A lot of things happened on Willie Weatherford’s watch.
u The rising of Spreckels Park from the rubble of Spreckeks Sugar.
• The South San Joaquin County Surface Water Treatment Plant.
• The expansion and upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant.
• The sales tax sharing deal that snagged Bass Pro Shops where more than 95 percent of all sales tax paid are from people outside of Manteca.
• The development of Woodward Park.
• The tax split deal that snared Costco for Manteca instead of a second location in Modesto.
• The overhaul and expansion of Library Park.
• The extension of the missing link of Industrial Park Drive.
• The transformation of Moffat Boulevard from a blighted old state highway to a stretch of roadway connecting downtown and the new transit station to Spreckels Park, a modern business park and a 21st century church.
That’s just part of the list.
It’s bound to be long after his tenure of six years as a councilman and then 12 years as mayor. That tenure comes to an end shortly after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2.
While Weatherford was part of a team of elected officials and staff that had a hand in all that and more there are two things that will forever be associated with Weatherford — Big League Dreams and Manteca’s 180-degree turn around from being the laughing stock of the Northern San Joaquin Valley to being looked at today by other cities as an example of how to get things done.
Big League Dreams wasn’t actually Willie Weatherford’s idea. It was floated by former Councilwoman Denise Girodano who saw it as a good example of private-public partnering to reduce the cost of government while providing amenities that people wanted. But as council politics took over, Girodano vehemently opposed her own idea.
Weatherford quickly realized it was a cost effective way of providing amenities that people wanted but Manteca lacked the money to build. By having BLD run the complex that the city built, revenues from the lease would repay construction costs plus the city would avoid $17 million in maintenance and operation costs over 35 years.
Since the city used redevelopment agency money that was already borrowed from bond sales against future taxes, Manteca benefits from lease payments going back to the general fund. It was a cost effective way of getting a sports complex in place without the general fund being imperiled by having to pay back a loan.
Seven years into the lease revenues from BLD exceeded expectations and the city hasn’t spent a penny for park upkeep. The Manteca complex, in fact, is the most successful of all BLD sites including ones in Southern California, Texas, and Las Vegas.
Weatherford gives part of the credit to former Mayor Carlon Perry who was an adamant opponent of BLD.
The fight over BLD — originally proposed for Woodward Park — spanned seven years. It included numerous marathon council meetings that would go until 3 o’clock in the morning. It triggered accusations of death threats from those on both sides of the issue. Against that backdrop and a determination to proceed, BLD founder Rick Odekirk responded to continued questioning from Perry about the financial feasibility of BLD by giving Manteca 16 percent of all gross revenue instead of 15 percent. Weatherford has on several occasions noted it was Perry’s tenacity that sweetened the pot for Manteca.
At one point about halfway through the epic approval process then City Manager Bob Adams asked Weatherford if he still thought it was worth it considering the major rifts that were forming in the community fanned, in part, by how opposing council members were trying to kill the project. Weatherford simply replied “it was the right thing to do for Manteca” so he was going to continue to take the hits.
Weatherford, although in the council majority, didn’t favor shoving the vote through in the belief that even if BLD was right for Manteca financially and from the perspective of a needed amenity a power play would leave scars on the community.
While BLD stands as a monument of sorts to Weatherford’s dogged determination, it is the tone he set for 12 years as mayor that changed Manteca’s course.
He made it so council meetings no longer were popular spectator events for people tuning into Comcast Channel 97 expecting to see elected officials at each other’s throats. It was how things were since the 1980s gut wrenching recall election of two council members Jack Snyder and Bobby Davis along with Mayor Trena Kelley. Weatherford ended Manteca’s version of filibustering by people who did not get their way who were allowed to speak as long as they wanted at the start of meetings under citizens’ comments. Not only were speakers limited to two minutes with Weatherford as mayor but the citizens comments were placed at the end of the meeting.
Weatherford emphasized council meetings were for elected officials to conduct the city’s business and not to allow people to grandstand.
The circus atmosphere disappeared almost overnight. Municipal staff — instead of devoting their energy to putting out political fires or dodging council missiles launched in their direction — was able to get down to not just the business of running a city but exploring innovative ways to stretch tax dollars more effectively.
Manteca is still a bedroom community. It has a long way to go until it is in the league of a Pleasanton. And because of that looking for ways to leverage municipal resources to get the most bang is essential.
It can’t be done when the council is at war with itself.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.