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Lathrop City Council hopefuls pitch their positions

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Lathrop City Council hopefuls pitch their positions

Former planning commissioner and local business owner Dan MacNeilage flashes a smile after answering one of several questions that were posed to the seven candidates in attendance.

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED October 17, 2012 1:21 a.m.

LATHROP – What a difference a day makes.

Less than 24 hours after the bulk of the Lathrop City Council spent nearly an hour chiding Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos for his actions at City Hall, seven council hopefuls on the November ballot – vying for only two seats – used the same dais for a measured and civil discussion about the issues facing the community and what, if elected, they’ll do about them.

Sponsored by the Lathrop Chamber of Commerce and the San Joaquin County League of Women Voters, the forum – which lasted approximately 90 minutes – gave the council hopefuls a chance to introduce themselves and their platforms to not only those in attendance but also those watching the city’s public access channel at home. It also put them on the spot to answer questions on topics ranging from business to development to whether the community could benefit from an assisted living facility.

And while the answers varied, it was former Lathrop Planning Commissioner and small business owner Dan MacNeilage that pointed out that a civil discussion of the issues is in fact possible – something that he didn’t see the previous night when observing “character assassination” and mud-slinging.

It was MacNeilage that also took a stand against the proposed Measure C – the one-cent sales tax increase on the ballot that could generate another $2 million in revenue for the city – because of some of the factors behind it.

Nearly all of the other candidates had said that they’d like to see some portion of the money go towards public safety.

“It bothers me that there’s no end-date or method for control and that we have a fire district that already thinks that 40 percent is earmarked for them right off the top. They take a portion of property tax – that’s how they’re funded,” MacNeilage  said. “And with the police, that’s the biggest chunk that comes out of our budget. We’re going to have to sit down and look at these contracts and see how this money is being spent.

“But right now the city is running on a skeleton crew and if we were to put the money anywhere it should go to personnel and personnel services. I just think it could end up being the fulcrum to make a business go someplace else.”

When asked about how to attract business to the community, Omar Khweiss pointed out that it might be pertinent to make sure that the city takes care of the businesses and industries that are already here first. It is something, he said, that past city administrations have failed to do and have strained relationships with large-scale employers as a result.

“When you talk about companies like J.R. Simplot and Pilkington and CBC Steel and In-N-Out we need to make sure that we’re keeping them here – we need to go out of our way to make them feel welcome,” Khweiss said. “That’s not always the case, and word spreads in a community like Lathrop. We also need to make sure that we don’t drop the ball anymore.

“We just had a mud run here a few months ago where he had 13,000 participants, and there wasn’t a single sign that said ‘Welcome to Lathrop’ or made any attempt to sell the city. We can’t the drop the ball when we have the opportunity to encourage people to come back like that.”

Paul Akinjo, on the other hand, sees making an educational investment into the community as a way to both promote business and make sure that local residents are able to find the sort of jobs needed to take care of their families. That is one place he’d like to see some of the Measure C funds diverted if it were to be approved by voters on Nov. 6.

And when asked about whether promoting residential growth was paramount to making Lathrop attractive to the sorts of businesses that other cities have been able to secure, former city councilman Steve Dresser said that it’s a delicate balance.

“We want to promote the village concept here – where we live, work and shop in the same place,” Dresser said. “But we also need to be in lockstep with what it is that they want. I think it’s paramount that we have a good general plan. Most developers want homes but we need a mixture.”

The following are additional comments made by candidates when presented with questions:

• Debbie Rock on whether Lathrop needs an assisted living facility – “I think that we need something like that. We need something that’s close for the seniors to be with their families. But I think we should talk to them about what they want to see and then find a suitable business that is willing to come in.”

• Brent Maynor on whether new housing is essential to business development – “We already have one large project underway – River Islands – that’ll bring 33,000 new residents to the community. I think that what’s important is that developers don’t be asked to pay more than their fair share – it’s a ‘gimme gimme’ attitude and their asked to do too much. Also, we can’t have more massive Mello-Roos when those homes go in. I heard from one person that’s paying $7,800 a year in property tax. That’s crazy. As long as we don’t overbuild I think we’ll be fine.”

• When asked about why he’s running, Balwant Singh Sandhu said that he became upset when he learned that Costco decided to move to Manteca after initially expressing interest in locating in Lathrop – taking a sales tax forgiveness perk that Lathrop failed to match.

Incumbent Martha Salcedo, Gary Hutchens and Joey Ermitanio were absent from Tuesday’s forum.

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