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Split vote allows Relay for Life to use Lathrop park
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LATHROP – The 24-Hour Relay for Life participants won’t have to worry about vacating Lathrop’s premier park after the official closure time arrives.

After continuing the item from a previous meeting, the Lathrop City Council voted 3-2 – with Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos and Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo dissenting – Monday night to allow Lathrop organizers for the American Cancer Society’s benefit to use Valverde Park overnight on the weekend of Aug. 27.

The popular community park, located behind the Lathrop Community Center on Fifth Street, traditionally closes at 10 p.m. With the temporary use permit the Relay For Life event can continue throughout the night uninterrupted. 

One of the areas of concern was whether to allow use of the park after dark and how to properly make that possible without having event organizers technically violating a city ordinance. That would open them up to citation if local neighbors were to complain.

City staff recommended that the council vote against the proposal and instead urge the group to negotiate with the Manteca Unified School District to hold the event at Lathrop High School – the site that was used last year.

The applicants maintained that the cost associated with using the high school is more than what they can spend.

“Staff spoke with MUSD and learned that the costs to use Lathrop High School are reasonable; in fact, less than the rental fees associated with Valverde Park and potential mitigations for overnight use,” read the staff report.

None of the council members asked any questions of the organizers, and most of the questions that were posed had to do with whether the temporary use permit – which was granted to allow use of the park after dark – would ensure that those using the facilities would be safe from citation if police were to respond.

But some let their opinions on the issue be known.

According to a makeshift map included in the staff report, a bank of floodlights would be erected in the middle of Valverde Park to illuminate the walking area for the overnight relay. Team booths would line the portion of the park that faces the basketball courts and the barbecue area near the parking lot.

A total of 14 homes are directly adjacent to the park, with another eight separated only by Fifth Street. Interim Parks and Recreation Director Becky Enneking said that all of the homes in the area that legally needed to be notified were. None of the homeowners showed up at the meeting to voice their concern.

The temporary use permit issue came before a continued item to make an amendment to the city ordinance that outlines the hours that parks are operational. While it does list the considerations needed for overnight use – items like amplified noise in residential areas, event security, adequate lighting, emergency access and use of generating – the item was struck down 4-1 because the previous vote had already given Relay for Life advocates what they needed.

Councilman Omar Ornelas was the lone dissenting vote.

Last year the Lathrop Relay for Life was held inside Lathrop High School’s quad area after it was decided that they could not use the football field for the event – like they do at Sierra High School when Manteca holds their event.