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Lathrop council, mayor hopefuls field questions
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LATHROP – Mayor Kristy Sayles was a no-show, but judging by the applause at the conclusion of Tuesday night’s candidates’ forum, the people who filled the council chambers at City Hall were happy with what they saw and heard from the candidates present.

City clerk Mitzi Ortiz said she received a call mid-afternoon Tuesday from Sayles, who is seeking a third term as mayor in the Nov. 2 elections, saying she “would not be able to make it” to the evening’s forum. The mayor gave no further explanation, Ortiz said.

Moderator Vickie Markerian of the League of Women Voters which sponsored the event asked the four council candidates and the two who are running for mayor a broad set of questions ranging from police and fire services and issues concerning the seniors and the youth in the community to the quality of the city’s drinking water, how to entice businesses to locate in Lathrop and government transparency.

Present to answer the questions from members of the audience fielded by Markerian were council hopefuls Rosalinda Valencia, Omar Ornelas, Brent Maynor and incumbent Sonny Dhaliwal, and the mayor’s challengers J. “Chaka” Santos and Steve Dresser.

All six candidates were on the same page when it came to the questions on whether Lathrop should have its own fire and police departments: doing so is not fiscally feasible at the moment but is a possibility down the road when revenues are more robust. Both services are currently contracted out – the police with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, and fire services with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.

The candidates also agreed that for the city to experience economic growth, it has to be business friendly and more pro-active in attracting new businesses that offer head-of-household wages, while making sure that those that are already here are also provided with incentives to stay.

“We need to protect the businesses that we already have here and (help them) survive long-term,” said Dresser, adding the city council should, at the same time, provide incentives for new businesses.

On the same subject, Dhaliwal said that the city needs to “be aggressive in bringing businesses” to Lathrop to address the city’s biggest challenge – “how to increase revenues.”

Santos took the issue further by saying that “money (city revenue) has to come from outside entities,” such as businesses from China locating in Lathrop.

“I’m bringing China to Lathrop right now. I’m talking with people in Beijing to move their products in the United States,” he said.

“I’m a businessman. I know how to make money. I know what we need to get it done. I’ve been in business for 20 years,” said the former U.S. Marine Corps who moved to Lathrop from the Bay Area 16 years ago.

Dresser suggested that Lathrop needs to “look at cities that are successful and see what they are doing, what kind of enticements” they are offering to bring in the business.

But the main factor in this effort, he said, is that “the council needs to be an active participant in these negotiations” with businesses.

Valencia went as far as to say, “I’m willing to go and speak with CEOs of these companies,” during the discussion on what need to be done to entice businesses to locate in Lathrop.

She added she is in favor of offering these businesses “tax incentives for a short period of time to get them here.”

Dhaliwal said the city also needs to work with the Lathrop Chamber of Commerce to “market our city” and  “create a pro-business environment.”

Water safe, yes; tasty, maybe not
The issue of drinking water in Lathrop provided some light moment during the otherwise serious discussion of the city’s hot-button issues.

“Is our water in Lathrop safe? Yes. Tasty? Maybe not,” said Dhaliwal in answer to the question from the moderator about the quality and cost of the city’s drinking water. His statement elicited laughter from the audience.

“The water is safe to drink. It’s fine. But not as tasty as this one,” he said, pointing to the bottled water in front of him.

“There were times when tap water didn’t look safe to drink,” said Lathrop-born and –raised Ornelas who said that his family of nine pays $90 a month for water.

Maynor, who grew up in Tracy, said, “Tracy’s water is worse than this. Lathrop water is better.”

All the candidates, with the exception of Dresser, said they believe a partnership with South San Joaquin Irrigation District will help lower the cost of water rates being paid by residents.

Dresser sees a partnership with SSJID as simply part of a long-term solution to the city’s problems with drinking-water quality and lower water fees.

While Lathrop is not a member of SSJID, the city is part of a cooperative venture with the irrigation district’s surface water project that includes the cities of Manteca, Tracy and Escalon. Treated SSJID water is piped to these cities which is then blended with their ground water for a higher-quality drinking water.

Remaining true to his promise when he launched his campaign early on this year, the down-to-earth Santos attended the candidates’ forum wearing a pair of shorts. However, this time, instead of wearing flip-flops and a T-shirt, he wore a striped pink shirt and tie and a pair of leather sandals.  If he wins the mayor race, Santos said he will continue to wear shorts to the council meetings.

The roughly two-hour candidates’ forum concluded with refreshments served in the City Hall lobby. Assisting Markerian during the evening proceedings were League of Women Voters volunteers Bea Lingenfelter and Cate White. All three are from Manteca.