Mayor Ben Cantu has his detractors.
Anyone serving as a mayor of any city, larger or small, has them.
It comes with the territory.
But even if you think Cantu isn’t the right person for the job, at least listen to his core point.
It’s the common thread that flows through all of the issues he has no problem with repeating until he’s blue in the face. They include among others the desire to take downtown to the next level, a library more suited for Leave it to Beaver’s Mayfield circa 1955, a police station and swimming pool more aligned with the needs of Mayberry in the 1960s, and an affordable housing plan that apparently will end up being a drop-in homeless shelter as more and more people that labor in Manteca can’t afford to live here.
Manteca has an absolute dismal record of setting city goals that involve anything remotely resembling a public amenity. The only thing worse is the lack of follow through and almost zilch when it comes to political will to stay the course until something is delivered.
It speaks volumes when California’s third fastest growing city can’t even have a secure and efficient police station. Yet if you look next door at Tracy, Ripon, and Lathrop they’ve all managed to grow while treating public safety as if it were indeed job one by providing modern facilities that actually employ bullet proof glass and don’t require personnel to move between parts of the department via open breezeways separated from the rest of the world with wrought iron fencing semi-blocked by a few shrubs.
Cantu is right. There are always excuses.
There isn’t enough city staff. There is a financial issue. There is no political will.
Funny but there is never enough city staff.
There is always a financial issue. Granted the current mess being untangled from an era of sloppy bookkeeping so the city enough knows what end is up when it comes to the municipal books is light years worse than in the 1980s when general fund reserves came close to dipping below $1,000. But at least back then they knew what they had and did not have.
But if you look back between both eras from 1985 to 2018, there was still a financial excuse ready and willing to be played such as the city hasn’t squirreled enough money away.
As for the lack of political will, it was framed laser sharp by the failed sales tax election.
Cantu was the only one not afraid he’d lose a popularity contest by actively pushing for it. His detractors — including his colleagues on the council — voiced the opinion he was doing the effort no favors by talking about the need for bronze statues and welcome signs that made a statement at city entrances as well as talking up a new city hall as if that was the paramount need in Manteca.
While that all might be true, at least Cantu didn’t do what his colleagues did and vote to place the sales tax on the ballot and then distance themselves from it.
If they didn’t have the political will to make their case for the sales tax why did they bother to place it on the ballot? Almost to the last council member they said they were going to let the people decide. News flash, voters always decide the fate of tax proposals that are placed on the ballot.
The problem is the elected council deferred to staff’s wishes and didn’t tie down the new money the tax increase would generate to any specific spending plan. And in not doing so the Measure M language voters approved authorizing the public safety tax would have required 62 percent of the new sales tax generated to go to police and fire because it wouldn’t have been restricted by voters.
What sparked the talk of a sales tax in the first place was a proposal to develop $80 million worth of community recreation facilities aimed primarily at youth. Staff, with no push back from the council instead advanced a general sales tax increase after they conducted polling that showed people would support a tax that delivered specific projects.
The council needs to decide what they want to go after in a ranked order.
Once they do that and have 100 percent buy into a general concept then hire consultants to identify various options and costs. Once that is in hand and the city counts what it has in a accounts that’s are restricted for purposes aligned with their goal, they need to not just adopt or increase fees accordingly but need to actually move forward.
Borrowing to build amenities when you’ve accumulated substantial piles for a hefty down payment in a city that hasn’t stopped growing and is highly unlikely to stop growing for decades to come is not taking on undo risk.
The undo risk that happens in Manteca is money is collected and eaten away by construction inflation. It might be noted that other cities that do the quaint thing called responsible borrowing keep close tabs on how they handle their money.
You don’t hear about Tracy or Lathrop not knowing how much money they have. Tracy borrows money and Lathrop moves projects forward fast enough that by the time they are finished such as with the police station they find out growth that is always projected on the conservative side as it is in Manteca ended up being robust as normal. The result is their new police station will be paid off instead of the city having to borrow several million to pay off contractors.
Come to think of it, the Lathrop Police station is a prime example of what Cantu is talking about.
Lathrop was incorporated in 1989. Seven years later Manteca leaders decided the city’s sieve of a police station was too small.
By the time 2006 rolled around the city had purchased two different sites for a new police station using money the city diverted from its share of property taxes into the now defunct redevelopment agency. One was the old Qualex property and the other was the 8 acres the city wants to buy “again” for a homeless navigation center. Both obviously went nowhere.
Meanwhile Lathrop less than three years ago decided they needed a new police station. It will be completed next year. As for Manteca 2022 will mark the 25th anniversary of elected leaders deciding the city’s police station was woefully inadequate and directed staff to work toward building a new one.
It’s clear that Lathrop’s leadership — both elected and bureaucratic — put more stock in finding ways to get things done as opposed to Manteca’s approach of finding reasons why something can’t be done.
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