A group of residents have launched a well-funded campaign to get the City of Lathrop to overturn its decision allowing a Pilot/Flying J Truck Stop to be built on Roth Road.
And they’ve got the backing of roughly 12 percent of the registered voters in Lathrop’s last election.
On Thursday a political consultant that was hired to represent the group announced via a press release that they had submitted 34 pages of a petition – totaling more than 1,100 registered Lathrop voters – to the City Clerk in order to either get the council to rescind their approval or force the matter to a vote before the people of the community.
The organization of those behind the effort appears much more than just a group of concerned citizens.
On top of hiring both a lawyer and a political consultant to handle the petition aspect of the move, a political action committee based out of San Ramon calling itself the California Future Fund has distributed high-quality, color fliers advertising many of the same talking points that were included in the release distributed on Thursday – chiefly that the truck stop would affect Lathrop’s quality of life and would bring in seedy elements like prostitution, drug dealing and human trafficking.
According to Harry Randhawa, who was described as the “driving force” behind the movement, the concerns of residents and local businesses extends far beyond the three key elements that were specifically addressed.
“One of the things that we’ve talked about is how there’s going to be a traffic light on Roth Road on the east and west sides of I-5, and that infrastructure will be paid for by our citizens via our taxes for private use,” Randhawa said. “That’s a big cost for the residents to cover for a private business, and there have been discussions about widening the lanes to provide better access and all that is going to do is create a traffic bottleneck especially with those railroad tracks right there.
“When we went to the council and suggested that they create a flyover on Roth Road across the railroad tracks at Flying J’s expense it wasn’t even considered.”
Randhawa denies that there’s any political motivation in launching the effort, despite the fact that the press release specifically names Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal separately from the Lathrop City Council in their unanimous vote to allow the transportation juggernaut to set-up shop in Lathrop.
The person who organized the coalition of speakers who appeared before the council to oppose the project, Steven Macias, has also recently pulled paperwork through the Lathrop City Clerk to run for Dhaliwal’s mayoral seat.
While he didn’t want to get into specifics about what the motivation may have been in what appears to be a coordinated effort to discredit him and force Pilot/Flying J out of the city, Dhaliwal did say that he stands behind the project and the economic benefits that it will bring to the City of Lathrop.
“The Flying J representative made it very clear to us at the council meeting that they are going to build a truck stop at this exact location. If we didn’t approve the measure, they were going to build it in the county,” Dhaliwal said. “I would like for the tax revenue that project generates to stay in the city instead of going to the county – revenue that goes to the city and our police and fire services.
“We must do what is good for our city and not what is good for the special interests.”
While the group told the council that they were worried about runaway crime and exploitation that the truck stop would bring to the community, Lathrop Police Chief James Hood gave a presentation that showed that the calls for service doesn’t differ too tremendously between the existing Flying J locations in Ripon and Lodi and Lathrop’s existing truck stop, Joe’s Travel Plaza – which is actually situated much closer to residential areas, and a short drive from two elementary schools.
While Hood said he doesn’t deny that some of those problems do exist at those locations, a proactive approach by his offices would weed out many of those problems before they started.
“Based on the logs of the calls of service that I reviewed from the locations, there weren’t very many for any of the locations,” Hood said. “They have had issues like prostitution, but they’re very proactive in dealing with it. We don’t have those sorts of issues that hear from other places at the Flying J on Highway 12 or in Ripon, and we’re not going to have it here.
“Between the city council, the sheriff, the city manager and us we will not tolerate that or allow that to exist in our community. We will be very proactive in enforcing all of the laws out there.”
It’ll now be up to the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voter’s office to evaluate the signatures on the petitions to determine whether the threshold was met. According to Randhawa, the group needs 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last general election in Lathrop – a number that works out to be 820 registered voters. Once those signatures are certified, he said, it’ll go back to the Lathrop council to determine how they want to proceed.
“This truck stop is bad news. Lathrop residents want their voices to be heard and they have done that by their resounding opposition to this project and to the company with a history of cheating their truck driving customers and betraying the very communities they promise to improve,” Randhawa wrote in the release.