In the end, it really wouldn’t have made a difference whether the Lathrop City Council voted to approve the Pilot/Flying J truck stop.
It appeared to be coming anyway.
So despite wide criticism of adding the sales-tax booster to the city and catering to the existing truck traffic off of Roth Road near Interstate 5, the council voted unanimously to allow the Tennessee-corporation to move ahead with plans to build a travel plaza on the north end of the community.
But the decision didn’t come easy.
Thanks to social media, a group calling itself Keep Lathrop Safe packed the chambers with residents that were concerned about the elements that a truck stop could bring to the community – arguing that traffic, drug sales and even prostitution would be something that become an issue.
The approved site for the truck stop – located on the north side of Roth Road up against the Southern Pacific Railroad Tracks – isn’t even currently part of the City of Lathrop, and will require annexation approval by the Local Agency Formation Commission before the city will be able to enjoy the economic benefits of the nation’s largest diesel fuel distribution chain.
It wasn’t until Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal – who was pointed in his questions to city staff and the company’s representative – asked point-blank whether there were plans to build the truck stop regardless of whether it was part of Lathrop that the tone of the council’s questions and inquiries changed.
“That particular piece of property we see as a very good opportunity,” the representative from Pilot/Flying J told Dhaliwal when asked if they would go ahead with the proposal to the County of San Joaquin if it was denied outright on Monday.
But that wasn’t before the standing room only chambers let the council – and the proponent – know exactly what they thought of having a business that caters to out of town truckers along California’s arterial interstate.
Steve Macias, who organized the Keep Lathrop Safe campaign through Facebook and garnered more than 900 likes between when he created the page and the council met on Monday, said that having such a business so close to residential homes and even an elementary school was not a smart play by the council.
Holding his child in his arms, Macias talked about how prostitution and drugs have been issues at the company’s truck stops in both Lodi and Ripon, and noted that the positioning of the property did not make it ideal for traffic to access it along the industrial-heavy stretch of Roth Road.
“It’s too close to where my children run and too close to where my family lives,” Macias said. “It’s too close for us to be around the things that actually go on at these travel centers.”
But resident Bennie Gatto, who pointed out that none of those in attendance spoke against the matter at the Planning Commission level or utilized the 45-day window provided by the city for input, saw the opposition as nothing more than a coordinated effort to stave off competition from the city’s existing truck stop on Harlan Road.
That particular location is also near residential homes and not far from two elementary schools.
“Do you want to know that this is all about? It’s about competition,” Gatto told the council. “And competition is what makes America great.”
The company will lease nine acres of a 25-acre parcel that will go before LAFCo for consideration of annexation to the city.
According to Lathrop Police Chief James Hood, his office looked at the calls for service to other Pilot/Flying J locations in the area over the course of the last year and compared them to Joe’s Travel Plaza in Lathrop and a fueling station not far from the proposed site. There was nothing in the study, he said, that stood out as an area of concern and noted that he believed his staff was more than capable of handling any increase in service calls that may come as a result.
Once constructed, the truck stop will include nine diesel-fueling lanes stretched out across 10 fueling islands, and will have 12 gas fueling lanes spread out over six fueling islands. There will be a total of 106 truck parking spaces and 64 passenger vehicle parking spaces, and a 13,011 square-foot building that will include a restaurant, convenience store, showers, laundry and a longue for drivers.