What is more secure: A 24-hour gas station near the foot of the Grapevine in the middle of nowhere on Interstate 5 or the Manteca Police Department?
Fifteen years have passed since the powers that be decided Manteca had a woefully inadequate — not to mention lacking in security — police department.
Two times the city attempted half-heartedly to build a new police headquarters. Twice they bought property including one piece that has a building in place. Twice they hit a bump, threw up their hands, and walked away.
To say the existing building Manteca provides for the men and women who put their lives on the line is secure as it should be would fall into the bald face lie category.
There is no bullet proof glass in the lobby. Ask Ripon Police dispatchers who came under fire a few years back why that matters. The lobby itself is a joke. It is a glorified over-sized phone booth. Open hallways exposed to the elements connect the department secured by only bushes and a six-foot wrought-iron fence minus the curved security spikes on top.
The only portion of the department that wouldn’t be a joke in this day and age for cities of 80,000 is the new evidence building. In short, evidence is safer at the police department than police personnel.
It should not take a tragedy for elected leaders to direct staff to work toward a new police station. Nor should it be delayed for the fourth or fifth time while again deciding whether all city offices should be together on one campus or whether public safety should be off on its own and then doing nothing.
There are those who believe Manteca needs a fancy new city hall. That is a want, not a need.
Manteca Police can be moved from the 17,000 square feet they occupy at 1001 West Center and the space easily converted to offices for other city departments. There is also adequate space for expansion as other city offices grow at the Center Street location. Each study in the past failed to take into account how technology has changed space needs and even reduces the need for all operations to be centralized. It is why the city’s exploring the possibility of buying a building they have been renting for years for personnel and IT services on Cherry Lane across from the civic center campus makes sense.
And if there is a concern about parking not being adequate for future expansions the answer is across Center Street where vacant land under power lines is an ideal place for additional parking.
The bottom line is the plan for a new city hall and police department in 2004 was $30 million. The price tag is easily closing in on $50 million in today’s dollars if not more.
Also, the Center Street campus is not exactly central to Manteca’s population which is much more critical for the police.
It is why the city might just be smart to go back to its original plan and build a police station on South Main Street just north of Funsten Flooring. It’s not only on the main north-south corridor but it is two blocks from the 120 Bypass that would reduce travel time thanks to the city’s soon-to-be seven interchanges.
It is also closer to the city’s future population center given projections expect 60 percent of Manteca’s residents will live south of the 120 Bypass by 2040.
There is enough room that down the road the county could build a new Manteca courthouse as part of the complex enhancing court security.
The other thing the site has going for it is the price. It is one of the parcels that the now defunct Manteca redevelopment agency is required to sell. Ironically it was originally bought with the intent of making it into a South County courthouse complex adjacent to a new Manteca Police Department. The state is forcing the sale of that and two other RDA properties that were never transferred to the city.
Given the industrial zoning and the fact in today’s market such a use for the land is highly unlikely to fetch top dollar due to its size , Manteca could probably buy the site for just a bit more than what it’s share of the proceeds from the RDA selling all three properties will produce.
Of course, the city could wait and pay market value for a parcel the same size south of the 120 Bypass.
And then there are the excuses as to why the city shouldn’t act. One of those is if they build a new facility they would need to build a new city jail due to state requirements that now require new police departments with jails to have 24/7 staffing of correctional officers making it an expensive proposition. Here’s a novel idea. Don’t build a jail. Build only holding cells. That’s why Manteca has booking officers.
A new police complex would not likely be started in earnest in the next five years. That said there is a need really to start the ball rolling and to keep it rolling so a new police department can be built in 10 years, if that.
If an elected council member believes that the need for a new police station shouldn’t be addressed in the upcoming 2018-2019 budget, then show the public how proud you are of the safe and adequate facilities the city provides for the men and women of law enforcement and conduct an open house complete with tours of the police department.
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.