Perhaps our sage bureaucratic leaders might want to invest a bit of time away from their planning textbooks and let go of their lust for how other cities look and actually do more than just “drive-by” evaluations of life in Manteca as if they were colonist elitists hell-bent to civilize the local populace they infer is about as backwards as they come.
They tell us they’re “pained” to believe that most of us actually stupid enough to live in Manteca are nothing more than the unwashed masses that want everything auto-centric.
They share the raw sentiment Mayor Ben Cantu expressed when he lauded their insight that aligned with his when he proclaimed during Tuesday’s City Council meeting that “this community has a terrible downtown.”
Terrible for whom?
Besides seven thriving financial institutions, successful furniture stores, and solid retailers like Manteca Bedquarters and Tipton’s there is a huge segment of ethnic businesses such as markets, restaurants and stores that draw lots of costumers.
Is the problem downtown or is it what people want downtown to be? The revisionists seem to think a real downtown has to replicate the Leave It to Beaver era. The elitists seem to think it should replicate a typical Bay Area downtown redo where people on week nights flood trendy sidewalk restaurants after commutes of 30 minutes or less from work.
Perhaps in the world of the hired guns at city hall downtown Manteca is terrible. It does have its rough spots but by and large it is certainly doing OK.
That brings us to the real question: What is a more pressing concern for municipal dollars? Is it further choking traffic flow on Main Street by ripping out traffic signals north and south of downtown and replacing them with roundabouts while forcing traffic down to two lanes and causing cars to scatter down nearby residential streets to destroy the quality of life so some trendy department head at city hall can sip a cappuccino on a sidewalk along Main Street before commuting back to his out-of-town home?
Or is it having Main Street function like an arterial to move traffic?
Invest more than just a fact finding excursion from the bowels of city hall into the wilds of Manteca before reaching a conclusion that somehow you are so smart that in just a matter of a few minutes you came up with a solution no one else has ever tried before. Not the least of which are the country bumpkins in the town that pay your salary.
Given we’re hicks here in Manteca, USA, we never would embrace making anything less auto-centric. Wait, isn’t that what the bulb outs and median landscaping in the 100 block of North Main Street was all about — making the corridor less auto-centric?
That’s been a smashing success, hasn’t it? But then it’s only been 16 years. Let’s give it more time, make Main Street two lanes from the 120 Bypass to at least Louise Avenue, toss in a couple of roundabouts and — presto — we’ve transformed downtown.
Tying the fate of downtown into the Main Street corridor that is “the major” north-south arterial in Manteca is about as bonkers as it gets.
For starters they are repeating the same dim witted observation a consultant the city paid big bucks did 16 years ago in creating the current mess on Main Street through downtown.
That consultant claimed he did a survey that showed 90 percent of the people drove Main Street to shop downtown.
A follow up random survey by the Bulletin showed a lot of people who had moved to Manteca in the previous 10 years at the time defined “downtown” as including Walmart and even Kmart when it was still open.
Council members Charlie Halford and Gary Singh harbor no illusions.
They like what Community Development Director Chris Erias spouted when he fired his torpedo at the last possible moment in what came across as a well-orchestrated bid to sink what had been a top priority for elected City Councils for the past four years. It should be noted staff — past and present — has never liked widening Main Street to four lanes as it is a project elected officials advanced after years of listening to the people they represent as opposed to staff or a hired consultant dreaming it up.
But at the end of the day Halford and Singh are pragmatists.
Downtown Manteca unlike downtowns in Lodi, Turlock, Ripon, Escalon, Stockton, Modesto, Livermore, Pleasanton, and so on is not off to the side. It sits on two arterials. In fact, most downtowns are not situated as Manteca’s especially snuggled against a heavily traveled railroad corridor that is expected to increase train traffic by more than 150 percent in the coming years.
Halford used an analogy that if Main and Yosemite are major arteries then downtown where they cross is a festering blood clot that is impacting the health of the overall city.
Already nearby neighborhood streets get to deal with traffic trying to avoid the daily downtown mess that city hall sees as an opportunity to encourage people to throw up their hands, park their cars, and stroll to a nearby furniture store, glass company, or tire shop to go on a spending spree.
Failing to widen Main Street will only make matters worse. Implementing Erias’ vision of a two-lane Main Street corridor will make the lives of those in nearby neighborhoods a living hell. And it’s all for a big maybe in maybe Manteca will magically have a downtown like Pleasanton.
And since the staff’s new way of running the city is planning on the fly, perhaps someone should ask city engineer Leigh Ann Sutton exactly how she can do pavers down the corridor from Yosemite Avenue to Alameda Street for less than $3.8 million if that money is diverted to do patchwork on Airport Way that is being grinded to smithereens by big rigs?
It’s a fair question since she implied it could be done. Funny but as she said there is only one certified paver for streets. Given pavers are going curb to curb and the only real difference would be two lanes versus four lanes on the same surface area, how can you do it for less than $3.8 million?
If Erias wants to see how another city handled having a downtown partially slashed by a former highway that is now a major arterial, he might want to visit Tracy.
Old Highway 50 is now 11th Street through downtown while the “transformation” area of sidewalk dining and less auto-centric streets are off on side streets. It is what Councilman Jose Nuño alluded to with Manteca’s Maple Street before he got slapped across the knuckles with a ruler by the professor of Manteca planning history.
Yes, Tracy still has the feel of a working San Joaquin Valley downtown but it works. And it does so without having to create a perennial traffic tourniquet from hell for the 98 percent of motorists on 11th Street that have better things to do than being forced to crawl past downtown.
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 email@example.com