And then there were two.
As Lathrop positions itself as a hub of transportation and logistical operations – and major growth looms on the horizon – voters will decide Nov. 8 they want at the helm.
Will it be the established incumbent, Sonny Dhaliwal, who started as a Planning Commissioner, worked his way onto the Lathrop City Council and eventually overtook a highly-popular but controversial figure in Joseph “Chaka” Santos to become mayor – winning reelection in 2014 and now attempting to secure his third term?
Or will it be the political upstart, Steven Macias, who made himself known to the community when he started a grassroots coalition of business owners and residents who are opposed to the city allowing the nation’s largest truck stop chain to set up shop on Roth Road?
The Bulletin gave each of them a series of questions, and here are their answers:
QUESTION: Lathrop has emerged as a viable commercial and industrial option for businesses thanks to its location and the logistics it affords. What would you do to further that and bring even more business — and in turn, jobs — to Lathrop?
DHALIWAL: “We have been working hard as a team to bring more businesses to Lathrop and keep our city attractive. Even during the economic down turn we continued to work on the infrastructure enabling us to bring companies like Tesla, Craft/Heinz and UPS, creating several hundred good paying jobs for our working families. We must continue to be business friendly and attract more Bay Area companies who are looking for expansion.”
MACIAS: “Lathrop has always been commercially viable because of our ideal location along I-5. Today, our city needs active leadership to cultivate new jobs for the citizens of Lathrop. As mayor I will take charge and lead new businesses into Lathrop to combat our rising unemployment rate.
“After I am elected I will immediately launch an economic task force that includes local and regional business leaders. This task force will also host city-sponsored job fairs so that we can help Lathrop businesses hire Lathrop residents first. Our city can no longer afford passive leadership that hopes new businesses might show up. Creating a business climate attractive to startups and tech jobs will ensure that Lathrop residents will have access to high-paying local jobs.”
QUESTION: How important do you think the SB5 compliance work (200-year flood protection) is towards achieving the city’s main goals, and how would you assist with making sure that Lathrop can continue to build homes and businesses well into the next decade?
DHALIWAL: “Senate Bill 5 compliance is extremely important for our city. We have made adequate progress and working with the state for the funding mechanism. Our federal and state representatives are engaged in this process and helping us to meet the SB5 requirements. I have been part of this team and had several meetings with Congressman McNerney, Senator Galgiani, Assemblymember Kristin Olsen the Governor’s office and county officials. I will continue to work with them to achieve the desired goal collectively. SB5 compliance is essential to continue the growth of our city.”
MACIAS: “SB 5 compliance is crucial to future development in Lathrop and will require experienced leadership to navigate the complicated relationships between the county, state, and federal agencies involved. My experience in the California State Assembly working with the California water agencies uniquely qualifies me to lead the city through this arduous process. For the next several years, this will require a leader who will lobby every level of government to put together the funding needed to ensure Lathrop can keep building. I am disappointed that our current leadership has shirked important county meetings on this issue - we need a Mayor who represents Lathrop at every meeting. Failing to do so could bring all city building and economic progress to a standstill. I will keep things moving.”
QUESTION: In the last four years Measure C has paid for firefighters, police officers, park upgrades and municipal vehicles. And as the city grows, so will the amount of money received in sales tax revenue. How would you like to see that money used?
DHALIWAL: “Measure C was approved by the voters of Lathrop in 2012 by an overwhelming vote of over 77%. Measure C funds have helped us to add 8 more firefighters and 4 more police officers. We were able to use Measure C funds to improve city parks those are being heavily used for our youth programs and by our residents.”
MACIAS: “Measure C funds should be used to keep our city safe by focusing on funding additional police officers to patrol neighborhoods, supporting first responders, and keeping crime down. Measure C funds will be essential to establishing a locally controlled Lathrop Police Department. In the future, I would like to see Measure C funds used to fund transportation programs to help senior citizens have access to medical and retail services. I would also like to see more dollars invested in revitalizing the older parts of town by repairing existing infrastructure.”
QUESTION: Less than a decade ago Lathrop was blindsided by the collapse of the housing market. While growth is a priority today, how would you ensure that the city doesn’t find itself in the same position again?
DHALIWAL: “We have to make sure that we have a balanced growth. We must continue to attract more businesses and retail. In 2008, our city was facing a $15 million deficit. We had to make some very difficult decisions and we did. I am proud to say that today, we have a healthy reserve over $6 million. Economic sustainability is must for our city.”
MACIAS: “While some factors are outside of the City’s control, there are many things that our city can do to ensure that our housing market and property tax revenue are not so severely impacted in a downturn. Lathrop can reduce our risk by limiting bond liabilities and collaborating city services with developers. Our city can also support the local housing market by encouraging efforts that increase the market appeal in Lathrop by adding additional retail amenities and entertainment venues.”
QUESTION: How would you work to expand recreational offerings as more and more families move into Lathrop and take advantage of municipal services like Parks and Recreation programs?
DHALIWAL: “Recreation programs are very important for our residents. A city is known by its parks and how well they are maintained. We were able to get a $5 million grant from the state to build the Generation Center across the street from Lathrop High School. Lathrop residents love that facility. We have improved our parks by adding rubberized surface in the play areas and added more play equipment. Our parks and recreation staff continues to add more recreational programs for our youth and our seniors.”
MACIAS: “I’d like to replace the commuter mindset with a focus on local community spaces by implementing new venues for farmer’s markets and youth programs. As a member of the Lathrop Sunrise Rotary, we participate and volunteer in a number of Lathrop’s community events. Together we can start answering the many community requests for new recreational activities like a baseball league, as well as new music and after school programs. These programs help foster a family-friendly environment and bind us together as one community.”
QUESTION: Would you be in favor of supporting a Highway Service Zone along I-5 similar to what Ripon did with the Jack Tone Interchange area, which provides the lion’s share of the city’s sales tax revenue? What are your feelings on the recently approved Pilot/Flying J Truck Stop?
DHALIWAL: “Economic growth is very important for a growing city. We must continue to bring more businesses and jobs for our working families. Flying J will bring millions of dollars in sales tax revenues and add more jobs. It also brings Measure C funds for our first responders. We can use these funds to hire more police officers and firefighters. Some out of town special interests are opposing this project to eliminate competition using fear factors.”
MACIAS: “First Lathrop needs in-town shopping. We need restaurants, retail shopping locations, Supermarkets like a Trader Joe’s, and entertainment venues. Past leadership missteps from the Lathrop City Council have cost our community local access and tax revenue. We cannot afford to keep losing stores like “Costco” to more aggressive cities like Manteca and Tracy. We must fill in our vacant lots with real amenities first - it is what the people of Lathrop want.
“With less than 20% of the tax revenue going to the city, the Pilot/Flying J truck stop will be a burden on our local economy. I led an effort to relocate the truck stop to a location that is not near residential neighborhoods and could allow the city to receive 100% of the sales tax revenue. Unfortunately, cities like Lodi have seen these mega truckstop become crime magnets that hurt - not help - public safety. They can drain precious resources away from our neighborhood patrols and first responders. In the end we may lose money trying to patrol the crime and maintain our nearby roads. What Lathrop residents are asking for is more retail amenities and shops.”
QUESTION: There has been talk of Lathrop either using municipal bonds or even some Measure C money to establish its own police department at the end of the current contract with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department. How would you proceed when making a decision on how to best protect the residents of the community moving forward?
DHALIWAL: “Public safety is my top priority and always will be. We must make sure that our families are protected and crime rates stay low. We have a contract with San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department and they are doing a good job. We have to start our own department some day but we have to be very careful when we make that decision with the advice and input from our residents.”
MACIAS: “The number one concern I hear from our community is that they’re tired of the crime. Lathrop has made recent headlines with prostitution stings, several fatal shootings, gangs, and the endless litany of break-ins and drug related crimes. As our city grows, we need to get serious about protecting our families and start investing in a long-term solution to tackle crime. The City of Ripon is a smaller city without our same potential for growth and has had tremendous success with a local police department. As mayor, I’d like to introduce a succession plan that provides the level of safety and service our city deserves.”
QUESTION: What prompted you to run (or run again) for mayor?
DHALIWAL: “I have been serving our city since 2003. I have a clear understanding of the issues we are facing and the solutions we need to solve them – SB5 compliance being one of them. I have an excellent working relationship with my colleagues and our staff. I am very accessible to our citizens and always listen to them and address the issues they bring to my attention. Working together we can make Lathrop even a better place for our families and our kids. I am so thankful for the opportunity to serve our city and respectfully request your support in this election.”
MACIAS: “I am running because I want to help build a better Lathrop for our kids. I want them to be safe when they play in our neighborhood cul de sac. I want them to have access to clean water, good schools, and high paying local jobs. We all believe that our City Council should be servants of the people. I want to be a model of servant-leadership as your Mayor.
“When I first considered placing my name on the ballot, it was in part due to what I saw as a lack of transparency from our current leadership. I want the city to work for everyone and that is why my entire campaign has been focused around keeping our families safe and creating local jobs.”