreams sports complex. Again, no consultant was paid to come up with a plan to tell city leaders that is what they should do.

The only thing worse than planners that you can’t pry their fingers away from having a death grip on a 1980s era planning textbook are city hall types that put more stock in studies than they do anything else.

Yes, we are in California where studies are a prerequisite for a lot of things. But contrary to the line being pedaled at 1001 W. Center St. not just today but for the better part of the last five years we don’t need a study every time before someone is allowed to sneeze.

It is safe to say based on the top priories this and recent councils made at mid-year budget priority workshops that downtown Manteca isn’t “the” burning issue.

It’s also a tad strange Mayor Ben Cantu’s push for someone to be hired to address economic development in Manteca has to wait until staff sits down with the council in a mid-year goal setting session and then decide whether to program money into next year’s budget.

Any city manager worth their salt might want to check existing priorities set by the council from their last goal setting session. Topping the list wasn’t spending $800,000 on another downtown plan regardless of how long of a shelf life it might have.

There is, however, money included in the budget for an economic specialist. The current city manager — based on his comments to Cantu at the last council meeting — has chosen to ignore a council priority as their adoption of the current budget makes clear exists by not moving to replace the economic development specialist who left the city’s employ earlier this year.

As for studies in general, we all know the punch line. Studies are done and they literally expire as city managers have been known to say once they are done that Manteca doesn’t have the money to implement them.

Funny, but isn’t that is what they are hired to do is to find a way to get things done? The last city manager actually did push for a tax increase saying we needed more money but offered no specific plan that would tie the city down to how it would be spent.

A lot of people said they voted against it due to a lack of accountability. They ended up being clairvoyant given we soon found out the city had no idea about the proper accounting for $62 million of the public’s money.

That $800,000 downtown study staff is also extremely bad optics. Not only are they pushing it as essentially the first major initiative out of the gate as the city gets its books in order but they are doing so without knowing why such a move sticks in the craw of people who you’d expect to support it.

The best way to explain why is to walk down the 300 block of East Yosemite between Manteca High and the heart of Manteca after dark.

Six years ago people approached Councilman Gary Singh as well as then council member Debby Moorhead about how dark it was.

The two elected leaders decided there should be a street light. The City Manager Tim Ogden agreed and identified money.

But then city staff that struggled for seven years to move a downtown alley improvement forward discovered construction costs had gone up. The money Ogden identified went toward that work. And instead of dipping into the 25 percent reserve to buy one or two 19th century style street lights, the city didn’t tackle what the council as a whole determined was a public safety need.

The issue came up again three years ago. The second time Mayor Ben Cantu pointed out the need to continue with the city endeavor started in 2003 and to install several more of the 19th style lights along Main Street. As shocking as it might sound the city actually commissioned a plan in 2003 that called just for that as well as similar lights along Center Street and side streets as well.

This time Miranda Lutzow was city manager. The lights were supposed to move forward but never did. The council at the time was told it was too expense.

But wouldn’t you know the city had the money to commission the infamous “phantom” consultant report to address low-hanging fruit improvement issues in downtown.

They brought in an expert from Georgia, semi-packed the transit center in December of 2019, and were told a study was forthcoming.

The study apparently was delivered to city hall but it was never shared with anyone downtown, the community, or the City Council.

It’s pretty clear by now the bureaucrats Manteca hires are great at conducting studies.

The city clearly lacks the skills to actually deliver the small projects that are safety and quality of life issues that don’t feed their egos as opposed to delivering a bunch of gobbledygook so they can proclaim they were the saviors of Manteca on their resumes.

Here’s a suggestion: Perhaps someone on the City Council can channel Jack Snyder and get Manteca something it needs that the professionals say we can’t afford such as a street light in the 300 block of East Yosemite instead of blowing $800,000 on a downtown study that they — as the experts — have determined we can’t afford not to have.

 

 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 dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com