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
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.
Today, the city council will discuss settling a long-standing lawsuit with developers over a provision that is intended to preserve open space and farmland within large developments. As it stands, the Agriculture Mitigation Ordinance requires developers to acquire conservation agreement for land equivalent to the size of the development for projects over 40 acres. Under 40 acres, developers can pay a fee of $10,000 per acre instead. As part of the settlement, developers would like to remove the 40 acre restriction and be able to pay the fee regardless of acreage.* The distinction won’t make much of a difference, according to sources in the Record article, but the real story here is, why is the city allowing the conversion of farmland at all? Continue reading
Recently, the US Conference of Mayors commissioned a study which included the projected growth of nearly all US metro areas by 2042, including Stockton. The report predicted that our area will surpass one million residents– 1,077,200 to be exact– in thirty years, which puts the region’s growth rate at a whopping 52.5%. Going through the data, two thoughts came to mind.
First, no place that is “miserable” would actually grow by 50% in thirty years. But more importantly, where will all these people live? Continue reading
Driving down highway 99 on a recent trip through the Central Valley, Joe Minicozzi saw a highway sign for downtown Stockton and decided to take a short detour into the city. On his way downtown by way surface streets, Minicozzi witnessed what many Stockton residents deal with on a daily basis: prostitution, homelessness, run-down buildings. Minicozzi sees these kinds of conditions in many of the communities he visits. But instead of judging Stockton based on what he observed on the ground, Minicozzi saw the city’s real potential when he looked up, where tall, historic buildings hide a potential economic boon. It’s these structures, and a return to valuing downtown development, that offer Stockton a path forward. Continue reading
For years, Stockton has expanded outward, banking on the proliferation of single family homes and strip malls to keep the city’s coffers full. Last week, city leaders filed for chapter 9, making clear that this economic development strategy is no longer viable. Rather than a continued focus on expanding the city’s footprint, it actually makes more economic sense to focus on infill development. Building densely and reutilizing older buildings in downtown neighborhoods has provided other cities with a tremendous economic advantage outweighing the purported benefits of monstrous shopping centers and subdivisions. I have written before about cities on the East Coast that have reaped the windfalls of prioritizing downtown development, but can such a strategy work in the Central Valley, where sprawl has reigned supreme for 50 years?
Apparently, the answer is yes.
By the end of this week, Stockton will have formally declared for chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in what will go down as possibly the most infamous day in the 162 year history of the city. No matter your stance on the issue, bankruptcy is now a foregone conclusion. The real question now is how will Stockton use this opportunity to reshape the city.
For the past 20 years, growth on the city’s northern border has been generally defined by one company: AG Spanos. With its low-density approach, incorporating winding streets with gated communities and no retail– except, of course, for the mega mall that is Park West Place– Spanos’ developments in North Stockton serve as the antithesis to smart, sustainable growth. In the thousands of acres developed north of Bear Creek, there is not one laundromat or grocery store within the sea of single family housing, and there are maybe three restaurants, all located at Park West Place, that are not chains or fast food spots. In Spanos’ neighborhoods, the car has always been the undisputed king of the landscape.
But has Spanos started to change its ways?
Back in 1972, Stockton was the backdrop for “Fat City,” a classic boxing movie. As it turns out, that movie title could just as easily refer to the city’s development pattern which has unknowingly contributed to Stockton’s obesity problem for the last 50 years. Continue reading
As most people who grew up in Stockton in the last 30 years know, you have to drive to get anywhere. Haircut. Dentist appointment. Ice cream. Bank deposit. You name it, you are driving there. As it turns out, this car-first attitude could have a detrimental effect on how children growing up in Stockton feel about their communities.
New research indicates that kids who grow up being driven everywhere show a greater dissatisfaction with their surroundings than children in areas with infrastructure and neighborhood patterns that allow for more walking/biking. Even more alarming, kids in car-dependent areas exhibited weaker ties to their communities. In Stockton, these findings imply that our pattern of growth over the last three decades has inadvertently fostered a disconnect between the city and its residents.