LATHROP – Sonny Dhaliwal is proud of what he, the city council and city staff have been able to pull off over the last several years.
And he wants to keep it going.
The Lathrop mayor – who served a stint on the Lathrop planning commission before getting elected to the council, where he served for six years – announced on Thursday that he’s running for a second term.
Unlike his political counterparts that took out their paperwork weeks ago when the filing period opened, Dhaliwal waited – deflecting media inquiries and keeping his intentions with the position under tight wraps.
As of Thursday afternoon he had only one challenger – Lathrop activist Rosalinda Valencia. Last month Valencia slammed Dhaliwal over a campaign finance snafu that landed him in hot water with the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
But rather than focus on defeating his opponent, Dhaliwal said that he’s instead going to channel his time and energy into the dozen or so projects that are in the works.
Last week Dickey’s Barbecue Pit opened its doors to Lathrop residents, and O’Reilly Auto Parts opened the week and before the Lathrop Generations Center had it ribbon cutting ceremony.
Tesla Motors is coming to town – bringing head-of-household jobs to the formerly vacant MOPAR parts distribution warehouse that is believed to be part of a parts machining facility that was purchased to augment the company’s existing facility at the old New United Motors Plant in Fremont.
Lathrop’s placement along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, both of California’s arterial freeways and the split that takes Central Valley resident residents to San Francisco has long been touted as a major drawing point, and Dhaliwal believes that it helped drew Tesla and that will end up helping to draw other major businesses as well.
“Whenever jobs are created locally they help everybody,” Dhaliwal said. “Not only is it important, but its essential for a community. I’m happy and proud of the relationships that we’ve been able to build to benefit the community and the businesses we’re able to draw and attract.”
One of Dhaliwal’s biggest strengths, he says, is the simple fact that he was a part of the council back in 2008 when the stock market absolutely devastated the real estate market in California. Faced with a $15 million budget shortfall, Dhaliwal has since seen that fund grow into a $9 million in-the-black rainy day fund that provides a cushion.
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Working with others
While the relationship between the City of Manteca and the Manteca Unified School District and the and Lathrop has been contentious at times, meetings between the agencies and the city – where two representatives from each respective board sit down to talk about everything from funding and finances to how to provide the best service to Lathrop residents – has opened up lines of communication that have been, in some instances, dead for years.
Those sorts of meetings, Dhaliwal said, help bring a fresh perspective for all involved and has turned into the meeting into a brainstorming and concern-disclosing session that tries to put all of the agencies together in one room.
“Our resources are very limited so we have to take a regional approach when it comes to things like this,” he said. “When we put them together there’s no telling how far we can go.
“We must work together when it comes to projects like this.”
And community support for some of the ideas that the council and the city comes up with has never been stronger.
During the last election cycle residents overwhelmingly voted to approve a one cent sales tax increase that has provided the funding necessary to restore four Lathrop police positions – two Community Impact Team (gang unit) officers, an administrative sergeant and a Community Resource Officer – and fund nine firefighter positions that will lose the grant money that allowed for their initial hiring.
Public safety was one of the cornerstones of Measure C, the name of the tax as it appeared on the ballot, and even though not everybody agrees with it – opponents spent more than an hour railing against it at the last council meeting, even going so far as to threaten a lawsuit – it has provided the city a steady source of income that will never dry up.
“It enabled us to restore positions that will make our community a safer place,” he said. “One of the things that we’re excited about is adding another school resource officer that can stay in touch with the students and intervene at the right times to help keep students on the right path.”
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The recent explosion of commercial properties, Dhaliwal said, is a testament to Lathrop’s ongoing homebuilding – they’re now building more houses than anybody else in San Joaquin County – and the people that are coming in to buy them.
River Islands, the largest development of its kind in Northern California, is now in full swing and will only help add the rooftops that will bring the sorts of shopping and dining experiences that people are hoping to see.
Self-sufficiency, Dhaliwal said, is the ultimate goal.
“Our ultimate goal is to build up a city where nobody has to leave it for anything,” Dhaliwal said. “We want people to be able to work and shop right here in Lathrop. We’re not there yet but we’re headed in the right direction and if we continue to add jobs we’ll be able to make it to that point.”