A Cautionary Tale: Stockton, Calif.

I lived in Stockton, California, for about seven months in 1967. My father had taken a job grading wool for the Cal Wool Co-op; the move didn’t work out, and my family was back in the Lowell area by the end of the year. Stockton felt a lot like Lowell in those days. The industries were related to farms and ranches in the San Joaquin Valley. Today’s NYTimes has an op-ed column by Paula Sheil, a community college teacher in Stockton who is living through the city’s current bankruptcy—it’s the largest American city (300,000 pop.) to go bankrupt in the Great Recession.

Read the column here, and get the NYT if you want more of this kind of writing.

One Response to A Cautionary Tale: Stockton, Calif.

  1. Greg Page says:

    Thanks very much for posting and for linking to the woman’s story, which included being victimization at the hands of criminals.

    “Cautionary tale” is exactly how I’d describe it, too. We should be grateful to live in a city in far, far better fiscal shape than Stockton, San Bernardino, or Vallejo. In fact, Lowell’s bond rating has improved significantly since 2007, even as cities such as these have spiraled down along with CA real estate prices.

    I know the housing bubble is what pushed those cities off a cliff, but when you’re paying retired firefighters 90% off a base of $154k, you’re creating a huge problem, and you risk breaking the system.

    We should always respect people that wear uniforms and protect us (look at the amazing LFD response in the Canada St. area last week, or the way LPD has helped bring the crime rate down so dramatically since the 1990s),but without being manipulated into thinking that anyone who questions their salaries or benefits is anti-Mom, apple pie, ice cream, or the flag.

    When things get out of control, as they have in several places in California, citizen resentment boils over and erodes trust…at the risk of using anecdote rather than data, I’ll mention that I just read a piece a couple weeks ago that talked about angry residents making obscene gestures towards fire trucks in San Jose.

    How about Newark, NJ? When the police union refused to play ball with Mayor Booker, he had no choice but to lay off a quarter of the force. The only winners in that were the criminals and the police who retained their jobs. EVERYONE else lost — the law-abiding citizens, the unemployed policemen, the businesses, the city government, the developers, and anyone who believed in Newark’s revival.

    Gina Raimondo, a venture capitalist-turned-State Treasurer, saved Rhode Island’s public pension system last year (maybe everyone was so scared by Central Falls that they felt motivated to cooperate?) in part by trimming benefits to promote systemic longevity. To me, that shows that she is PRO-public employee, not anti-public employee.

    I’m grateful not to live in a bankrupt city in which people need to write NY Times editorials to plead for arts and education funding. I think it’s important to look at the places that have broken, see what happened, and take it as a cautionary tale.