Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
Philosopher-novelist George Santayana must have spent some time in Manteca before coining that phrase.
A lot of people dwell on their mistakes. Not Manteca. The city keeps repeating them until they redefine the definition of insanity.
And nowhere is that more true when it comes to the litmus test of denial — a desire to have a trendy downtown and the assumption one can change Main Street from being a major arterial even if the cost is substantially degrading the quality of life of nearby neighborhoods.
I feel for Chris Erias. He’s the city’s director of development services.
I’m no urban planner but I’ve had a front row seat, if you will, of small towns going large in places such as Roseville, Rocklin, Lincoln, Manteca, Lathrop — and sooner than you think — Ripon.
Roseville was 49,000 — the size of Manteca when I moved here in 1991 — when I started covering Roseville city government as an 18-year-old. I happened to have been born there and lived my first 7 years there. When my family moved Roseville had 16,000 people and was still a hardcore railroad town complete with homeless — they were called hobos/transients back then — and a street system that was anything but textbook.
That was thanks to what was then the largest railroad marshaling yard west of the Mississippi River, an Interstate 80 interchange being built virtually on top of its key intersection of Douglas Boulevard and Sunrise Avenue, along with three problematic creeks crisscrossing the future path of a growing city.
As irony would have it funding for the Highway 65 Bypass that opened up north Roseville to the likes of Hewlett-Packard-Packard, NEC, and the Galleria was approved at the same meeting the California Transportation Commission funded the 120 Bypass that eventually opened south Manteca to development.
Roseville learned early on that its unique set of circumstances meant textbook planning was borderline suicidal. They hired a lot of consultants but the council — and the key department heads in the city’s formative years who actually lived (or very close by), worked and played in Roseville — never forgot to temper recommendations outside experts provided with the realities on the ground.
Back to Erias who is competent, has proven that he wants to do things right as witnessed by his actions regarding truck-related issues, and is solid in almost every way you want someone who is basically overseeing growth can be.
The only drawback is being a tad blind to what I’d call local realities that have nothing to do with politics although Manteca has more than its share of interesting politics.
When the bulb-outs first went in on Main Street back in 2006 I admit I saw nothing wrong with them. They helped break up the drabness of downtown including the 100 block of North Main Street where the seeds of what would ultimately become the SaveMart supermarket chain were planted when a Manteca High teen by the name of Bob Picinnini did what Amazon drivers do today — delivering groceries from his family’s market after people used the cutting edge tech of the day in the form of law landline telephones to place orders.
At the same time I realized traffic was bad because I passed through — or ended up in — downtown on almost a daily basis at various times throughout the day.
I also thought downtown Manteca had one foot in the grave.
I was wrong.
And after seeing the general plan update for the next 10 to 20 years with growth planned in such a manner the city could grow by another 20,000 to 30,000 people and not need to add a fire station it is clear Main Street is going to become even more congested.
That’s because the city 20 years from now is on target to have compact growth to the north and south and still have only three north-south arterials in the form of Airport Way, Union Road, and Main Street.
As for downtown itself, another capable guy when it comes to redevelopment and shepherding growth once told me that what worked in other downtowns would work in Manteca after I penned a column suggesting turning central Manteca into a trendy downtown would be as impossible as herding a thousand cats.
Steve Pinkerton, who was the city manager at the time, said he was going to prove that wasn’t the case.
A year later he conceded Manteca was different. And it has everything to do with the fact it is far from dead, it is still at the epicenter of Manteca, two major streets that were once state highways with commercial on all four ends intersect there, and a railroad line with at least three dozen trains a day passes through it and blocks all three of the downtown’s key streets.
There is also the expectation that downtown is about to die.
A consultant 20 years ago predicted an exodus of banks and traditional retailers such as furniture stores would start within a few years. He couldn’t have been more off base. The number of banks/financial institutions did change. It went from five to seven. As for furniture stores the number went from three to four.
The problem is Manteca’s problems aren’t the typical problems plaguing California downtowns in 2021. That doesn’t mean some of the things that work elsewhere won’t work here. It does mean if the council declines to step up and make sure the unique nuances of Manteca are taken into account and not dismissed by hired staff you can come up with all the traffic studies and downtown plans you want and nothing will change.
Mayor Ben Cantu — a textbook planner by education — sees the future path for downtown as one that includes choking traffic on Main Street, or at least he did the last time the subject came up at a council meeting.
Councilman Gary Singh sees Main Street not as the alluring Main Street of Disneyland lore but as a main street when it comes to getting from one side of Manteca to another.
Regardless of their differences, both Singh and Cantu have expressed their liking the use of street pavers to step up the looks of the Main Street corridor through downtown. Singh, though, prefers for lanes to Cantu’s two lanes.
Councilman Dave Breitenbucher is not a huge fan of the glamour of pavers given he believes the money could be better spent on paving projects elsewhere. But even he suggested at one point four lanes make sense and that it was likely do-able with re-striping and reworking the center lane sans pavers. However, it should be noted staff has indicated in the case of Main Street due to the concrete of the original Highway 99 poured in the 1920s buried below decades of asphalt and the need for improved downtown drainage that pavers would be less expensive that repaving.
As for council members Jose Nuño and Charlie Halford, both have weighed in on the need to address North Main traffic.
Where will this all end up?
A betting man would go with Manteca will end up back at the same point after spending yet more money on traffic and downtown studies and squandering money on tweaks that will need to be replaced with other tweaks.
In other words the city will continue to ignore history and make George Santayana 69 years after his death look like a prophet.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org