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Petition seeks to ground Lathrop mayors flight to DC
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LATHROP – A petition to stop Mayor Kristy Sayles from attending the One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., is being circulated in Lathrop.

J. “Chaka” Santos, a Lathrop businessman and entrepreneur, said Thursday night he was one of 70 people who have signed the petition to date. He said the petition will be presented to the City Council at their regular meeting on Tuesday.

The petition simply states that there is “no need for the mayor to go to Washington, D.C.” because her previous trips with the One Voice group “didn’t accomplish anything,” Santos stated.

Contacted late Thursday night, both Council members Sonny  Dhaliwal and Robert Oliver said they have “heard about the petition” but have not seen a copy of it. Dhaliwal deferred making any comments about it “until we hear from the people” at the council meeting on Tuesday.

“Let’s see what they have to say, what their objections are, and then I’ll make my comment on this issue,” he said.

Oliver said he doesn’t know what the petition’s impact would have on what has already been approved by the council to send the city’s two delegates to D.C., or what would be required to “re-agendize it” and whether there will be even time enough to do that.

Telephone messages left for the mayor, vice mayor and council member Mateo Thursday night seeking comments were not immediately returned.

However, at the March 3 council meeting when the council by a majority vote gave the green light to send the mayor and  Interim City Manager Cary Keaten to the lobbying effort organized annually by the San Joaquin Council of Governments, Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo cast the only opposing vote.
Several residents including Santos and Rosalinda Valencia also addressed the council and voiced their opposition to sending Lathrop delegates to D.C. this year when the city is facing a financial crisis.

“We can’t ask our residents for an increase in water and sewer rates and then turn around and say, ‘fly us to Washington.’ I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. Keep in mind, it’s taxpayers’ money being used to pay for this trip. I just don’t feel like right now is the right time, with all the budget cuts,” Salcedo told the Bulletin during an interview after the meeting.

Earlier that same evening before voting on the One Voice trip, the council unanimously approved an increase in the residents’ utility rates which will double their monthly bills at the end of the three-year period starting this month. The vote came after a lengthy discussion during which several cash-strapped residents pleaded with the council not to raise their utility rates because doing so will further add to their already dire financial hardships. Caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, the council approved the rate hikes since not doing so would have meant dipping into the city’s General Fund at the rate of $1 million a year to subsidize the water and sewer services for its residents. The council members pointed out the city cannot afford to take the risk of potentially bankrupting the city or spending general fund money earmarked for police and fire services and jeopardize residents’ safety.

The city, in previous years, had always sent three people – two council members, which could include the mayor, and the city manager – for the One Voice trip to meet with various top government officials including their congressional representatives in hopes of drumming up federal funding for such projects as the construction of a railroad overcrossing at the westerly Union Pacific Railroad on Lathrop Road or the widening of the Interstate 5 and Louise Avenue. These are, in fact, the two main items voted by the council to include in the One Voice list of projects that the group will be pushing for in D.C. during the trip in late April.

Dhaliwal defended his vote to send the mayor and the interim city manager to D.C. by saying that while these are indeed tough economic times, “we wanted to go this year” to tap into President Barack Obama’s newly approved economic stimulus package.

“This is the right time for us to go there and lobby our lawmakers in D.C. The new stimulus package is going to be about infrastructure, and now is the best time to go and lobby because everybody is looking for a  piece of the pie,” he said.

The city will pay only half of the mayor’s travel expenses to D.C. Since she is on the San Joaquin Council of Governments board, COG will cough up the other half of her expenses. The interim city manager’s expenses will be paid in its entirety by the city.