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Ornelas wants free wireless at all city parks

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POSTED September 17, 2013 3:17 a.m.

LATHROP – It’s the $150,000 question.

Can Lathrop residents unplug from their e-devices long enough to enjoy an afternoon at a local park?

It depends who you ask – or how you look at it.

A brief, albeit somewhat contentious discussion by the Lathrop City Council Monday night focused on whether it would be prudent for the city to outfit any of its remaining 13 public parks with free Wi-Fi access. It is a project that if, tackled all at once, would cost upwards of $500,000 and nearly $20,000 a year in maintenance fees.

Lathrop IT Director Tony Fernandez said that the majority of that cost would come from the actual construction associated with outfitting many of the rudimentary parks with electrical conduit and 24-hour juice needed to power equipment.

Vice Mayor Omar Ornelas requested that the item be placed on the agenda. He championed at least partial adoption of the plan even if his colleagues were unsure about shelling out half-a-million dollars for something that they don’t think the city needs.

The idea, he said, behind the pitch would be to move Lathrop into the advancing technological age that has already brought handheld computers into the homes of millions of American families. Each of the council members uses a tablet computer on the dais to replace the paper binders that at one time contained their respective meeting packet, and the webcast of the meeting is posted on the city’s website within days.

But Councilman Steve Dresser, himself an IT technician, thought that the money could be better spent in a number of other ways – like improving lighting around schools that have been targeted by flashers.

Creating a Wi-Fi web, Dresser said, wouldn’t be free and could end up opening up the city to a host of legal ramifications – whether it was somebody who looked to exploit vulnerabilities on a network or continued in the same sexual predator vein that has been discussed since a man walked onto the Lathrop Elementary campus last year and exposed himself to a student in a bathroom last year.

Currently Lathrop offers free Wi-Fi- at Manuel Valverde Park – which is situated behind the Lathrop Senior Center and the Lathrop Community Center .  Ornelas said he’d like to see it at least added to Sangalang Park, Woodfield Park and Mossdale Land Community Park.

According to Fernandez’ proposal, the initial first-year cost to ready the three sites would be upwards of $150,000.

Because the discussion was an informational item it was not up for council decision. Expenditure of any money – which would come from the city’s general fund reserves – would require the project to be classified as a capital improvement project and brought back at a later date.

To contact Jason Campbell, email jcampbell@mantecabulletin.com or call (209) 249-3544.

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