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City officials urged to ‘bend over backwards’ to help developers

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POSTED July 29, 2009 1:14 a.m.

LATHROP – Former mayor Gloryanna Rhodes said Lathrop should roll out the red carpet for prospective businesses the way Manteca is doing.
“Everything in Manteca today was projected for Lathrop,” Rhodes said to City Council and staff during a special meeting Tuesday night which marked the return of the once regularly scheduled study sessions.

With the economy in tatters and major development activity in the city near nonexistent save for River Islands and TCN Properties, Rhodes and other concerned leaders and citizens pleaded with city officials to aggressively jump into the competition to attract new businesses in town and resuscitate Lathrop’s dwindling revenues.

“Stockton is booming. Tracy is bringing people in. Be developer friendly. Open doors and greet them with a smile,” Rhodes said, at the same time cautioning city officials to be very careful about raising fees which could jeopardize efforts to lure businesses to Lathrop.
“Be really, really careful with fees. Compare yourself with the competition,” she said, mentioning the names of neighboring cities such as Stockton, Manteca and Tracy.

It shouldn’t be hard for Lathrop to find out what the permit figures are in those cities and then decide how the city can keep up with the competition. Those comparative figures are readily available from the San Joaquin Partnership and the Building Industry Association (BIA) of the Delta which keep track of those numbers, Rhodes said.

“We’ve lost our competitive edge,” she said, adding businesses that once considered locating in Lathrop are no longer sure “if they’ll ever come here.”

Addressing the issue of permit fees and where Lathrop’s current figures stand, River Islands project manager Susan Dell’Osso said, “My understanding is, Lathrop is very competitive with other cities.”

BIA chief executive officer john Beckman said other cities are lowering their fees.

Former mayor and Planning Commissioner Bennie Gatto agreed with Rhodes’ suggestions on how to keep Lathrop business friendly. And with River Islands and TCN Properties just about the only two major developments that have not turned their backs on Lathrop, Gatto said Lathrop “should bend over backwards to help the two developers here.”

“Let’s keep the developers happy. Cater to these people because they are the ones who bring the businesses here,” he added.

That has been proven before when the first hotel in town, the Holiday Inn Express, was built shortly after incorporation, said Gatto who was part of the council at that time.

“Mr. Patel said, ‘give me the transient occupancy tax (TOT) for five years.’ We did, and look at what happened. We got more hotels in town,” Gatto said.

Council member Sonny Dhaliwal said he agreed with former mayor Rhodes’ observation about losing the welcome mat to new developers.
“We had a friendly atmosphere at one time. Then it disappeared,” he said.

However, Dhaliwal also noted that “the attitude we have here at City Hall now is much better.”

But, he added in a conciliatory note, “It’s not important where we are; what is important is where we are going. I think we’re on the right path.”
The consensus among those who attended the study session gave credit to the way City Manager Cary Keaten has so far handled the situation at City Hall.

“We went through a rough period, but Cary is doing a great job,” said Dell’Osso.

Keaten admitted that “the city doesn’t have the reserves it once did.” And while some significant strides have been done to bridge the city’s projected $3+million for the current fiscal year such as layoffs and furloughs – the latter took effect just last week – more need to be done to close the budget gap. Part of the ongoing effort to arrive to that goal is a possible temporary reduction of Police Services staff.

Preparing the budget in the last 10 months has been akin to a “culture shock,” Keaten said. Everything had been going quite well for a time, and now it’s the exact opposite.

“We’ll need to do more to bolster revenues,” he said, “and the only way to increase revenues is to increase development – commercial, retail and residential.”

In addition to River Islands, Tuesday night’s study session was attended by Tom Luckey of TCN Properties and representatives of Pacific Union Homes, and Watt Development.

To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail or call (209) 249-3536.

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