Trouble in River City
River City, Chicago, Illinois
Downtown Stockton, California
An open letter to Michael Fitzgerald, Record columnist
I've given your recent blog post, “On the waterfront”, quite a bit of thought. As the varied though largely (and understandably) negative reader comments in your post illustrate, Stockton's woes are significant and complex. Are they insurmountable? No, I don't think so... Not as long as people still care... Which many still do, the purely negative naysayers aside. Still, I think most Stocktonians (even expatriates like myself) agree there are no easy answers.
Specific to the delta, yes, it's an asset, and yes, Stockton's already deriving significant economic benefits from it in the form of jobs at the Port of Stockton. There are also Stocktonians - yourself included, I believe - who view delta recreation as an essential part of their lives, lifestyles, maybe even their psyches. But Stockton is no Sacramento with it's 'old town', nor is it still named "French Camp" with it's associated trapping industry. Stockton is a bankrupt city with failing infrastructure, high crime, an understaffed police dept., an overcrowded jail, substandard public schools, limited higher education options... The list goes on and on. My intention here isn't simply to be negative or sing the blues though, but rather to show empathy and agreement that, while the challenges are great, said challenges are accompanied by dangers too great to risk inaction. That said, a few thoughts......
Crime will not decrease overnight, it's primary drivers are economic, and improvement can't await the more significant turnaround I believe is coming. So how about taking a page from my favorite Stockton film, "Cool Hand Luke"? What if, instead of building more empty houses, Stockton's rich soil was used for a new self-sustaining, low security work farm? While the idea of another Stockton-area prison rankles, such a facility could provide benefits in the form of produce to the entire California prison system (which might help it get funded), and could help address the short-term problem of a full jail.
Another thought is inspired by Chicago's River City. Yes, such a development bears some similarity to Stockton's exclusive, gated community, Brookside, but it could provide a starting point for future development... A safe, self-contained and secure place for boaters to live and commute from, that would bring in revenues and leverage the waterfront/delta locale. And, before anyone poo-poos such an idea out of hand because of the old adage, "Location, location, location" (or the equivalent naysayers response of, "No one in their right mind would ever choose to live in downtown Stockton!"), River City was developed in one of downtown Chicago's least attractive neighborhoods (the riverfront aside... And, actually, even the riverfront wasn't a slam dunk initially due to significant water pollution issues that have since been largely addressed).
One more idea I'm guessing the Stockton Chamber of Commerce might embrace... Real, powerful, effective PR in the form of more public events. While seemingly at odds with the challenges of crime and bankruptcy, I think most Stocktonians would agree that our fair (though tarnished) city sure cleans up pretty. Televised events like the bass derby and Amgen's Tour of California, both of which leveraged Weber Point instead of the controversial downtown Arena, show off the beauty of Stockton's delta locale and communicate to the wider world that there's more to the city than can be found between the pages of Forbes Magazine. Such events also foster civic pride, allowing citizens to see their hometown's glittering waters on TV and hear event attendees from across the globe comment on Stockton's beauty.
In closing, I'm fully aware that I don't have complete (or likely even significant) solutions to my hometown's woes. Still, to stop proposing solutions is to stop caring... To give up, to lose all hope. And, if there's one thing Stockton - and Stocktonians - can't afford to lose, it's hope.