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With lack of challengers, Dhaliwal rolls up sleeves
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After three consecutive battles to get elected  as Lathrop’s mayor, Sonny Dhaliwal will now walk unchallenged into another two years in November. 

Dhaliwal, who was first elected to the council in 2006 and served six years before running for the city’s top elected post, will be the only name on the ballot for mayor when Lathrop residents go to the polls for the midterm elections this fall, all but guaranteeing him another two years at the helm. 

But don’t expect to see him taking any time off during the campaign season. 

“All of the time that I would have spent on the campaign I can now put into working for the residents,” Dhaliwal said. “We have a lot of things on the horizon right now and I’m looking forward to continuing that.”

In fact, the way that he’s been doing the job since he unseated Joseph “Chaka” Santos in 2012 might have a lot to do with the fact that nobody will be challenging him this cycle. 

Back in 2008 when the Central Valley as a whole was hit hard by the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market that came as a result of it, Lathrop was hit harder than most – prompting the one large-scale residential development that was underway to essentially collapse and leave vital infrastructure intended to serve the area unfinished. 

Almost overnight the city was facing budget shortfalls that exceeded $10 million, and layoffs and furloughs replaced the housing permits that almost everybody expected to continue flowing.

Things couldn’t be any more different today. 

In less than a decade the council has turned the massive projected shortfall into more than $5 million in general fund reserves, ushered in a new era of commercial and residential development, and promoted a business-friendly climate that has positioned Lathrop as one of the fastest growing industrial and warehouse sectors in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. 

While the recent growth boom isn’t quite enough for Dhaliwal to achieve his dream of reversing the commute for the majority of Lathrop’s residents who drive over the Altamont every day, it is progress – something that he says he will make a priority in the next two years on the council. 

“Right now we’re looking at getting the South Lathrop Specific Plan underway, which will bring millions of square feet of warehouses and light-industrial property, and that will attract more companies and therefore more jobs,” Dhaliwal said. “We have the Pilkington site expanding, which will bring more businesses and more jobs, and we’re going to continue trying to attract the head-of-household jobs that will allow residents to stay right here in Lathrop. 

“I go to the Bay Area every day and I know how much time that takes away from the family, so if we can’t completely reverse the commute for everybody, at least we can work to reduce it.”

But while Dhaliwal will walk into another term this election cycle, the council – which ultimately remained intact after the tragic and untimely death of Councilman Ruben Sandoval opened the door for Mark Elliott’s appointment – will be different heading into the new year. 

Elliott is the only council member up for reelection that is not going to seek another term, instead securing one of the two available seats on the Lathrop Manteca Fire District Board of Directors. 

While that means a change, Dhaliwal said that he’s confident that regardless of who ends up claiming seats this cycle, the people that the voters put onto the dais will have the best interest of Lathrop in mind. 

“For the last six years our council has been working together – we all have different points of view, but we all do what we feel is in the best interest of the city,” Dhaliwal said. “I’m confident that whoever takes seats after the November election, it will be a unified body – there won’t be any personal agendas.

“I see everybody working together for the best interests of the city.”

Dhaliwal said that he sees Lathrop as currently being in a very strong and promising position moving forward, and noted that he’s thankful for an outstanding city staff that goes above and beyond despite having limited resources. 

There will be things, he said, that will be challenging for the council, and decisions that will be difficult – like whether to continue to go with the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Office for police protection or take the necessary steps to create Lathrop’s own independent police department – but stressed that he has faith in the council and the city as a whole to work cohesively to handle any issues that emerge. 

“We have a lot of residential development on the way and there is a big challenge in what we’re going to do with the police contract,” Dhaliwal said. “But we have to work together to steer Lathrop in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to continuing the work that we have started together.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.