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Inland California’s woes The Neil Diamond factor

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POSTED August 2, 2012 11:54 p.m.

The concert that cost taxpayers $1 million to book Neil Diamond to christen the Stockton Arena back in 2006 has been used as a punch line in numerous stories chronicling the city’s bankruptcy.

In reality, the Neil Diamond Factor - if you will - is why Inland California cities such as Stockton and San Bernardino are heading to bankruptcy courts these days.

The Neil Diamond concert has been used by many to symbolize the excess of the housing market bubble. It was a time when Stockton grew by 20 percent in a decade adding 3,000 homes annually. It was also when Stockton and other municipalities went on spending sprees best described as excessive with lavish promises of fat retirement complete with health benefits on employees.

The real Neil Diamond reference, though, is one that cuts more to the core.

The 2006 concert - complete with arena tickets ranging from $67 to $152.75 a person as with seating on the floor going for up to $10,000 for a table of six - reflects what has been wrong with much of California since at least the end of World War II.

The Neil Diamond concert in Stockton was not a success. There were a lot of empty seats. The reason wasn’t the price of the tickets. It had more to do with Neil Diamond wasn’t a fit for the market.

Stockton - and the Northern San Joaquin Valley - isn’t exactly a hotbed for people whose tastes run toward “Sweet Caroline”.

It would have been closer on the mark for the market if any of the following hit singers in 2005 were booked: Alan Jackson, Big & Rich, Toby Keith, Sara Evans, Tim McGraw, or Brooks & Dunn.

In other words, a big country act would have been more sustainable for the market.

Sustainability is also an issue for the type of growth that dominates Inland California and much of the rest of the state.

Endless tracts of housing walled off from everywhere else and miles from public institutions such as schools and often parks, even farther from shopping and further still from employment is difficult at best to sustain.

It taxes the ability of government to provide service by having a low ratio of users per mile of expensive sewer and water lines. It provides more territory to protect with police and fire services. And it not only requires many more miles of road through greater distances between points people need to access daily but it also makes them dependent on the automobile to get around.

The development pattern also worsens air pollution, magnifies congestion, and also plants the seeds for decay as it makes it progressively less expensive for the private sector to build new than to revitalize.

And you can’t blame the developers for this one.

Developers are forced by city ordinances - which are surprisingly similar whether you are in Stockton, San Bernardino, Manteca, Ripon, or Lathrop - to develop land in specific ways. As much talk as there is about smart growth where retail, transit, housing, and jobs are intermixed such a strategy is essentially illegal for the most part under current laws. True, you can try to negotiate a development agreement and maybe get around the laws but it isn’t a slam dunk. It also makes investors - read that banks - skittish. Banks tend to invest relatively safely in major projects. They go with the market. Defenders of planning bureaucrats will tell you that the market in the past decade was McMansions. But it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was little choice in most cities especially Inland California’s boom towns.

There are serveral examples in Manteca of developers trying to build more affordable and varied housing project with little tweaks such as tandem garages and even access off concrete paved alleys. The proposals met such headwinds from bureaucrats clutching planning codes that they are abandoned.

When people are buying homes with three-car garages and 4,000 square feet of living space on 10,000 square feet of land is because zoning dictates it. Conversely that is the market that banks are comfortably with. And that’s why not many banks will take a risk on a developer who manages to survive the legal gauntlet of zoning rules to deliver a 1,200-square-foot home with a carport or even various attached housing endeavors that aren’t apartments.

Instead of singing “Sweet Caroline” in the Stockton Arena back in 2006 Neil Diamond could have delivered a more honest title from his song collection - “Courtin’ Disaster.”

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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