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2010 brought more lawsuits in Lathrop
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LATHROP – The valley’s sizzling summer temperature was not the only thing heating up the city in July of 2010. The sweltering weather had some serious competition coming from the election campaigns on all government levels – and Lathrop was no exception.

Joseph “Chaka” Santos who has had his eye for years on not just occupying the Lathrop mayor’s seat but in overthrowing Mayor Kristy Sayles from the city’s top elected post, applied every tactic in his campaign strategy to win the election in November. They ranged from giving out certificates of recognition, first to our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church which he handed out to the pastor during a Sunday liturgy service, and then to Bennie and Joyce Gatto whom he honored during the National Night Out celebration at his home, to flooding the city with campaign billboards carrying the same image he has plastered on his barbecue sauce.

Santos, as everybody in town already knows, ended at the top in the three-way mayoral race with Sayles finishing second and former councilman Steve Dresser placing third.

Santos, with his famous flip-flops complementing his preferred informal shorts-and-T-shirt clothing ensemble, did not get to enjoy the monopoly of the limelight for too long, however. He had to share the attention soon after taking his oath of office with teen-aged Omar Ornelas who ended up capturing one of the open council seats even though he placed a distant third in the five-way council race. The San Joaquin Delta College’s 19-year-old freshman and political neophyte owes his council post to Lathrop-Manteca Fire District’s newly minted chief Gene Neely. The district’s top firefighter actually won the second open seat on the council with an impressive showing in the ballots, but he had to give it all up when he was made fire chief which created potential conflicts of interest. But since it was too late to withdraw his name from the ballot, he remained a valid candidate and was the legal winner for the second vacant seat on the council. After he resigned his elected post before he even had the opportunity to be sworn in, the re-organized council headed by Santos as mayor voted unanimously to appoint Ornelas as the fifth council member.

On that note, the year ended as far as the city council is concerned.

Lean times for city government
Rewind to the summer of 2010. Back in June, the city’s budget deficit remained a hot-button topic. The issue of the month was the city’s contract with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department for police services. The contract was pared down by 13.67 percent, from $4.4 million in 2009-10 fiscal year down to $3.8 million for 2010-11. Lean times were reflected in a number of ways, such as the proposed reduction of janitorial services to three times a week which would pare down cleaning expenses from $5,000 to $2,130.

The Police Services was also part of the across-the-board Friday furloughs which closed City Hall and the police office one day a week except for emergencies. The object of such drastic fiscal moves by the city was to try and get rid of the estimated $2.5 million a year deficit for the next five years based on a five-year survival plan developed by city staff and members of the council.

On a lighter note, July of 2010 started literally with a bang when, for the first time ever, the city approved the sale of Safe and Sane Fireworks as a fund-raising vehicle for non-profit organizations including the committee that was responsible for staging the annual fireworks display for the combined July 1 Lathrop Birthday and July 4th celebrations. For the first time in about a decade, and due to the great recession, no such attraction was held to celebrate the observance of the city’s 21st year of incorporation.

Selection of the first Safe and Sane Fireworks participants had to be done by lottery, with the following as the lucky ones and their particular locations: Lighthouse Community Church (Circle K Store at Louise and Cambridge), Lathrop Morning Rotary at the Luis Mercado (Delta Market on Louise and Fifth Street), Lathrop Lions Club (Target shopping center), Lathrop Steelers youth Football and Cheer (Carl’s Jr. on Louise and Harlan Road), Lathrop Birthday Committee (Save Mart shopping center on North Harlan Road), and the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters Association. All together, the groups sold nearly $100,000 worth of fireworks. The last two groups did not have to take part in the lottery. Also, the firefighters ended up not having a fireworks booth due to lack of manpower.

But that was the least of the firefighters’ worry that summer. Promising a wider and more serious impact to the community’s safety was the looming closure of the district’s fire stations due to impending personnel layoffs arising from a third of a million dollar anticipated deficit in the 2010-11 fiscal year budget beginning Sept. 1. One of the solutions considered was a ballot measure to raise taxes for the fire district. A consulting firm was hired to do a pre-election survey to see if the ballot measure would have enough support from the taxpayers in the district. The results were not convincing, so that was dropped. Enter the City of Lathrop which agreed to loan the district $3M thereby preventing, for now, the closure of any of the four fire stations, two of which are located within the incorporated city of Lathrop.

Mayor’s husband sues City of Lathrop
As the summer’s triple-digit temperatures hit their peak in August, the city was again the target of another lawsuit. Four months after Mayor Sayles’ husband, Thomas, filed a lawsuit against the city and several officials and unnamed does, the parents of UC Berkeley philosophy graduate Jeremy Lum filed a civil rights wrongful-death lawsuit. Named as defendants in the lawsuit were the City of Lathrop, San Joaquin County, two Sheriff’s sergeants, and 50 unnamed individuals. The complaint, filed in United States District Court, Eastern District of California, is seeking damages and is demanding for jury trial.

Jeremy Lum, who was 29 at the time of his death, was a member of Sierra High School’s first graduating class and was attending Modesto Junior College’s nursing program at the time of his death. He was arrested at approximately 1 a.m. on July 9, 2009 and booked into San Joaquin County Jail on charges of public intoxication. He was released from jail the following day at 7 a.m. and then vanished. After an intensive search, his body was discovered floating in the San Joaquin River at approximately 5 p.m. on July 12, 2009 at a location that was about two miles west of the county jail.