The $500,000 question Mantecans4Change can ask to see if the city council is bluffing

Manteca, it seems, is about to play chess.

The end game is what the city does about the homeless.

The pawns, depending on your point of view, are the homeless or the protected.

The bottom line is driven by two issues: quality of life concerns and taxpayer dollars.

We all have a stake in the outcome.

However, there are only two players that matter at the moment who are considering their next move – Manteca City Council as well as Mantecans4Change.

If Mantecans4Changes makes the right choices, Manteca City Council could find out the hard way how devastating and effective a grassroots movement can be.

At the same time, if the council follows the advice of the Alice in Wonderland doorman and keeps a cool head, it can prevent the equivalent of a political civil war from breaking out.

Manteca4Change has taken the first step.

They want voters to vote on whether Manteca should allow a drop-in center/homeless shelter in Manteca.

Never mind that it is legal in California for cities to ban homeless navigation centers which by their very nature have a shelter component despite not being a shelter in self.

Nor does the measure need to qualify for the ballot.

All they have to do is pass it around and they change the narrative.

It doesn’t just mean talking about the conversation. This actually means collecting signatures in high-profile locations around town for an extended period of time.

And to be honest, the only threat won’t change the dial. Mantecans4Change’s past efforts have proven this.

But if they spark community dialogue that goes beyond social media, they can force the issue.

It’s already happened in Manteca,

In the 1980s, the city experienced double-digit growth for several years. Manteca’s elected officials imposed the first-ever growth cap in the Central Valley to avoid public anger.

That the 3.9% cap based on the sewer allowances that can be issued in any given year and can also be rolled over ended up being a ruse that the council passed and passed it derailed a petition campaign for a ballot measure that would cap growth at a hard-fast 2 percent a year.

The fact that Mantecans4Change is only challenging board members who will or could still be in office when 2023 rolls around to sign a petition calling for ballot measurement gives some insight into their game plan.

They want elected leaders who will face voters over the next 30 months to essentially declare whether they argue that the people of Manteca have a say in the matter.

And how they get that point across to voters is taxpayers money.

We now know that it will cost at least $777,618 per year to operate a homeless navigation center once it is built.

That’s the dollar amount to run the emergency homeless shelter in a tent for a year at 555 Industrial Park Drive with less robust resource services.

The likelihood that a 50-bed shelter as part of a resource center along with “little houses” for transitional housing will bring annual operating costs closer to $1 million is strong.

Even though city leaders have pledged to seek out every available penny of state and federal homelessness funds they can get to avoid dipping into the general fund, we also know how risky it can be.

As things stand, $663,862 will come from the City’s general fund. The rest comes mostly from passing federal funds.

The city has already spent $953,361 since December 2019 on the emergency shelter. About a third or $307,872 came from the city’s general fund. The rest came from transit funds or COVID money.

Let’s not forget that there is rampant inflation, the prospect of a recession on the horizon, and the days of free money could be down in DC.

As for Sacramento, they’re riding high, but little reflects on the size of the city of Manteca when it comes to homeless funding.

And when we get back to the bust side of California taxation based on capital gains taxes, even that trickle will evaporate,

The best-case scenario for the future is that Manteca’s general fund exceeds $663,862 per year.

The next step Mantecans4Change should take is to ask what $660,000 to $1 million will do to the city’s $68.5 million general fund in terms of opportunity cost.

That’s about $1 out of every $70 spent on daily services for homeless services.

To get into something more specific, $1 million a year almost covers the salaries, benefits, retirement, and workers’ compensation of four rookie police officers.

Or it could cover a lot of streets in Manteca.

To counter such a strategy, elected officials must step up.

They must also exploit the weakness of the opposition.

First, they must commit — not just say “maybe” during a mid-year budget review — to actually hire three additional police officers with Measure M funds as soon as possible.

One of the rationales may be that the additional manpower may help somewhat to pressure homeless people to use the beds now available at the emergency shelter to further reduce illegal encampments, just as the city led people to believe they would with a resource center.

The 9th District Court of Appeals did not differentiate between a large tent or a brick-and-mortar shelter.
In doing so, they can then throw down the gauntlet: what proposition does Mantecans4Change have for legally solving homelessness where it just doesn’t amount to an expensive legal game of whack-a-mole?

Yes, things are better than two years ago in all aspects.

But Mantecans4Change would be right to feed on the mistrust people might have about whether the city of Manteca will actually go ahead with a stepped up game to get the homeless off the streets and if they don’t go to a resource center to throw the full force of the law upon them.

The real question Mantecans4Change should be asking if they take three minutes on the podium under citizen feedback at tonight’s city council meeting is pretty basic.

Now that the city is expecting another $500,000 in undistributed general fund reserves in next year’s budget starting July 1, why isn’t the council hiring two more police officers now instead later for the stated purpose of tackling homelessness-related crime, among other issues?

This column is the opinion of the editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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