Recall signs have impact on major intersection
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By Jud Snyder  November 5, 2009 05:51 pm

Bert Lathrop’s tearing down the fence and cleaning up the area where his Shell gas station used to be. It’s probably the heaviest-traveled intersection in all of Cotati - Gravenstein and Old Redwood highways. He had plans for another gas station and a mini-food and beverage mart here just like all the other gas stations in town have. But now the property’s up for sale. You get the impression he’s fed up with dealing with Cotati City Hall.
But these days Lathrop’s also in a political squeeze play. His property is a magnet for political campaign signs due to its high traffic locale and he’s a proponent of the “No on Recall” force rallying against removing Cotati City Councilman George Barich from his seat. Lathrop owns the property and can do what he wants as long as he keeps within city sign ordinances.
This is just one little sidebar to the biennial ritual that grips Cotati. Whether it’s council candidate contests, height of supermarkets, square footage of stores or development west of the freeway, a vote of the people is always part of the mix. And sure enough, allegations of destroying campaign signs spring to life like crabgrass in a manicured golf fairway.
“People don’t realize gasoline sales are the second largest contributor of sales tax revenue to Cotati,” said Lathrop. “I bought the site eight years ago from Herb Winter, but the city has questions about putting a mini-mart here. They said I couldn’t place it under the canopy but people like to park close to the store and keep out of the rain.” That question is still unresolved.
“I could have sold the property 25 times in the past but only for a gas station,” said Lathrop. “But nowadays all gas stations have a mini-mart. Times have changed.”
About the campaign sign controversy, Lathrop said. “George Barich came to me and asked if he could hang his signs on the fence. I told him it’s ‘OK by me’ since I’m not in favor of the recall anyway.
“But then the ‘Yes on Recall’ backers hung their signs here without asking my permission. It’s private property, mine, and you just don’t go sticking campaign signs on private property without getting permission from the owner.”
He added, “Look, you just don’t throw someone out of office just because you don’t like his politics. It’s un-American and a high-handed way of doing politics.”
Lathrop’s gas station is now being cleaned up. The fence was torn down, the underground tanks have been removed and Sonoma County crews are drilling wells to see if any of the soil has been contaminated.
Eventually it will be sold and then it will be someone else’s turn to deal with city hall.
Lathrop’s been in the auto business for many years mostly with Midas brake and muffler shops where he became regional manager for Midas in the region. He’s 67 now, salt and pepper hair, and lives in Penngrove with his wife, Marylee. They have two adult children.
We were joined in the conversation by Phil Maher, another No on Recall ally. “It’s an ugly thing,” said Maher. “I wish it was November 18th today (the recall election is Nov. 17.) This recall is just an old vendetta.”
Maher, 48, is an 18-year resident of Cotati. “George never meant any harm with the black face on city’s logo or using city’s letterhead to write to Washington about the economic stimulus plan.
“I bet if he sent the letter saying ‘Cotati could use the stimulus money,’ there wouldn’t be any outcry at all. It’s not only that I’m for the underdog. He’s only the underdog against city hall officials and the city council. But there’s an element in the city against him for he’s doing something ‘that’s just not the right way to do things.’ And a large segment of Cotati citizenry have discovered a method of humiliating him.”
Lathrop says, “I’m not a political animal. I’m just on the outside looking in.”

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