Last week, I discussed why Stockton should become more-bike friendly; Biking promotes good health, provides an economic boost to merchants and offers alternative methods of transportation in an increasingly congested region. But transforming transportation options in Stockton goes beyond laying down more bike lanes: it requires a commitment to getting Stocktonians to think differently about getting from point A to point B. How can Stockton accomplish this goal? Two words: Bike Share.
Stockton will always be a car-first city, but it shouldn’t have to be a car-only city. It’s time to start investing in alternative methods of transportation and a bike share program would be an excellent, cost-effective addition to the city’s transportation infrastructure. Here’s why: Continue reading
When Jerry Brown was elected governor—for the second time—I was optimistic. In addition to serving as governor once before, as well as state Attorney General, Brown was also mayor of Oakland from 1999 to 2007. My hope was that his experience as mayor of a major California city would make Brown a pro-city governor. Sadly, this has not been the case. From shuttering redevelopment agencies to wimping out on CEQA reform, several of the Governor’s decisions have frustrated municipalities across the state and have many wondering if Brown cares about California’s cities at all. Continue reading
Today’s news and notes includes new tenants for the historic B&M building, the Asparagus Festival’s attendance drop, and another big city that may be forced into the bankruptcy club with Stockton. Happy bike to work week!
Downtown block welcomes two new neighbors
The block between Dean DeCarli Square and the Ed Coy Garage is becoming quite the hub of activity. Already home to the City Centre Cineplex and various attached restaurants, the block welcomed a couple of new tenants over the past few weeks and will be welcoming more in the not-so-distant future. Continue reading
Someone once said that if you don’t have critics, you’re not doing something worthwhile. Lucky for me, there are plenty of skeptics who disagree with the new urbanist concepts I espouse here weekly at SCL. Enter Joel Kotkin, noted writer and city nay-sayer. Kotkin is one of the loudest critics of smart growth, believing that cities focusing growth inward do not perform as well as their sprawling counterparts. While I usually disagree with Kotkin, I appreciate that the Smart Growth movement has critics with reasonable arguments, forcing us to validate our views. There are certainly debates to be had about the best policies for growth and development and I am happy to be a part of that debate. That being said, Kotkin’s recent article in the Daily Beast, titled “The Triumph of Suburbia: Despite Downtown Hype, Americans Choose Sprawl,” is laughable. Continue reading
Last week, the Central Valley Business Journal wrote about the state of cycling in the region. The article noted that despite the valley’s favorable terrain and Mediterranean climate, less than one percent of commuting trips are made via bicycle. This is not surprising, as Central Valley cities have been planned around the car with little regard for walking or biking. In other cities, biking has become immensely popular, not just as a commuting choice, but as a better way to enjoy everyday activities. Sadly, Stockton continues to be dominated by the car. Most people who ride bikes in Stockton are those who do not have access to an automobile. This has to change, and not because it’s good for the environment (though it is), or because there are too many cars (also true), but because there are legitimate economic reasons for Stockton to embrace biking. Continue reading
During his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama announced plans to assist the country’s most economically depressed cities. This proclamation sparked pleas from people such as Mike Fitzgerald and Congressman Jerry McNerney for the President to consider Stockton’s troubles. Moored in bankruptcy, high crime rates and crushing unemployment, it would be difficult to justify Stockton’s exclusion from any city-based assistance initiative. Now, we finally know what type of aid could be coming our way as the administration unveiled the specifics of their plan last week. Continue reading
The good people over at the Central Valley Business Journal let me write another column for them in their May issue. This time, I discus how city and economic development officials can attract businesses by providing walkable communities for their young and educated workforces. More and more companies are abandoning suburban office parks in favor of urban areas, and Stockton should take advantage of this migration. Click on the link below to give it a read!
-David Continue reading
This month, residents along Stockton’s Smith Canal face a tough choice: pay extra for a canal head gate to protect against rising water or continue purchasing costly flood insurance. According to FEMA, these residents live in a flood zone (despite the fact that Smith Canal has never flooded) and need to protect themselves. Because we are so flood prone in the Central Valley (though, thankfully, not recently), there is always a healthy debate on the best way to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, this debate is always centered on levees and insurance, ignoring that fact that the valley’s rapid urbanization contributes to increased water runoff. In short: Sprawl makes flooding worse, but is usually passed over when discussing flood preparedness. Continue reading
This weekend, over 100,000 people will fill Downtown Stockton to take part in the city’s most cherished tradition: The Asparagus Festival. Patrons will enjoy live bands, various activities, plenty of spirits, and, of course, copious amounts of asparagus prepared in an assortment of ways. Sadly, this may be the last time the festival will be held in downtown as officials are considering a move to the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds.
Three separate sources have confirmed with SCL that festival officials may move the event from Downtown Stockton to the fairgrounds starting in 2014. Moreover, Asparagus Festival officials acknowledged on their Facebook page that no decision had been made on whether or not the festival will remain at its current location. Continue reading
Last year, I wrote about the effect that planning can have on crime, noting that a well-planned city or community can have a direct affect on public safety. Even more recently, I have mused about how crime seems to revolve around Stockton’s big box retailers, namely Walmart. Probably not coincidentally, some new research has emerged shedding even more light on these topics explaining how strip-mall development may be unnecessarily taxing our already razor thin public safety system. Continue reading
In recent months, Central Valley housing prices have rapidly improved. In particular, Stockton has posted double-digit percentage increases in home prices over last year, better than the national average. However, new research I have done with SCL shows that Stockton’s housing market appears to be heavily driven by investors, the majority of which reside outside of the city.
Over the last six months, 46% of homes sold in Stockton were purchased by investors, while 54% were purchased by owner-occupants. Of investor purchases, 59% list tax addresses in a city other than Stockton. This analysis was conducted by assessing nearly 2,000 residential, one-house lot sales in Stockton between October 2012 and the first week of April, 2013 using data from Metrolist.
On Tuesday, Mayor Silva held a press conference promoting his crime-fighting initiative, Stockton Safe Streets. The plan includes an increase in the sales tax to fund 100 new police officers, among other things. Aside from the argument of whether or not this proposal would complicate Stockton’s bankruptcy proceedings, or if it aligns with the city’s Marshall Plan, I was struck by the Mayor’s choice to bring in William Bratton as a consultant.
In an interview with Mike Fitzgerald, the former police commissioner of New York and Los Angeles explains how local law enforcement should focus on misdemeanors. Instead of simply responding to calls, officers should be actively pursuing smaller crimes, which together eventually lead to more serious ones. This theory is known as the Broken Windows theory, which Bratton credits for his success. Bratton’s track record is impressive, and police department’s around the country routinely seek out his expertise on how to fight crime in their own cities. However, a close inspection of Bratton’s work suggests that some of his strategies are not as effective as he claims, and Stockton should examine all of the facts to determine whether or not a Broken Windows approach to crime could reduce overall violent crime in Stockton. Continue reading
This summer, work will begin on the country’s first true high-speed rail project— California High Speed Rail. The first line of tracks will be put down in the Central Valley, stretching roughly 114 miles from Fresno to Bakersfield. Eventually, the line will connect Los Angeles and San Diego with the Bay Area and Sacramento. While Stockton won’t be included in the rail’s network for sometime– extensions to Sacramento are not included in the project’s first phase– It’s not too early to discuss the benefits that the eventual high-speed line will bring to smaller cities in the Central Valley. Continue reading
Growing up, I was fortunate to live close enough to my elementary school in Stockton that I could walk or bike everyday. Once I was old enough, I made the daily half-mile trek from my home near Kelly Drive, over Mosher Slough to Wagner Holt. Today, a half mile is nothing, but back then, it seemed like the longest bike ride ever. But according to new research, this daily pilgrimage to and from elementary school not only spared my family the trouble of shuttling me to school everyday, it may have helped me become a better student. Continue reading
One year ago, on March 14, 2012, I posted my very first article on SCL: a story on Stockton’s population shift over the past ten years. I am pretty sure no one read it, but I appreciated having an outlet to write about issues facing Stockton that I felt were important. SCL was started with the modest hope that maybe a handful of people would be interested in what I had to say. One year later, I am happy to report that I have met this goal and then some as I have been fortunate enough to publish nearly 80 articles reaching thousands of people. Not only have I been able to share my ideas with everyday Stocktonians, SCL has afforded me the opportunity to speak with many community stakeholders– such as elected officials, non profits and developers– to discuss the future of Stockton. So on SCL’s first birthday, I would like to say thanks to the people of Stockton for considering my viewpoints and sharing my ideas.
A few weeks ago, Christina Frankel– the local architect spearheading the effort to restore the Commercial Building in Downtown Stockton– wrote an article in the Tracy Press discussing the website Walkscore. She described how the site ranks the “walkability” of certain cities and neighborhoods based on proximity to various amenities such as parks, schools, and businesses. Frankel concludes that communities with high walk scores allow residents to rely less on automobiles, resulting in improved health and a cleaner environment.
While Frankel’s column was a simple call for the inclusion of more walkable growth patterns, the comments section of the article would imply that Frankel suggested that Tracy petition for the new capitol of communist Russia. Several commenters insinuated that Frankel was in cahoots with the United Nations, secretly planning to rob citizens of their private property, condemning all Tracy-ites to cramped Soviet-style housing with two million other people. One reader even went so far as to compare Frankel’s words to Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. All of this admonishment for making the simple argument that walking makes the air a little cleaner and our waists a little smaller. This hardly seems the stuff of Marx or Stalin. Continue reading
Last September, SCL profiled architect Christina Frankel’s effort to spruce up the derelict Commercial Building downtown. When last visited, the building was in pretty bad shape: leaky roof, piles of debris, unsecure entryways, and graffiti. Today, the building looks a lot better as Frankel, the city and the Downtown Stockton Alliance worked together to patch up the historic hotel in hopes of eliminating blight and opening up the possibility of full rehabilitation down the road. Continue reading
Entering the University Plaza Waterfront Hotel on a Friday evening, it’s hard to imagine that this downtown project was once considered a flop. A steady stream of residents and hotel guests trickle in and out of the building while throngs of Thunder fans enjoy a pre-game meal in the hotel’s restaurant and bar. It is among this lively setting where Preet Kaur greets me, an hour and a half after our initial interview time.
“Thank you for being so patient, we had five leasing appointments today,” says Kaur, the hotel’s leasing agent. “It’s been a bit hectic.”
Kaur is very busy these days showing units and securing residents for Stockton’s only real downtown housing option, even though most people are unaware that any option exists at all. Continue reading
Traveling down Miner Avenue is not a particularly pleasant experience. Used car dealerships, vacant storefronts and auto repair shops dot the landscape amongst an expanse of empty lots. But despite its rough appearance, this once-thriving avenue is gearing up for a comeback; the city is pursuing a major overhaul of Miner Avenue that will facilitate development along the moribund corridor. With any luck, Miner Avenue could become Stockton’s most vibrant street.
Last December, the city put out a Request for Information (RFI) for new office space. With the current City Hall in serious need of repairs and the Washington Mutual building on Main Street lost to foreclosure, Stockton’s leaders are looking for a new place to call home.
Since the RFI application deadline last month, the city has received multiple responses and is slated to pick a winner in the Spring. Until then, the city is keeping the proposals under wraps and most of the applicants are also playing it close to the vest. However, one group, Cort Companies, did share some info on their proposal for the city. Continue reading
Judging by the obscene amount of money being spent widening Interstate 5 and Highway 99, it would be easy to conclude that Stockton is in the grips of unbearable gridlock. However, new data from the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute suggests that Stockton area commuters actually enjoy more favorable traffic conditions than most major metro regions across the country. Continue reading
I love a good map, and last week I came across a pair of very impressive ones, each telling a different story of the state of transportation in Stockton. Continue reading
Anyone who follows this site knows that I strongly advocate for smart growth policies, infill development and walkable communities with a mixture of various residential, retail and commercial uses. However, I have noticed that while generally supportive of these concepts, many believe that no one in Stockton wants to live in these areas, or that Stocktonians only want to be secluded in their big cookie-cutter subdivisions on the outskirts of town. I have repeatedly argued against this line of thinking, and some new research has emerged to support my stances.
Yesterday, the Council of Infill Builders, a non-profit organization advocating for infill development in California cities, released a report titled “A Home for Everyone: San Joaquin Valley Housing Preferences and Opportunities to 2050.” The report finds demand for sprawl in the Central Valley has reached its peak, and the region should instead strive to accommodate rising demand for apartments, townhomes and condos in walkable areas. These findings are striking, and should give city leaders and developers alike a big wake up call regarding what valley residents want and where they want it.
Driving along Interstate 5 in Stockton is not a pleasant experience these days: the pavement is littered with potholes, heavy equipment dominates the landscape and shoulder access is restricted by concrete barriers. But many Stocktonians don’t mind the inconvenience because the $262 million lane-widening project signals progress. Likewise, Highway 99 will be upgraded and expanded for a price tag of $250.5 million. To several, these new lanes can’t come fast enough. Local rush hour traffic feels like it has reached Los Angeles or Bay Area grade levels, but once there are more lanes, traffic will disappear!
Sounds like a great plan, too bad it won’t work. Over the long term, these “congestion relief” improvements will not reduce traffic and will most likely make congestion worse for Stocktonians and visitors alike. Continue reading
Driving in downtown Stockton can be quite confusing, with its array of one-way streets. If you miss your destination, it could take a few extra blocks before you can turn around. If there aren’t many cars, it’s easy to overlook one-way signs, leading to dangerous situations. It’s so intimidating that when I was preparing to take my drivers license test years ago, I was advised by several high school friends to take it at the Lodi DMV instead, because the Stockton DMV was downtown and included confusing routes along one-way streets. I will even fully admit that as an adult, I have driven down the wrong way on a one-way street (granted, only for about two seconds). Until recently, I thought confusion and frustration were the biggest problems resulting from one-ways, but as it turns out, downtown Stockton’s one-way streets are not just good at stymying teen drivers, they could also be hampering downtown’s comeback. Continue reading
On Tuesday, I attended a panel discussion at the Center for American Progress on the use of eminent domain to stop foreclosures. This controversial program is being seriously considered by dozens of cities, including some in the Central Valley. After the panel, I was able to catch up briefly with Steven Gluckstern, Chairman of Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP)– the firm pioneering the use of eminent domain to save homes– who told me that even Stockton, with all of its bankruptcy woes, could implement this tactic. I came away from the discussion with some great insight into the benefits and dangers of using eminent domain, and in the foreclosure capital of the world, Stockton’s leaders should be willing to at least give this option a look. Continue reading
When it comes to downtown Stockton redevelopment, no one has been more successful than Dan Cort. Cort started out renovating Victorian homes in the Magnolia District and today his portfolio includes such historic downtown buildings as Cort Tower and the Kress Building. He also penned the book “Downtown Turnaround: Lessons for a New Urban Landscape,” detailing his successes in Stockton and what needs to be done to revive downtown. In addition to redevelopment, Cort advocates for smart growth policies; one of the main tenants of Stockton City Limits. In a speech at the San Joaquin TEDx event earlier this year, Cort called on Stockton to use its bankruptcy crisis to recommit to the city, not the suburbs. After many articles discussing the need to revitalize downtown, I decided it was time to talk to someone who had not only done just that, but became tremendously successful along the way.
In late December, I had the opportunity to speak with Cort about his work in Stockton, why the city is in such a financial mess and what he thinks needs to be done to revive it. We also discussed new projects coming down the pipeline, including the redevelopment of the B&M building as well as a possible partnership with UOP to bring a student program– complete with student housing– into the Elks Building downtown. Continue reading
The Los Angeles Times came out with a story this morning about a recent surge in farmland prices. According to the Times, more and more investors are swooping in and gobbling up California farmland– including in the Central Valley– Contributing to a spike in land prices. Coupled with increasing Chinese demand for American produce as well as meager returns on traditional investments such as stocks, bonds and housing, farming has become quite attractive to investors looking to park their money in more lucrative sectors. However, many are concerned that the current boom in farmland is not sustainable, and will eventually lead to a bust. Sound familiar?
Yesterday, Councilman Paul Canepa suggested that absentee landlords are the driving force behind deteriorating neighborhood conditions. And at first glance, he makes a good point.
“When you have people who don’t care about neighborhoods, they’re renting to people and they don’t see what’s going on, it’s the main root of the problem,” said Canepa, quoted by News 10.
Canepa brings up a troubling issue: if landlords don’t live in the area, they have no incentive to keep up their property or evict troublesome tenants. As a result, the surrounding neighborhood falls into disrepair, dragging already low home values down even farther. This cycle plays out all over the city as absentee owners are only interested in making money off of distressed properties, not in helping the larger community. Unfortunately, this is a very difficult issue to address, and understanding how we got to this point is the first step in devising a strategy to heal our neighborhoods.
Happy Tuesday, everyone. No new content today, though some interesting news and notes caught my attention in the last week that I think deserve some attention:
Mike Fitzgerald had a great column yesterday lamenting the fact that Stockton has turned its back on its waterfront land. I couldn’t agree more. Our geographic location on the Delta provides a tremendous opportunity to truly distinguish Stockton from other Central Valley cities. But there was one portion of the column in particular that grabbed my attention. In the article, Fitzgerald quotes a developer who explains that building on the water is risky. And he is right: developing waterfront property is tricky-if you are only building one thing. Opening restaurants is tough if no one lives in the area, and selling/renting residential property on the waterfront is a hard sell with few amenities within walking distance. It’s why the condos atop the Waterfront Hotel couldn’t sell and why retail space around the events center sits vacant. Luckily, there is a solution to this vexing conundrum hamstringing the development of our waterfront: build a mixed-use community where residential, commercial and retail uses reinforce each other and strengthen the surrounding neighborhoods. Continue reading