Let’s face it; no one likes change, especially when we are in our comfort zone! And that’s what is happening with High Speed Rail in California.
In 2008, Californians gave their okay to build a High Speed Rail, or HSR, to connect Los Angeles with the San Francisco Bay Area. Once completed, we will travel by rail from San Francisco to Disneyland in less than 3 hours, at speeds of approximately 150 mph. There will be stops, terminals on the way, so Californians would be able to visit many cities in between; cities that remain unserviced by major airlines. Now, what does this mean for Mantecans, and how do we fit into the equation?
This weekend I had the opportunity to see my oldest daughter at work. I attended an event she organized in Tracy. There were lots of people in attendance. The keynote speaker thanked her for the outstanding job of bringing together so many folks under the same roof. I felt extremely proud of her so this morning I looked for the old Hi8 camera stored away a long time ago, so I could play video tapes of her growing up; video tapes from 17 years ago! I wanted to reassure myself that the woman getting praises the night before was the same little girl I didn’t want grow too fast. You see, I didn’t want her to change back then; I wanted her to slow down because I was uncertain how life would turn out for her. But after 17 years, a college degree, and many sacrifices, I realized change is real. So far life has turned out perfect for her.
Our downtown was the “Gateway to Yosemite” less than 30 years ago. Mantecans can still remember when we did not have the 120 Bypass. At one point drivers had to drive via Yosemite Avenue, through downtown Manteca, to get to Yosemite National Park. But then change came; the 120 Bypass was built, and Downtown Manteca came to a halt. Businesses started to close down because of lack of visitors, and a ghost made itself a home on an empty street after sundown. Many didn’t want change then, many do not want it now, and that’s what the High-Speed Rail means to Manteca, change.
The Altamont Corridor Express, or ACE, held an informational hearing last week in our city on its newest project, ACEforward. The public was brought up to speed on the latest developments regarding the expansion of ACE from Manteca to Merced, the connecting terminal to the California High-Speed Rail system, and upgrades to the current line up to San José, and Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART.
The ACEfoward connection in Merced will translate to more than 4.5 million passengers coming through the Central Valley with additional terminals in Livingston/Atwater, Turlock, Modesto, and Ripon. The Manteca/Lathrop ACE station can be moved to the Transit Center downtown. By 2025, nine years from now, Manteca could see an excess of more than 285,000 passengers getting off and on at our Transit Center.
The US High Speed Rail Association, a leading force behind HSR movement in the US, states that “The national high speed rail network will create millions of good jobs, stimulate the economy, create entirely new industries, be the catalyst for the next real estate boom, save businesses money, increase mobility, reduce dependence on oil, reduce our annual $700 billion trade deficit (purchasing foreign oil), and significantly increase national security.” If so, ACE connectivity with the California HSR in Merced will bring a most needed and noticeable economic improvement to our city. But, it would require competition with other Central Valley cities connecting to the network.
We need to look into preparing ourselves for the avalanche that is upon us; the California HSR. If we do not start planning towards a proactive and economically progressive future, we will end up empty handed again. Yes, we had the 2008 recession which set us back a few steps, but what that all means is that our city leaders did not plan for rainy days. We cannot afford to be on sidelines either, or be unresolved.
I don’t like change; I like my space, my comfort zone. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up too fast, but life got in the middle, and she did, for the better. If I had not been cautious, planned strategically and regrouped after the recession, God knows where she would be today. A lesson can only be objective if we apply it. What I know about the future is that I want it to be better for our new generation. Mantecans deserve better than one AMC Theater or a Walmart or a Target. We need a robust downtown representative of who we are, a family city.
I’d like to fast forward to 2025 when my youngest daughter returns home from graduate school, to visit or stay, but to enjoy her city’s downtown. Enjoy a night or day out shopping, dining or dancing or when she doesn’t have to go over the Altamont Pass to shop in Livermore. I’d like to imagine her getting on ACEforward to Merced, and change to the California High-Speed Rail to visit friends in Southern California; no traffic, no long lines to wait in at SFO, no delays; just plain enjoyment of our beautiful Central Valley landscape.
Manteca has been dealt a nice hand from a deck of cards. California HSR/ACE offers us that good hand, how we prepare ourselves to win is entirely achievable; not planning for a foreseeable future is foolish.
Al Moncada is a Board Member of the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce