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In a true sense we are all Stocktonians

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POSTED March 25, 2013 10:32 p.m.

Stockton admittedly has its challenges.

It is second only to Oakland among California cities in terms of crime. It is the third most illiterate city among those in the United States with 250,000 residents or more based on just 17 percent of the adult population having a college degree. The FBI ranks it No. 7 nationally for vehicle theft per capita.

And on Monday Stockton had the dubious honor of being the largest United States city ever to try and restructure a suffocating debt in bankruptcy court.

It is tempting to join those who gleefully slam Stockton. But one shouldn’t poke too much fun at the state’s 13th largest city especially if you live in Manteca, Lodi, Ripon, Tracy, and Lathrop. The brush of punditry is broad. It’s guilt by proximity. And as such, bad vibes that may scare off employers has a spill over impact even in communities like Manteca and Tracy that are performing significantly better than Stockton as well as much of the Central Valley.

Stockton in many ways is not unlike other California cities. It overshot the runway believing the good times would last forever. The city allowed expenses such as pensions and salaries to outpace revenue. It acted no differently than the State of California. Sacramento went on a spending spree during good times but also committed itself to ongoing expenses that were only sustainable if the high growth rate continued.

Most other cities managed to reverse engines in time and made hard decisions early on. As for the state, they simply stole from the cities - although politicians call it borrowing with the caveat they aren’t going to ever pay it back - to keep Sacramento afloat.

And although Stockton’s problems are largely of its own making, there is clear evidence that it was made worse by Bay Area cities that have wealth, extremely vibrant economies, and high literacy rates.

Stockton scrambled from 1997 to 2006 to keep up with a massive housing boom that increased the city’s population by nearly 50,000 or about 25 percent. Almost all of the new growth was fueled by people locked out of the Bay Area housing market who ventured east over the Altamont Pass to find affordable housing.

Bay Area cities took the cream - employers and retail that brought in big bucks - and tossed the whey - housing that rarely pays its way for municipal services on a standalone basis - to the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

Stockton, Manteca, Tracy, Patterson, Lathrop, Modesto, and other nearby communities became the de facto affordable housing solution for the Bay Area.

To paraphrase country singer Jerry Reed, the Bay Area got the gold mine and the Northern San Joaquin Valley got the shaft.

The state mandates communities to provide affordable housing especially when they generate jobs. The Bay Area sent their affordable housing needs east along with their air pollution.

Meanwhile, the valley struggled to provide housing for those who lived and worked here. At the same time, they had a tough time attracting jobs due to air pollution rules that were needed in part because Bay Area pollution drifted this way to join home grown air quality problems.

That said there is little doubt the influx of Bay Area commuters has raised the valley’s economic tide.

We all have a stake in seeing Stockton get back on its feet just as we have a stake in the Bay Area’s economy. Everything is interconnected. The region is only as strong as its weakest link.

We cannot view cities such as Stockton and Oakland as concerns not worth our time. If they can’t cure their problems, they will spread like cancerous blights throughout their respect regions. At the same time, they hold respective potential.

If Stockton ends up drowning in a sea of debt and becomes a shell of a city we will all suffer even if we live 15 miles away.

Yes, Stockton could have been more prudent. It could also have responded quicker and more decisively when the financial crisis hit.

In the end, though, none of that matters. It is where we go from here that counts.

Our future whether you like it or not is connected with Stockton.



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

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