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The world is changing & Manteca does not need $40 million city hall
piggy bank broke

Are our elected leaders stuck in the 1970s?

We are about to find out.

What is unfolding is unprecedented.

Never has so much of the American economy shut down at once with the real prospect it could stay that way for weeks if not months.

Throwing everything including the kitchen sink to try and stabilize the economy has never been done before in one fell swoop with leaders talking that they are willing to take a sledge hammer to what is left of the turnip to squeeze out even more economic infusions.

The $2.2 trillion package is almost half of this year’s $4.8 trillion federal budget.

Economists who are never on the same page are all in agreement the recovery from the pandemic will be a long gentle upward curve instead of the sharp rise that comes after a natural disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane, or major flood where the economy is jump started by cleaning up and rebuilding.

Just how bad this can still get even if the vice grip of the economic shutdown starts to ease as early as Easter at least in some parts of the country was underscored by remarks earlier this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom. All proposed major initiatives such as the state genetic drug plan are on hold and will be re-examined. Given how the state budget is driven by capital gains and not primarily run-of-the-mill income tax collected on pay, the revenue spigot for Sacramento will slow to a dribble.

It is also about a sure of a bet you can make that few people will have an appetite for any type of a tax increase for at least two years.

What is happening is not a mere hiccup or speed bump.

Against that backdrop the Manteca City Council will meet in early April.

On the agenda will likely be the capital improvement project list and prioritizing big dollar expenditure for the foreseeable future.

As Ben Cantu — Manteca’s straight talking mayor — has pointed out the things we need and say we want from the city costs money. He’s tossed out his ultimate solution which is the formation of a massive community wide Mello-Roos district that could easily increase municipal revenue by 50 percent assuming people buy into it.

You may not like what he has said about the need for more taxes, his views on what Manteca needs, or about his tendency to keep channeling a history professor every chance he gets in his bid to hammer those that went before him for getting it all wrong because they did not listen to him but you can’t accuse him of pulling punches or dancing around an issue.

That, however, is not what this city needs going forward.

The reality is pretty straightforward.

Before the pandemic hit the council majority made it clear they wanted to build a new direction for the city by first reorganizing and expanding the management structure as a precursor to adding more worker bees. The rationale was simple. If city hall was organized differently the time it takes to complete projects such as the Northgate Park group picnic shelter promised five years ago or a citizen complaint about illegal truck parking gets addressed could be reduced significantly and in doing so save money.

The problem is worker bee staffing in areas that the public notices for obvious reasons — streets and parks — are not anywhere near the level they were at before the last major economic disaster hit. Police manpower is back where it was just before the Great Recession triggered by the mortgage meltdown hit. In the meantime Manteca’s population has grown by 18,000 people to 85,000 residents.

People will have little stomach for expanding city management ranks or talk of a new city hall.

Give Cantu his due even though his delivery was a bit harsh. If Manteca simply goes from crisis to crisis and doesn’t start working toward long-promised long-range objectives they will never materialize.

He’s also right that we’ve already dug a deep hole in the past by not adequately collecting growth fees as well as developing new taxes on existing residents to pay for things such as a new city hall.

Given the 9.0 economic earthquake that hit this month along with aftershocks to come, Cantu’s solutions that were always going to be a tough sell are now clearly the wrong answer.

Growth will bounce back but the appetite for existing residents and those that become residents once they buy a new home to vote to increase their tax load for new recreational facilities, new library facilities, new city hall facilities or much of anything else will be non-existent for a long enough time that the solutions currently proposed for those needs will become unaffordable.

This is where Dave Breitenbucher’s feet firmly planted on the ground approach, Gary Singh’s insistence that new approaches are needed, Jose Nuno’s judicious weighing of the proven and the never tried, and Debby Moorhead’s empathy for the challenges people face come into play.

We need solutions to city needs that aren’t a rehash and repackaging of eras gone by. And that will take all five council members bringing their strengthens to the table to mold new solutions instead of simply repackaging old ones that now have bigger price tags and may be out of touch with the times.

Manteca needs to rethink the physical edifices they need to provide services and amenities. Perhaps it is finally forming a true partnership with the school district on developing and operating common use facilities on a level that is light years beyond what it is today. Maybe it means developing a workforce going forward that can partially work remotely from home.

What it is not is insisting we need a $40 million city hall as one of the highest city capital improvement priorities or create enough departments for each letter of the alphabet.

The council should also appreciate the gift of good timing. Just like Costco and Bass Pro opening in 2008 just as the first fiscal impact of the Great Recession hit, Great Wolf will be opening in time to ease the loss of sales tax by backfilling the city budget with room taxes.

We need leadership that is looking to prepare Manteca for 2025 and beyond based on realities in play now and going forward and not an updated version of a 1970 solution.