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Contamination lawsuit tops local stories for 2003

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Posted: Friday, January 2, 2004 10:00 pm

Here are the top news stories of 2003 as selected by the News-Sentinel's news department.

1. TCE/PCE

Lodi City Council members and the public began questioning its costly 3-year-old federal water contamination lawsuit as several courts ruled against the city in a series of judicial setbacks.

In mid-December, Eastern District Judge Frank C. Damrell blasted the city's attorneys in a 40-page ruling, also telling the city it could not force the alleged polluters to clean up the pollution or pay for its legal fees that have reached $25 million.

The 3-year-old lawsuit against more than a dozen businesses, including the News-Sentinel, concerns groundwater contamination: The city has claimed that the businesses dumped harmful pollutants known as TCE and PCE into the soil, while the businesses claim the city's sewers were responsible for transporting the contamination.

In March, Michael Donovan, one of the city's hired attorneys from the law firm Envision Law Group, acknowledged that the city could be partially responsible, and Damrell then ruled against the city.

Because the city could be responsible, Damrell rejected the city's request to force businesses to immediately begin cleaning up the pollution.

Damrell also said the city could not act as the "People of the State of California," and on appeal, the issue went to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. When the 9th sided with Damrell, the city twice petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.

The 9th Circuit also refused to reverse several other rulings made by Damrell, and at one point the justices threatened to sanction an Envision attorney for wasting the court's time. That threat has since been dropped.

In the meantime, former Mayor Susan Hitchcock spent much of the year urging the City Council to seek another legal opinion regarding the case.

On Sept. 17, Councilmen John Beckman and Larry Hansen joined her effort, and the council voted 3-2 to seek another opinion on the lawsuit, its strategy and financial agreement funding the litigation.

Much of the money for the lawsuit has come from a $16 million loan from the Wall Street banking firm of Lehman Brothers, Inc., which stands to gain between 20 and 30 percent interest on the loan if the city wins.

Envision, meanwhile, has billed the city for countless flights and car rentals between the Bay Area and Sacramento, as well as flights for attorneys from Chicago and Santa Barbara. Hundreds of hours were spent trying get both Damrell and the 9th Circuit to delay the trial.

Last week, lawyers offered to repay the city an estimated $100,000 in so-called questionable charges.

Prior, the city hired San Francisco law firm Barger & Wholen to investigate Envision's billing and accounting.

2. Hitchcock censure

In June, Councilman Keith Land called for the censure of then-Mayor Susan Hitchcock, as well as her removal from her leadership post for comments she allegedly made in public following a mediation session regarding the city's contamination litigation. Land felt her comments could potentially jeopardize the lawsuit, filed in 2000, and cost rate- payers millions.

Land's plan backfired, however, when two months later - following a prolonged and often heated council meeting - the other council members failed to join up. Before a vote was taken, the council, acting in part on a suggestion by City Manager Dixon Flynn, moved instead to hold a team-building workshop to learn to get along.

Land originally brought up the idea of censure in a closed meeting, but said the issue was not acted on.

A censure is a public statement by elected officials condemning the actions of a colleague. It does not prescribe any penalty and has no effect on the council members' status.

In Hitchcock's case, the censure attempt may have elevated her status as one of the most outspoken members on the council, especially in regards to questioning the strategy in the city's ongoing TCE/PCE lawsuit.

At the Aug. 6 Council meeting, which saw at least 150 people in attendance, 20 speakers took up the subject with nearly all of them singing Hitchcock's praises and lauding her for attempting to make government more open.

Although Land tried to keep the issue of censure and the city's pending litigation separate, some speakers focused on the lawsuit and even called for the removal of City Manager Dixon Flynn and City Attorney Randy Hays.

At the beginning of the meeting, Land not only publicly apologized for the censure move - which he felt had to be done - but offered Hitchcock an 11th-hour compromise if she would publicly apologize for her alleged actions at the May 19 mediation hearing. She declined - twice.

Instead, she waited through hours of public testimony before reading a written statement defending her actions surrounding the contamination litigation.

In the end, Land seemed to have garnered a majority in his task to censure Hitchcock, with Council Members John Beckman and Emily Howard ready to vote in favor of it. But Land withdrew his motion following the three hour-plus discussion.

Instead, they unanimously voted to bring in a facilitator to discuss Hitchcock's alleged actions with hopes they could work on strengthening the board instead of voting on Hitchcock's censure.

In December, the council approved using Century Assembly Senior Pastor Dale Edwards, selected from a pool of five candidates. He offered to hold the team-building workshops for free.

3. Budget woes

Lodi is one among hundreds of California cities struggling to make ends meet in the midst of the greatest budget crisis ever faced by the state.

Thanks to the shortfall from the state in vehicle license fees coupled with increased costs to pensions, workers' compensation and medical insurance, the city has put all its major projects on hold and frozen filling any non-pertinent positions.

With the coming of the new year, the total shortfall is expected to be more than $7 million over the next 18 months. About $5 million is the result of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Nov. 17 roll back of last year's tripling of the state vehicle license fees.

Money from the fees goes into cities' general funds; in Lodi, it makes up about 13 percent of the operating budget.

City Manager Dixon Flynn is in the middle of presenting a three-tier cost-reduction plan to the City Council.

In December, council members approved the first tier, roughly $200,000 in cuts. Those included canceling the contract with Spohn Ranch that operates the city skate park. It will save $30,000 this fiscal year which ends June 30, and $65,000 the following year.

He is also examining shutting City Hall down twice a month and mandating city employees take two days off without pay twice a month - all with the hope of not having to lay any workers off.

The city may also cut its Sunday library hours and ask department heads to further trim their budgets.

Those recommendations are expected to be presented at a council meeting later this month.

Before the latest reductions, the city set up other cost-savings programs in preparation for increased medical and retirement costs that the city has been saddled with.

In an e-mail sent to council members in December, Flynn warned that the city's budget could come up short by $7.7 million over the next 18 months. Those figures include increases in personnel-related expenditures.

The city has already instituted a voluntary time-off program, cut jobs through attrition, raised fees for services and frozen hiring personnel for unnecessary positions.

Flynn also asked that all city projects be put on hold including a new pool, indoor sports center, animal shelter and DeBenedetti Park.

At the same time, however, hefty raises have been given to many city employees and workers' pensions have increased.

Some $1 million was allocated in the budget approved in June to pay for increased wages based on a survey of pay in other cities. Completed in fall 2002, it showed most Lodi city employees were paid less than their counterparts in other comparable cities.

This year, Lodi has had to fund an additional $1.7 million in workers' compensation, $900,000 for retirement packages and $300,000 for general liability insurance. Flynn has said medical insurance contributions were also expected to increase some $5 million in the next two years.

4. Greenbelt

After years of discussing the issue, the Lodi City Council finally decided to do something about trying to create a greenbelt between Lodi and Stockton.

Former Lodi mayor Phil Pennino squats in a field of green on Guard Road near Cotta Road in this November 2003 file photo. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

With the creation of a mayor's task force, Lodi will at least officially examine the options available to creating a buffer between the two cities while, at the same time, Stockton continues its northward march.

The ongoing discussion of the need was a major issue once again in 2003 as Stockton began to breech Eight Mile Road, the unspoken golden line of separation. That city is in the process of updating its general plan which includes growth toward Lodi, specifically up to Armstrong Road.

In December, at the urging of outgoing Mayor Susan Hitchcock, the City Council unanimously voted to create the task force.

Its 19 members include representatives from the farming community, developers, land owners, a planning commissioner and representatives from both the business community and wine industry. Some members, which include Hitchcock, were appointed by the five council members.

The group will begin meeting early this year and is expected to make regular presentations to the council.

Also in 2003, former state Sen. Patrick Johnston urged that the two cities and San Joaquin County begin truly working together to establish a buffer zone.

They could do so through a variety of means, including creating agricultural conservation easements, land swaps, urban growth boundaries, buying development rights and using fees or taxes to buy land set aside from development.

Lodian Ann Cerney - a longtime land preservation activist - was responsible for forcing Geweke Real Estate Management, the developer of the Lowe's shopping center at Lower Sacramento Road and Highway 12, to agree to set aside a like amount of property between Stockton and Lodi. She had filed a lawsuit to keep the big-box store from even being built. However, Cerney withdrew her suit when the developer decided to comply with her request.

Discussions among officials from Lodi, Stockton and the county started in the early 1990s. The agencies held several public input meetings and even spent money on reports. But the discussions faded into the background after both the Stockton City Council and the Board of Supervisors declined to allocate more funding. The multi-jurisdictional talks stopped altogether early last year.

In the meantime, county Community Development Director Ben Hulse is working with the Agricultural Advisory Board to establish a land trust in San Joaquin County. That report is expected to come before the Board of Supervisors later this year.

5. Galt killings

Galt has been known as a safe community with little violent crime, but the community was rocked in November when three people were shot to death in less than a week.

Galt police officers and detectives investigate Compadres Market on the evening of Nov. 14 after an attempted armed robbery turned fatal. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

On Nov. 14, a clerk at Compadres Market in Galt's Oldtown gunned down a robbery suspect after he was shot during the robbery attempt. Galt police suspect one to three other people were involved in the robbery, which remains unsolved.

The clerk, Jose Antonio Gutierrez, 34, was wounded, but survived.

In the process of defending himself, Gutierrez, according to police, shot and killed Martín Hernandez Campero, 31.

Four days later, Darrin Eric Gunder, 37, allegedly shot to death his estranged wife, Lisa M. Gunder, 36, and her mother, Patricia Ann Hawthorne, 56, in the Gunder home in one of Galt's newer neighborhoods east of Highway 99.

The shooting took place on Bay Landing Way, across from the play area at Marengo Ranch Elementary School.

Darrin Gunder was arrested later that night at his Stockton residence. He is in jail without bail and could face the death penalty under California law. His next court date is Jan. 29 in Sacramento County Superior Court.

The trio of shooting deaths in November were the first in Galt since 1998, when 17-year-old Daniel Raul Garcia, a Galt High School student, was shot to death in his home. That homicide remains unsolved.

Prior to 1998, the last killing in Galt was in 1992. Before that, Galt averaged one homicide per year, said Galt police Sgt. Bob Whittington.

The most violent week in Galt's history had some residents wondering what had happened to their town. One teenager even wondered aloud whether he should get a gun for protection.

On Dec. 16, Police Officer Chris Sanford, with several other officers seated in the audience, told the City Council that the department is severely undermanned and requested additional money in the city budget to hire more officers.

"The police department is not able to give our citizens adequate protection," Sanford told the council members.

The Lodi area also had its share of homicides in 2003.

Luis Eduardo Caracosa, 19, was gunned down outside a residence in the 400 block of East Walnut Street on June 24.

Three Stockton teenagers - Anthony Trong Do, now 18, Sunny Khamla Sihavong, 18, and Michael Fierro, 15 - were arrested and charged with murder along with gang enhancements. Their next court appearance is Monday.

On March 9, Kevin Dahnke, 23, and his wife, 24-year-old Sabrina Dahnke, were found shot to death at close range on the living room floor of their East Morse Road home east of Highway 99.

Joel Angel Magana, now 20, and Christopher Howard Jones, 18, both of Lodi, were arrested that night and charged with murder.

On Oct. 13, Lodi resident Mark Hasty Sr., 47, was fatally shot on East Hogan Lane east of Highway 99. Alamo Alarm Co. owner Paul Alamo was charged with murder in the shooting.

6. Water

It was a momentous year as the City of Lodi and local water districts took major steps to improve their water supply.

The Woodbridge Irrigation District will break ground this month to construct a new Woodbridge Dam, replacing one that has served the region for 100 years. The construction contract is $8.5 million, but district manager Andy Christensen said the full cost will be about $12 million due to engineering, bond issuance, attorney and environmental monitoring costs.

In addition to the dam, three fish ladders, a control building and a bypass pipeline will be constructed.

The new dam, expected to be completed in two years, will result in Lodi Lake being filled 365 days a year. Currently, the man-made lake fronting Turner Road is drained during the winter months.

The project will be paid from bonds financed by Woodbridge's sale of surplus water to the city of Lodi, which will buy 6,000 acre-feet of water annually from Woodbridge for $1.2 million. Lodi will make $300,000 quarterly payments.

Woodbridge has surplus water to sell Lodi because area farmers have used drip irrigation the past five years which uses a great deal less water, Christensen said.

Lodi will use the new water either to serve residential and commercial customers or replenish the groundwater basin since the city's water largely comes from wells.

East of Highway 99, the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District began work on two projects to replenish the declining water table in eastern San Joaquin County.

The water district is pumping water from the Mokelumne River into one test site on each side of the river, 25 acres southwest of Locust Tree and Victor roads and 20 acres owned by the Nakagawa family north of the Mokelumne River near Woodbridge and Dustin roads.

The water recharge projects are being financed through a special $1-per-acre tax approved by property owners in July. The tax was approved with 8,387 votes in favor and 7,919 against. Property owners were entitled to one vote per acre.

Also, the Farmington recharge project was started in 2003 by the Stockton East Water District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is a $33.5 million effort to restore the region's groundwater supply and repel saltwater intrusion.

Stockton East's goal is to spread an average of 35,000 acre-feet of water annually on 800 to 1,200 acres through short- and long-term agreements with area landowners.

The target area is generally from Highway 99 to Jack Tone Road and the Mokelumne River south to Temple Creek.

7. Measure K

Measure K school construction projects costs had reached $50.1 million by year's end, the majority of which was paid for with local bond money, according to Mamie Starr, director of facility planning at the Lodi Unified School District.

Construction of the Millswood Middle School continued during the first part of the 2003-04 school year. The school is being paid for in part with funds generated from the sale of Measure K bonds. The school is expected to be completed in July. (Alejandro Lazo/News-Sentinel)

On Tuesday, the Lois E. Borchardt Elementary School will open, marking the first school built using Measure K dollars. The school is budgeted to cost $13 million, half of which will be paid using Measure K funds, and the other half with state money.

While LUSD voters passed the historic $109.3 million bond measure in March 2002 - the first successful passage of a bond in 28 years - many of the school construction projects didn't get going until last year.

Both Christa McAuliffe Middle School in North Stockton and Millswood Middle School in Woodbridge are scheduled to be completed this month and in June, respectively.

The Ansel Adams Elementary School is scheduled to open in July, although its full completion may be delayed until September or October because of weather issues during this past fall and winter, Starr said.

Construction on the Ronald E. McNair High School in north Stockton began in 2003, and is expected to be one of the costlier of the construction projects. The district's newest high school will not open until 2006.

The Ellerth E. Larson Elementary School and the Manlio Silva Elementary Schools are also set to begin construction this year.

Several other more minor Measure K projects began in 2003 as well, including the completion of three 10-classroom additions at Morada Middle School, Oakwood Elementary School and Park Lane Elementary School.

LUSD Board of Trustees have yet to decide whether the purchase of an 800-student school site in north Stockton, called "Site E," will be bought with Measure K funds. But the decision to purchase the site over building an expansion to the Elkhorn Elementary School was perhaps the most controversial decision made by the board this year.

Board trustees spent an estimated $3.3 million more to purchase the site rather than build on Elkhorn - the district's only all gifted and talented education program school - after parents from that school heavily lobbied the board.

Finally, the citizens' group charged with being the watchdog of all Measure K money, the Measure K Citizens Oversight Committee, is yet to issue its first report on the district's expenditure of bond funds.

8. Big boxes

Nearly 75 acres of farmland in the southwestern part of Lodi are on track to be converted to "big-box" shopping centers in the next few years.

The two proposed developments at the intersection of lower Sacramento Road and Highway 12 have already been the subject of controversy, and the future will likely bring even more.

The first of the two projects is a 22.36-acre shopping center at the northwest corner of the intersection. It will be anchored by a Lowe's home improvement center, and may also include a bookstore, a Pier One Imports and an In-N-Out Burger, as well as other smaller stores and a sit-down restaurant.

After local attorney and Lodi resident Ann Cerney threatened to stall the project with a lawsuit, the developer, Geweke Real Estate Management, agreed to purchase an equivalent amount of farm land to be held forever for agriculture. After initially opposing the idea, the city's Planning Commission agreed to accept the developer's voluntary proposal. Commissioners stopped short of requiring an offsetting land purchase for all new development, however.

The next big project, one likely to be even more controversial, is the Wal-Mart Supercenter development planned for the southwest corner of the intersection.

This will be a 52-acre development, but it is not the size of the development that is raising concern.

Wal-Mart's plan is to vacate its present 100,000 square foot store on Kettleman Lane and move its operations to a 219,000 square foot "Supercenter," which will include a full-line grocery store.

Besides the issues of sprawling development and traffic congestion that comes with any big-box retail development, Wal-Mart's Supercenters bring their own sets of worries for owners of competing businesses, both large and small.

Wal-Mart's grocery prices are reported to be 15 percent to 35 percent lower than those at conventional grocery stores. While this is a benefit for consumers, opponents say that the Arkansas retailer's low, non-union wages and meager health benefits can do irreparable damage to the local economy.

Another concern is what will happen to the old Wal-Mart store. The chain has a history of abandoning its old shells, leaving them vacant when they move into bigger digs.

Former Lodi Mayor Randy Snider, a partner in the project's developer Lodi Southwest Associates, said he will not build the new store until Wal-Mart agrees to lease or sell the old one.

Proponents of the project say that Lodi needs to keep the giant new store within city limits, so that the city will receive its share of the sales tax revenue generated by the giant retailer. If Wal-Mart decides to build in an incorporated area outside the city, Lodi will lose both jobs and money, they say.

9. Closures

Three large Lodi employers announced they were closing their doors in 2003, laying off 353 people and handing the city its share of the national jobless numbers.

The layoffs all had one thing in common: The closed businesses were all victims of down-sizing by large parent companies. None of the businesses were locally owned.

Interlake

In April, Lodi's two Interlake Metal Handling plants closed, putting 180 people out of work. The Interlake plants manufactured heavy steel shelving of the type used at retail stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

At the time, workers blamed the closure on a new Interlake plant that had been completed in Matamoros, Mexico in 2001. The unionized steel workers at the plant averaged between $15 and $17 per hour, in addition to benefits.

Most of the employees at the plant had worked there for more than 15 years.

The main plant on South Sacramento Street had been purchased by Interlake in 1969, and at its peak in 2000 the company had employed more than 210 people and operated 24 hours a day in three shifts.

The Interlake closure was Lodi's largest single job loss since Victor Foods closed in 1991, when 300 workers were laid off, said interim Lodi Economic Development Director Tony Goehring at the time.

Interlake is owned by the Sydney, Australia-based company Brambles, which owns manufacturing companies in 40 countries. The $6.2 billion corporation employs 30,000 people worldwide.

Silgan

In October, the Silgan can manufacturing plant on Stockton Street announced that it will be shutting the doors on its operation on Jan 15. The plant closure will put 125 people out of work.

The can-making plant had been in continuous operation since 1910, and was purchased by Pacific Coast producers in 1971. PCP sold the plant to Silgan in March, in an effort to pay off accumulated debt. The union employees earned between $15 and $19 an hour.

The Silgan closure came as a surprise to both union and Lodi city officials, who said at the time of the sale that they believed the can-making plant would remain in operation.

Silgan is a Connecticut-based container-manufacturing company with 78 plants across North America and approximately 7,100 employees.

Hartung Glass

Finally, in November, Hartung Glass on North Stockton Street closed suddenly after bringing all the workers in for a meeting to discuss the Lodi operation's "performance."

At the meeting, the glass company's 48 employees were given their final paychecks and let go.

Hartung's parent company said that the Lodi 33,000 square-foot plant and equipment were no longer competitive. The Lodi Hartung Glass plant manufactured custom-made tempered and insulated glass for commercial and residential construction.

The Hartung Glass plant was owned by United Glass Company, which was formed when 10 U.S. glass manufacturers consolidated into a single company in 1999. UGC is based in Louisville, Ky., and operates about 35 glass plants across the U.S. and Canada, with approximately 1,500 employees.

10. Massage parlors

After receiving complaints from citizens, the Lodi Police Department began investigating local massage parlors it believed to be fronts for prostitution. Police actually began looking more closely at the businesses near the end of 2002 and identified nine that appeared to offer sexual acts, in addition to massages.

Big Valley Spa on Kettleman Lane went out of business as this sign states at the site of the former massage parlor on Kettleman Lane. (News-Sentinel file photo)

During 2003, four of the nine massage parlors closed, though one recently reopened under new ownership, according to Lodi Police.

Under Lodi city ordinances, police may conduct health and safety inspections at massage businesses.

Police began regularly visiting the massage parlors, and they also conducted several sting operations in which an officer posed as a customer. The stings resulted in several arrests of employees for solicitation of prostitution.

When detectives arrived for standard inspections at the nine businesses, they frequently found locked front doors - a violation of city laws. At other times, officers allegedly found employees and customers engaged in acts of prostitution.

If a business has more than two violations in a 12-month period, the owner's license may be revoked.

Royal Day Spa, 220 E. Lodi Ave., had eight violations in 10 months, and the owner's license was revoked in August.

In June, police accompanied members of the California labor board to several massage businesses, and each was found out of compliance. They received fines up to $10,000 for various offenses, including failure to pay workers' compensation.

Big Valley Spa, 705 W. Kettleman Lane, became the target of a $100,000 lawsuit filed by the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, alleging that the business was acting as a front for prostitution. The business recently closed, but the suit is still pending.

The action against the massage parlors came partly as a result of complaints from nearby businesses and residents who complained of heavy traffic and what they thought was prostitution.

At least one resident went to police to report than an acquaintance had engaged in sexual activity at a Lodi massage parlor.

The police action was reported on Internet message boards, where people were soon warning others to avoid Lodi when looking for sex.

Detectives believe the illegal activity has decreased, but the number of people applying for city massage permits is just as high.

Lodi has about twice as many certified massage therapists as does Stockton, which has a population about four times as large as Lodi.

11. Dutra

Nearly a year after a Woodbridge man's body was found buried in a Clements vineyard, his former secretary went on trial in January for murder in a case that had made headlines across the country.

During the two-month trial in early 2003, prosecutors alleged that California State University, Sacramento student Sarah Dutra helped Larry McNabney's wife poison the attorney with horse tranquilizers, then stowed his body in a refrigerator inside his garage before he was buried in the vineyard.

Though prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, Dutra - a former Vacaville High School senior class president - could have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Instead, in a courtroom packed with family members, court employees and reporters, the jury convicted her of manslaughter.

McNabney had last been seen alive Sept. 11, 2001, as his wife and Dutra pushed him in a wheelchair from a Southern California horse show.

For the next several months, the two women kept his law office open while selling his belongings and cashing injury settlement checks intended for clients. Relatives and clients alike testified that they were told McNabney had gone to Costa Rica, was in alcohol rehab or had joined a cult.

A missing person's report was filed at the end of 2001, and by the beginning of January 2002, McNabney's wife, Elisa, had disappeared. Investigators soon learned that she had more than 30 aliases, and that her real name was Laren Sims.

Detectives learned that she and Dutra had leased a brand-new convertible Jaguar in Dutra's name, and officials began tracking Sims and her teenage daughter across the country.

They caught up with Sims in Florida, where she was arrested in March 2002. There she confessed to killing her husband and implicated Dutra in the crime.

She then hanged herself in her Florida jail cell, and died Easter morning.

Dutra's trial, which attracted TV and newspaper cameras, as well as a courtroom artist, lasted for two months. On March 20, 2003, a 12-member jury convicted her of voluntary manslaughter.

Judge Bernard Garber then gave Dutra the maximum sentence of 11 years in state prison. Dutra, now 23, is serving that sentence in Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla.

The case still draws national attention and was the subject of a 15-minute Fox program in July.

CourtTV recently spent a week in the area in preparations for an hour-long documentary on the case, planning to focus on San Joaquin County Sheriff's Detective Debbie Scheffel. The homicide detective, who has worked on other high-profile cases, said recently that it was the most complex one she had ever worked on.

A true-crime book is also expected to be published in the spring.

12. Hansen's citizen's arrest

The day before Larry Hansen was elected mayor, the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office decided not to press charges against him stemming from the former Lodi police chief placing a Lodi teen under citizen's arrest.

The incident made front page headlines and garnered at least a dozen letters to the editor, with the majority of them praising Hansen for his actions. A few expressed concerns at what they felt was an added danger to the community as Hansen followed the 17-year-old at high speed through often crowded city streets.

Hansen, who retired as chief of police in 2000 and was elected to the City Council in November 2002, said he saw the teen speeding on Oct. 17 and began following the teenager because he was driving recklessly near Reese Elementary School where children and a crossing guard were present.

Hansen called police from his cell phone and then continued following the vehicle - a move that brought questions from some letter writers.

He said the teen reached speeds of 90 mph and ran two stop signs during the pursuit.

According to the District Attorney's Office, the teen cursed at Hansen when he stopped, then refused Hansen's order to get out of the pick-up truck.

Hansen then pulled the teen from his vehicle, said he was a retired police officer and held him against Hansen's truck until a police officer arrived.

The teen was cited for reckless driving and released from custody.

More than a month after the incident, the District Attorney's Office decided not to press charges against Hansen, ruling that he acted within the limits for a citizen's arrest.

13. Auto mall

As major retail development continues to expand on Kettleman Lane at Lodi's western border, the Eastside of town is also getting busy, as two of Lodi's largest new car dealers are making plans to move their operations even further eastward.

Plummer Pontiac, Cadillac GMC and Buick is developing a 12-acre parcel near the northeastern corner of Beckman Road and Kettleman Lane for its new dealership. The 80,000 square-foot complex is on track to open in late July or early August, said co-owner Mike Tiehm said.

Just east of Highway 99, Beckman Road is already home to several Geweke auto and RV dealerships - and in the near future, Lodi's largest auto dealership has plans to consolidate all of its operations along Beckman Road.

The Plummer dealership will also be a consolidation. Plummer plans to move its body shop and towing operation, now located on Harney Lane, onto the new grounds.

Geweke's plans are further in the future, and more complex.

Geweke is in negotiations with the city for a land-swap on Beckman Road that would trade the city's current runoff basin at the corner of Beckman Road and Vine Street.

The swap could ultimately provide space for a municipal softball park, and would allow Geweke to move its Ford dealership to Beckman Road, and to reorient and expand its existing Toyota dealership to the south.

Geweke has already run into trouble with the city regarding its plans.

In October, Geweke proposed putting up two large 22-foot-by-22-foot, state-of-the-art lighted signs - similar to giant computer screens - facing Highway 99.

The problem was that the city has an ordinance against signs that flash, and commissioners had to answer one question: Do these signs flash or not?

Despite the protests of Geweke's consultant, the Planning Commission decided that the signs would indeed flash, and therefore needed a special permit. Geweke did not appeal the decision, and applied for a use permit for the signs. The matter will go before the Planning Commission later this month.

New auto dealerships are the single largest business category providing sales tax revenue to the city. Historically, car dealerships provide approximately 20 percent of the city's sales tax revenue.

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