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Lathrop High opens, rough campaigns top 2008
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LATHROP — Some of Lathrop’s biggest stories of 2008 will not be going away just because the old year becomes history and a new year dawns.

That goes for both the good and bad notoriety, whether deserved or not, that the city attracted in the past 12 months and became fodder primarily for local news.

Those stories, or issues, are still going to be very much in the news in 2009.

The city is still looking for a permanent city manager. The position was left vacant when Yvonne Quiring came under pressure from an unhappy staff and from the still ongoing hearing involving the unlawful-termination charges filed by former chief building official Matt Browne that continues to drain the city’s fiscal resources. Attorneys’ fees and related expenses connected with the Browne case totaled — as of October 2008 — $160,000 and still climbing.

The sewer service, or lack thereof, at the new Lathrop High School and related issues are still going to dominate the news with the looming possibility that the city’s long-awaited first high school campus could be closed in light of possible state educational budget cuts.

And the ramifications of Richland Communities’ stagnating project in Central Lathrop will continue to reverberate not just for the entire new year but perhaps even for years to come.

And it almost goes without saying, since the problem is nationwide, even global, that the city has been one of the hardest-hit cities in the mortgage meltdown and housing foreclosures. When it came to the number of foreclosed homes, particularly in the west side where many of the close-to-million-dollar homes were caught in the mortgage maelstrom, Lathrop was up there with Stockton in the nationwide listings.

Below, in no specific order, are some of the highlights and memorable red-letter days for Lathrop in 2008.

• Lathrop’s first high school opens for students Aug. 11
With the construction of the $84 million high school campus in West Lathrop right on schedule, the city’s long-awaited secondary campus opened its doors for the very first time on June 1. That initial opening was to allow the school’s first principal, David Chamberlain, and his staff to get their offices and classrooms ready for the first 500 freshman and sophomore students who were scheduled to have their first day of school on Aug. 11.

The incoming freshmen were students who just graduated from Lathrop, Joseph Widmer Jr. and Mossdale elementary schools; the sophomores were students who live in Lathrop and were enrolled for their first year of high school at Sierra High in Manteca. The transfer was optional for the Sierra High students.

The high school opened with 30 of its total 40 classrooms completed, along with the administration offices, library, cafeteria, the science wing, and the small gym. The rest of the classrooms as well as the Speech Arts building, large gym, swimming pool and stadium were scheduled for completion in December and January 2009. The small gym will be used by both the city and the school district under a joint-use agreement approved by the two agencies.

The city paid $1 million toward the building of the new high school. Construction cost for the buildings alone was $59,091,284. The purchase for the 50-acre school site, which straddles Lathrop and Dos Reis roads, came at a cost of $21.5 million. The rest came from developer fees, Measure M, Mello-Roos and bonds.

Building the school required the extension of Lathrop Road west of Interstate 5 which would be the main entrance.

Construction of this extension road, as well as other streets and underground infrastructure for sewer and water connections were the responsibilities of Richland Communities which is the major developer in Central Lathrop where the high school is located.

There is, however, the looming possibility that the new high school could close its doors as the school district grapples with anticipated budget deficits in the next school year. But even with the possibility in the near horizon, city officials went ahead with plans to install additional traffic-safety measures at Dos Reis Road which became the temporary entrance to the school after Richland was unable to fulfill its obligation to complete the improvements of Lathrop Road. They included new road striping, installing signs warning drivers of a “T” intersection and alerting motorists that cross traffic at Manthey Road on Dos Reis does not stop, plus a sign identifying the location of the high school.

Issues with Lathrop Road and Dos Reis were not the only issues that plagued the new school and the Richland developers. With the real estate industry nationwide in tatters, Richland was unable to complete all of its obligations to the new high school and the city. In the summer, sub-contractors working with Richland went before the Manteca Unified School Board of Trustees notifying them that they have suspended all of their work installing underground utility pipes because they have not been paid by the developer.

With all those infrastructures not completed even as the school opened, stop-gap measures were hastily put in place, with sewer service being pumped and hauled everyday from the school to the Manteca wastewater treatment plant to the tune of about $1,000 a day.

• The continuing saga of the fired senior building official’s unlawful-terminal complaint

This case has been going on for about a year and a half, with quarter of a million dollars, maybe more, of Lathrop taxpayers’ money being spent to pay attorneys fees and related costs when it eventually gets resolved, perhaps as early as January but may go on through February.

The story actually began in the spring of 2006 when the then sitting City Council voted to use the services of some of its staff to complete the rehabilitation of the Senior Center in order to save some money on a project that was fast ballooning to more than a quarter of a million dollars. One of the staff mobilized was Browne who, prior to being employed by the city 15 years before, worked as a building contractor. He also oversaw the building of the $16 million City Hall at Mossdale Landing when he racked up hundreds of hours in overtime that the council had to vote on how to compensate him for all those hours. While working on the Senior Center project, Browne was injured and had to go on medical leave and subsequently filed for worker’s compensation.

• Richland Planned Communities goes bust in Lathrop
Even when Richland, the developer of the huge Central Lathrop Specific Plan area stretching from the freeway to the San Joaquin River, and from the old West Louise Avenue, now River Islands Parkway, north to Klo Road, then Vice Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal remained optimistic about the Roseville-based company’s continued commitment to Lathrop.

“If this was a booming economy and somebody closes their office, then that’s a natural concern. But right now, nothing is happening and not just in our town but globally,” said Dhaliwal at the time when news about Richland closing its Lathrop office was widely disseminated.

As recently as October, Richland’s representative Don Tropmann, was sounding optimistic and reassuring.

“Richland has a huge commitment to the city, and the city has a terrific commitment to Richland. We love the city of Lathrop. We love what we’ve accomplished here, too,” Troppman told the City Council during one of their regular meetings as he pointed that the company has already poured $70 million into this 1,500-acre project for 6,800 homes plus commercial and recreational developments.

That optimism has gone down the drain with unconfirmed news about the Richland project in Lathrop facing foreclosures.

• smear campaign

Lathrop Mayor Kristy Sayles was confident she knew the person/s new web site launched during the 2008 election campaign which was largely devoted to airing her political and domestic dirty laundry.

“A web site like that costs anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 to produce. There’s only one group of people in Lathrop who are willing to throw that kind of money in a small-town mayor’s race,” she said, but stopped short of giving any specific names.

“I will not be naming names, but they don’t scare me,” said Sayles who went on to win her first re-election which many attributed to what they described as her own “dirty” campaign against her opponents, specifically Council member Robert Oliver and Steve Dresser.

Sayles though admitted that “20 percent” of the web site’s contents was the “truth” but that “the rest of it is an absolute lie,” adding, “The people who put up the web site, they can own that lie.”

Said Sayles about some of the web site’s contents that delved into her personal life, “I own my sins; I own what I’ve done wrong (but) I haven’t committed a crime. I’m a regular person like everybody else. I’m not perfect.

Unfortunately, I have to make unpopular decisions as well as the council. I will stand and do what’s right for the citizens of Lathrop no matter what the cost. I guess this is the price you pay for having a backbone.”

Before the web site attack, Sayles also went through another test in the form of a San Joaquin County Grand Jury inquiry into her alleged misconduct” and “unethical behavior.”

Even after the grand jury came out with the findings that it did not find any evidence of Sayles receiving “excessive campaign contributions,” that “no one business contributed more than is legally allowed,” and that she “is now and has been acting in a reasonable and ethical manner in matters where the City Council is considering new business in the City of Lathrop,” her peers on the City Council declined to sign the mandated response saying that they concur with the findings.

• Two Lathrop elections in 2008

Councilman Robert Oliver barely warmed up his seat on the council when he was recruited to run for mayor against incumbent Sayles in November. His recruitment came at a sacrifice on the part of fellow councilman Steve Dresser who had to pull out of the mayoral race in deference to Oliver. Dresser ran instead for another council term but lost to a newcomer by a mere 29 votes.

In the special June elections, held to fill the unexpired term of former council member Felicia Cherry who resigned in the previous December citing personal reasons, after only serving a year of her four-year elected post, Oliver who had previously announced his retirement from local politics, won by just 11 votes over his contenders: former council member Robert Gleason, Planning Commissioner Dan Mac Neilage, and neophytes John Rock and Christopher Mateo.

The last two again rain in the November elections with Mateo defeating Dresser in a five-way race by 29 votes after all the absentee and provisional ballots were counted.

After the initial counting of ballots which showed Dresser trailing Mateo by less than 10 votes, Dresser said he was going to ask for a recount. But he changed his mind and conceded the election to his friend when the final numbers were announced. The two vacancies on the council were to fill the vacancies of Martha Salcedo and Dresser whose terms were ending in December. Salcedo garnered the highest votes in the five-way council race, with Mateo coming in second.

• Lathrop city manager resigns
In a scene that somewhat paralleled an incident in 2004 when the then city council fired the sitting city manager Pam Carder the Saturday before the November elections, Lathrop City Manager Yvonne Quiring submitted her resignation which the council accepted by a majority vote of 3-2. Mayor Kristy Sayles and then Council member Martha Salcedo cast the no votes.

Quiring’s resignation cost the city $332,500. That separation pay was based on the city manager’s contract which provided a base salary o $160,000 a year plus $450 a month in monthly car allowance.

A provision in her contract also provided a severance pay of nine months plus paid accrued and unused sick leave, vacation time, and paid holiday upon termination. The payment of the lump sum severance pay is also provide in the terms of the contract she signed with the city.

Quiring’s resignation capped a year of controversy in 2008, starting with a letter from city staff represented by the SEIU, the public employees union, asking the council to have her fired from the job based on a litany of complaints. A few months later, during the EDD hearing over the Browne case, it was revealed that she violated public-employee rules by attending a Christmas party hosted by River Islands and not paying for it. After the news came out, Quirin wrote a personal check to River Islands to cover the dinner plus a personal letter of explanation to River Islands.

• Target store opening in west Lathrop thrilled residents
The opening in summer of the city’s first major shopping center, Target, at the Lathrop Marketplace just west of the freeway on River Islands Parkway, was the biggest news of the year as far as Lathrop shoppers were concerned.

While it is not a SuperTarget, the store in Lathrop is a bit larger than its counterpart in Manteca with more features not found in the Family City’s store such as a grocery department with 101 freezer units where one can pick up family and individual frozen dinners and desserts, an in-store Starbucks and a Pizza Hut Express where one can order not just pizza meal selections but also a variety of sandwiches.

The store is the anchor in the Lathrop Marketplace shopping center which, to date, has not been joined by any other new business. This commercial center is located just west of Interstate 5 on the southwest corner of River Islands Parkway and Golden Valley Parkway.

• A veterans memorial to honor Lathrop’s own who gave their all part of $3.3 million Valverde Park facelift

For the many Lathrop residents who have fought long and hard to have a memorial honoring those who gave their lives for their country and fellowmen, the completion and dedication — aptly around Veteran’s Day in November — was the high-point of the year 2008.

There are 11 names engraved on the memorial’s bronze plaques. The most recent war casualty honored by the memorial is that of East Union High School graduate David Alvarez, a former next-door neighbor a veteran of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. A Blackhawk helicopter pilot, he was killed during training exercises last year in Italy. At the time of his death, he was a chief warrant officer and just got married when the fateful crash happened.

The memorial was part of the master-planned multi-million-dollar renovation and expansion project for Valverde Park.

This phase of the project alone cost $3.3 million, with the memorial park and an interactive water feature next to it as the centerpiece.

The park itself was dedicated separately on Nov. 22.

• Lathrop ends year with news of Fortune 500 company building an office at Mossdale Landing.
Chevron, the fourth largest non-government energy company in the world and headquartered in San Ramon, plans to build a “secondary” office in Lathrop with construction costs estimated at between $6 million and $8 million, it was announced on Monday.

The announcement means Lathrop is ending 2008 on a high note, at least, as far as commercial development is concerned.

Chevron, with a reported $220.904 billion revenue in 2007, is expected to have its building permit issued this week.

Ranked fourth in the U.S. Fortune 500 list of companies, the company has approximately 59,000 employees in more than 180 countries. The company’s new building will be built in the TCN Properties development on Golden Valley Parkway just west of Interstate 5 and south of the Target store in Lathrop.