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Dust from nearby land creates issues for Lathrop couple
dust issue

Frank and Christine Mendes knew that when development was approved near their rural home on South McKinley Avenue, things were going to change.

But they never imagined what they’re facing now – a project that is being developed in stages that has resulted in what they claim are horrific dust conditions that are far worse than anything they experienced when the land was being used for farming purposes. 

Last week the local couple spoke to the Lathrop City Council to advocate for some sort of intervention into the issue – practically begging the City of Lathrop to impose mitigations for a portion of the project that has sat untouched since it was approved and resulted in the existing ground cover dying off and the soil beneath becoming a constant and persistent headache, coating everything in their yard and their vehicles anytime the wind blows.

While the issue has been going on for months now – they wrote a strong-worded letter to the city around the holidays about the issues they were facing – the fact that California is facing another potential drought year and rain has not been as plentiful as it has in years past has only made matters worse.

But the City of Lathrop doesn’t know if there’s much more that they can do.

The Phelan Lathrop Gateway Project that is currently under development, which is at the forefront of the issue the Mendes family is currently trying to tackle, is approved for more than 3-million square feet of warehouse light industrial spaced out across 10 buildings.

While the first phase of the development is currently underway – which will add two buildings with a combined footprint of just under a million square feet – the remaining two thirds of the lot is not scheduled to be developed right away and is controlled by more than just one entity.

While one of the controlling partners of the property that used to be agricultural land went so far as to prepare the land and weeds – which keep the dust down – have overtaken the majority of that piece of property, one has not been tended to and the Mendes family believes that is the one that is responsible for the issues at hand.

According to Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore, that property owner has said that there is an agricultural contract in place which means the land would be worked in the near future – potentially with the planting a ground crop that would eliminate the dust problem.

But waiting for that to happen – especially when there’s no sign of it actually happening – is almost more than the Mendes family is willing to do.

“We don’t want to threaten legal action,” Christine Mendes pleaded to the Lathrop City Council. “But we are being led in a direction that we have no choice unless you step up to the plate and help us.”

According to Frank Mendes, Phelan – the Newport Beach-based developer whose name is attached to the project – has been in compliance with regulations about dust control and has done their part to help mitigate the problem.

But dealing with the other controlling landowner, he said, has prompted him to look at selling his property and walking away from decades of memories if fair market value were offered for the home.

Salvatore said that it is up to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control Board to impose sanctions if the property in question is out of compliance with air pollution standards.

Fine particulate matter – which is monitored for by the district at stations that are strategically located throughout the San Joaquin Valley – must be controlled during development and construction by the application of water or other methods.

As part of the packet that was distributed to the members of the council indicating the correspondence between the Mendes family and the City, pictures dated earlier this month show clouds of dust across the entire horizon making it difficult to make out the Mendes family home in the background.  

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.