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Will Manteca tear out Wilson Park for a parking lot?
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Wilson Park tucked behind the Post Office where Manteca and Sycamore avenues converge before meeting Center Street isn’t the city’s smallest park. That honor goes to appropriately named Mini Park that was created beneath a PG&E power tower on the southeast corner of Elm Avenue and North Street just three blocks away.

Wilson Park is, without a doubt, the shadiest with virtually every speck of grass protected from the sun by towering evergreen trees.

The biggest users are transients and the homeless, many of whom grate on the nerves of nearby business and property owners who have to deal with what they leave behind as well as oftentimes their behavior. It does get a couple of high profile days in the sun during the first weekend in October when the Sunrise Kiwanis use it as their beer garden adjacent to the main entertainment stage for the annual Manteca Pumpkin Fair.

Other than that, Wilson Park - named in honor of Joseph Wilson who was the former postmaster that spearheaded the drive back in the 1930s to get the federal government to purchase the North Maple Avenue site for a post office - is pretty much off everybody’s radar.

That may be about to change.

The Postal Service approached the city a few months ago about the possibility of obtaining part or all of Wilson Park for parking and to ease constrained truck movements in and out of the post office loading dock area. Even being able to have access from the alley with a little more space for a turnaround would be a big help.

Currently the post office has no off-street parking for its employees.

Municipal staff has tentatively determined not a lot of trees could be saved if it was to be converted to parking. They, however, are waiting for additional inquiries from the Postal Service before approaching elected leaders to get a sense of whether they’d like the possibility explored or to not disturb the park.

There’s a good chance that should the inquiry go to the next level it could open Pandora’s Box.

On one hand, it makes sense for the city to work to try and accommodate post office needs. While it is highly doubtful the Postal Service can afford to up and move by building a new location in Manteca, it does make sense to improve the traffic flow and movement on Center Street.

There are also a few people who’d like to see the transients and homeless in Wilson Park go away. That, however, could simply prompt more of them to congregate across the street in Library Park where the city is now making another $850,000 in improvements as part of a park expansion plan.

Then there are those who were none too happy when the city removed stately trees from a downtown parking lot located on an alley less than a block away as well as in front of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church at North and Powers because they were lifting up pavement and sidewalks. They felt the city should have worked around the problem. Several individuals said if the city tried to do that to healthy trees in the future they would organize a large protest.

While the park itself gets minimum use, it would be a shame to lose any of the mature trees in Wilson Park. At the same time a case can be made to take a small segment of the park and convert it to post office use especially if it got vehicles to enter off the alley and improved turning movements. That may not be feasible but it is definitely a compromise that could keep much of the park intact and solve some of the post office’s issues if it works.

As for employee parking, it has been working as it is since 1939 with them parking on the city streets. There is the question of parking enforcement on the streets but the city in reality has been unable to afford to enforce time limit parking for quite a while.

And if they did decide to start marking tires again, there are plenty of side streets in the nearby residential area where employees can park to avoid time limits in Center Street and other downtown streets.

The proposal is worth exploring as the city would get a clear reading from the public just how much the “charm” of downtown means to the entire community.

It would, however, be ironic for a city that has just ripped out a street to expand a park a block away to turn around and consider ripping out a park to expand a parking lot.