Roger Hartley believes the 10,800-home River Islands planned development enjoying brisk sales provides the key to addressing one of Lathrop’s most perplexing problems — how to breathe new life into the city’s oldest subdivision.
His plan is to turn 2.11 acres on the eastern end of Park Street of the Southern Pacific Addition where a longtime tenant had created a de facto junkyard of sorts into an RV parking facility. Hartley bought the property at a tax foreclosure sale.
“I figured the buyers in River Islands that have homes on lots that won’t accommodate RVs will need a place to park them nearby,” the lifelong Manteca-Lathrop resident said.
The Southern Pacific Addition that created more than 300 25-by-100 foot housing lots served by “paper streets” came about in 1889 — the same year that Lathrop made it into history books when former State Supreme Court Justice David Terry was shot to death in a community hotel that served the then bustling SP passenger train service.
The area bounded roughly by McKinley Avenue on the west, Louise Avenue on the south, the former Western Pacific railroad tracks to the east and Lathrop Road to the north initially had some homes built but never really got much traction. Today there are more than 100 of the 25 by 100 foot lots left among other larger parcels that have since been cobbled together from the smaller lots. The vacant parcels roughly the size of a medium-sized home cost the absentee landowners — some as far away as New York and Florida — just $13 a year in property taxes on average.
The old subdivision’s mostly dirt streets attract homeless sleeping in vehicles and those looking for a place to illegally dump trash. Over the years the area that has had trucking companies come and go also was a haven for homeless encampments.
Property owner balks at
what he believes is his
tab for $1M in
to Park Street
Hartley says the City of Lathrop expects him to be on the hook for $1 million worth of improvements to Park Street — including sewer, water, and storm drainage lines as well as paving the street that is a mish-mash of crumbling asphalt, dirt, and potholes.
The $1 million, Hartley said, makes his business plans — or any development for that matter — on the 2.11 acres a non-starter. He said he expects the RV storage business to generate roughly $5,000 a month.
“They (the city) say if I put the sewer line in that I could be reimbursed for up to 10 years down the road when others hook onto it,” Hartley said.
Lathrop Community Development Director Glen Gebhardt said Hartley is confused by the city’s intentions.
“The city is asking for him to enter into an agreement to defer his share of future improvements to Park Street,” Gebhardt said.
That means at some point in the future when enough of the other properties along Park Street are improved the work would be done and the fair pro-rated share assessed to property owners.
“We try to work with property owners,” Gebhardt said, acknowledging the Southern Pacific Addition has unique challenges given the proliferation of small lots, numerous owners, and the number of alleys and street right-of-way crisscrossing the subdivision.
Gebhardt said Hartley would need to make improvements to part of Park Street in front of his property that is across from a city well house. That likely would involve graveling the section of the road.
He would also need to have onsite drainage in the form of a small retention basin since the storm pipe is being deferred and may not be built for decades.
The onsite improvements that Hartley said the city wants — concrete parking for RVs instead of gravel as well as a permanent office structure instead of mobile-style structure — are financial killers for his effort to improve one small piece of the Southern Pacific Addition.
Hartley pointed to a similar situation just off Louise Avenue were a firm that rents mini-offices such as those used on construction sites was allowed to use gravel instead of concrete. He also contends zoning for the land he bought allows non-permanent office structures.
Park Street not
maintained by city
Gebhardt said the city doesn’t have the money to put in all of the streets and alleys that San Joaquin County on July 26, 1961 abandoned — long before Lathrop incorporated.
Because of that and the fact at one point parts of Park Street had been paved by property owners, years ago Gebhardt had a street sign put in place that made it clear Park Street was a private street.
Essentially an easement exists for public travel but it isn’t being publically maintained. It is a similar situation other cities have with paper subdivisions that were accepted by local governments long before the California Map Act required actual improvements such as streets to be put in place before lots could be sold and homes built.
“Every city I’ve worked in has had similar areas with the same challenges,” Gebhardt noted.
Both Gebhardt and Hartley point to the proliferation of small lots, numerous owners, and the fact many live far away for creating interesting problems. There are those that are using lots that aren’t legally theirs. In other cases some people have taken over designated alleys.
There are also those who have managed to purchase smaller lots and cobble them together for larger parcels that have wrapped around three sides of smaller 25 by 100-foot lots sprinkled throughout the acreage.
The city isn’t ignoring the subdivision.
Fire hydrants have been placed along Park Street.
Lathrop’s code enforcement makes frequent forays into the subdivision.
And the city has tried to address the illegal dumping.
“There was one 25 by 100 foot lot where someone had dumped 50 tires,” Gebhardt said.
Since removing the debris is a requirement of whoever owns the property, the city contacted the East Coast owner and made sure they complied with the law.
City dumpsters attract
nore illegal dumping
The city has also placed large dumpsters near a city-owned building on Fifth Street (the one so named on the Southern Pacific Addition map and not the developed Fifth Street that runs by Lathrop Elementary School to the west). Those dumping items illegally typically drive to Fifth Street via Fillmore Street or Park Street from McKinley Avenue.
Hartley and several neighbors say that appears all the dumpsters have done is to encourage more people to dump items along Fifth Street and not into the dumpsters.
A check of the dumpsters on Monday showed both were empty while trash — including flat screen TVs furniture, building materials, and mistletoe — were strewn along Fifth Street.
Occasionally city crews will pick up the trash and place them in the dumpsters that are then hauled away.
Hartley and Gebhardt agree on one thing — there isn’t much that can be done until the smaller parcels are bought up to create large parcels that are more feasible to develop as well as many alleys and even street easements being collapsed into adjoining property.
“This is what redevelopment agencies were designed to do,” Gebhardt said of the taxing entities that cites were given by the state to address blight and spur economic development before Gov. Jerry Brown took them away and seized tax receipts to balance the state budget.
RDAs could buy or force the sale of smaller parcels under specific circumstances in order to spur development.