Petition falls short; Pilot Flying J will move forward with new location

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Friday, August 05, 2016

A proposal for a Pilot Flying J location in Lathrop, Calif., will continue to move forward after county officials discovered 40 percent of signatures on a petition against rezoning for the truck stop were invalid. PFJ’s proposal in Lathrop highlights the challenges and complexities of opening one truck stop.

On June 20, Lathrop city council members held a second reading of a new rezoning law that will allow PFJ to be annexed into the city at the proposed location site. A citizen’s group presented a petition to block the rezoning, citing concerns of increased crime if the new truck stop is built. They had 30 days from the public hearing to acquire approximately 820 signatures, or 10 percent of the city population, for the council to reconsider the rezoning or put the issue to a vote, according to Rebecca Schmidt, Lathrop’s director of community development.

However, when the petition was turned over to the county elections department, 684 of approximately 1,120 signatures were considered invalid. According to Schmidt, signatures are deemed invalid if they come from non-registered voters, voters not registered in the city or if they are duplicates. Accounting for invalid signatures, the petition fell well below the 820 signatures needed.

Plans to build a PFJ in Lathrop have not been smooth sailing. In California, every city has its limits and what is known as a “sphere of influence,” according to Schmidt. Spheres of influence are areas outside of the city limits that a government agency has decided belongs to whichever nearby city for future growth if that city should develop. Designed to prevent potential turf wars, spheres of influence are decided upon by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).

PFJ wants to build the facility on Roth Road, which sits on the city limit line. Anything south of Roth Road is within city limits, whereas anything north is within that sphere of influence. PFJ wants to build on the north side, forcing Lathrop to annex that portion into the city if they want any sales tax revenue.

Lathrop’s planning commission and city council approved of PFJ’s plans earlier this year and was met with resistance. Locals against the truck stop claimed it would bring more crime to the city. One citizen during the June 20 public hearing claimed an internet search of “Pilot Flying J” and “prostitution” resulted in 10,600 hits and “Pilot Flying J” and “narcotics” gave 15,300 hits. Lathrop’s police chief explained his department is well-equipped to deal with any potential increase in calls. The police chief also noted that he was less concerned with crime based on how well the truck stop is operated and proactive against crime, according to Schmidt.

Even if the city were to abandon all plans to rezone the area, San Joaquin County could claim the area and resume plans with PFJ. Schmidt told Land Line that the immediate area of the proposed PFJ site is expecting a significant increase in truck traffic. In addition to a Sharpe Army Depot base on Roth Road, Union Pacific has been approved for a massive expansion of its multimodal facility nearby. Neighboring city Manteca has approved a massive logistics center.

“Roth Road is going to be a very truck-heavy road,” Schmidt said.

Off of Interstate 5 and with increasing truck traffic, PFJ has had its sights on the area for years. During the May 11 planning commission meeting, a PFJ representative mentioned the company has been talking with land owners for approximately 10 years. Now that the proposal has passed Lathrop’s planning commission and city council, the next phase will take place Aug. 11 in Stockton, Calif., where LAFCO will decide if the area can be annexed.

Aware of the need for more trucking accommodations in the area, Schmidt said the city is excited to have a well-managed and well-lit truck stop.

“The city believes that this would be a really good business, because we have the trucks,” Schmidt said. “They are here and they are going to be coming in greater force as the land in this area develops.”

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