Steve Chase has big vision for Downtown Stockton

Steve Chase likes to emphasize that he did not come to Stockton to push papers. As Stockton’s latest Community Development Director, Chase plays an integral role in shaping the city’s growth as it emerges from economic tribulation. According to Chase, who’s been on the job for just over one year, Stockton has all of the pieces to come back much stronger than it was before.

“I am amazed at Stockton’s economic drivers,” says Chase, who has over 30 years’ experience in community building. “The port, trade, universities, a diverse workforce of white and blue collar workers. We got it all. It’s why I was attracted to Stockton.” 

Chase appears to be the right person to transform the city’s business-as-usual approach to community development—especially for downtown.  Previous efforts to rejuvenate Stockton’s core have languished under past directors, despite the area’s waterfront location, historic buildings and business core. Chase  understands what needs to be done and is wasting no time making it happen.

Community Development Director Steve Chase has big plans for Downtown Stockton

Towns and gowns 

“In a normative world, this might take 15 to 20 years,” says Chase in regards to the time needed for downtown revitalization in most cities. “In reality, I see this happening in three to five years. And I am dead serious.”

Chase envisions a downtown that is alive with activity both day and night, with Stocktonians living in the same neighborhood as they work. Bars, restaurants, cultural activities and academic institutions will create an intricate urban fabric, attracting an educated workforce– and the businesses that covet them. To Chase, the ingredients to foster this vision already exist.

“Downtown Stockton has great bones,” says Chase, “These buildings are built to last hundreds of years. It’s gritty. All the elements are here.”

The linchpin of Chase’s plan for Stockton involves collaboration with the area’s academic institutions. Specifically, Chase envisions something he calls a “living center for urbanism and design” where students from Pacific, CSU Stanislaus and even UC Davis will live downtown to study urban design. This “towns and gowns” approach is the key to downtown’s rebirth as graduate students demand the types of goods and services that the area currently lacks.

Burns Tower on the campus of UOP

Chase believes collaboration with academic institutions– such as UOP– is key to downtown revitalization

Thinking outside the box 

To make this vision a reality in such a short timeframe, Chase is thinking creatively. Instead of revamping codes, developing master plans and consulting experts—an arduous process that can take years– Chase is working within the city’s existing framework to provide flexibility for would-be downtown investors. For example, changes to floor area ratios and minimum parking requirements could help spur mixed-use development. Chase even mused that certain streets could be eliminated to allow for more developable land, adding value to potential projects.

“My job is to remove the traditional 1970s planning standards so that we aren’t constricted by things like setbacks or lot coverage,” says Chase. “I am not interested in taking three years to put together a whole form-based code. What we can do is reinterpret what we already have on a project-by-project basis to eliminate as many obstacles as possible. As the Community Development Director, I have the authority to do this.”

Codes designed for suburban subdivisions make infill expensive and risky, but cities that work with developers rather than simply enforcing outdated ordinances can make a big difference. To this end, Chase is currently making the rounds with various developers to figure out how he can use his authority to circumvent the city’s cumbersome bureaucracy for the good of downtown.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air,” says Dan Cort, President of Cort Companies, which is hoping to turn the Elks Building into student housing for UOP students. “Steve has been a tremendous asset. He really believes in downtown and what we are trying to do. It’s great to have the city working with developers instead of making it their mission to make our jobs as difficult as possible.”

This kind of creativity and willingness to collaborate with developers, academic institutions and other government agencies is a welcome change in Stockton. Chase notes that before he came to town, each of these stakeholders operated within their own respective networks, independent of each other’s actions.  To reverse the city’s trajectory, Chase hopes to bring these parties together to work towards a common goal.


Chase believes Downtown Stockton can be transformed in just three to five years

Working with green-field developers

Of course, a city must manage all development, not just downtown and infill. Over the past 60 years, Stockton’s growth has almost exclusively occurred on the edges of the city. What happens when traditional developers want to restart their march on farmland, extending city limits?

“That is a non-starter for me,” says Chase. “I am not interested in extending the city’s existing boundaries.”

On the other hand, Chase feels that green-field developers, such as Grupe and Spanos, can be instrumental in downtown redevelopment. While these companies don’t have the expertise or know-how to develop on smaller parcels of land, they do have tremendous buying power than can be leveraged for downtown projects. Chase envisions a sort of cap and trade arrangement where in return for single-family housing projects, large developers are asked to use their economies of scale to bring down the costs of downtown development by purchasing fixtures or hardware items in bulk.

In the end, downtown should be the priority for any city. In Stockton, Chase notes that everyone he talks to feels strongly about seeing the neighborhood succeed.

“Everyone already has an ownership of downtown,” says Chase. “The attraction is already there, now we just have to make it a reality.”

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Categories: SCL Exclusives

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

15 Comments on “Steve Chase has big vision for Downtown Stockton”

  1. September 17, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    How does police staffing, and crime rates fit into the equation?

  2. September 17, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    My idea would be recreate the French Quarter in downtown Stockton. Bars and parties will attract tourist.

  3. September 17, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Unless I’m mistaken, current city codes actually prohibit mixed-use in many of the Downtown buildings. There’s a huge step 1 right there.
    I’ve gotten to see Mr. Chase speak previously, and he seems like a breath of fresh air. Looking forward to seeing what he’s able to accomplish.

  4. Josh Pollock
    September 17, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    Not sure what crime rates have to do with downtown. I walk downtown every day during the school year, and we constantly walk down there to eat or go to the movies, I’ve never been a victim of crime downtown.

  5. Jon Seisa
    September 17, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    David, this is such a relief to hear. What a great advocate Stockton has in Chase to champion the city core’s reinvention and re-vitality, and cut throw the bureaucratic nonsense with pragmatic laser precision.

    I agree with Chase (and you) regarding how Stockton possesses key amenities and “great bones” to punctuate and build upon, taking it to the next level, and the best way is through joint-optimizing collaboration, not business as usual via the archaic “Us vs. Them Mentality”.

    How many CA cities have a massive shipping and industrial port, a downtown commercial waterfront, a private prestigious university, state university and other colleges, logistically located as a major transportation hub, are poised to enter the biomedical and healthcare frontier in a big way, are festooned with marvelous historical structures, a rich history, and sits directly on the very threshold of the entire California Delta aquatic recreational haven as the “Delta Gateway”? Yes, not many.

    It is these novel attributes that are Stockton’s strengths and must be brought to the forefront and capitalized upon through creative vision for the benefit of the whole, turning the city around economically and enhancing its sense of place and municipal identity as a unique and noteworthy destination for engagement, to live, work, learn and play.

  6. Jon Seisa
    September 17, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    In regards to the police staffing and crime rate question… once the design enhancements, infill and development increase and expand commercial, business, corporate, retail, entertainment, institute, cultural arts and residential presence and facilitates more activity, this in turn will generate a stronger revenue tax base for the city, and then more funds will be allotted to city services, police protection, fire and emergency services, thus reducing crime levels and improving community security.

  7. September 17, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    I hope he takes the time to develop a forms based code and a master plan, if only to back stop his efforts, because if he leaves, there is nothing that prevents his successor from strictly enforcing the current building code, and going back to the “Old” ways. Not to mention it could open the city to lawsuits, since they aren’t following their own codes and master plan, slowing or stopping his efforts,

    As for public safety, continuing to grow outwards actually decreases and strains public safety , as well as other other city services, by spreading them thinner. As Jon Siesa points out in his comments, as the transformation takes place, crime will drop and public safety will increase. Most times, that happens without a corresponding increase in service levels in an area, since the criminal element is forced out, and the buildings are maintained and brought up to current safety codes (hopefully). Transformation can in fact result in lowered public safety requirements.

    Now if we can get the city prioritize small business, we may have the ability to build a strong economic foundation that will help Stockton weather ups and downs in the economy. Gee there is a thought, Stockton as strong, resilient
    city that capitalizes on our diversities, strengths, and passion. Now to get rid of the Stroads……

    • David Garcia
      September 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      I neglected to mention this in the article, but Chase did say that he knows at some point the codes will need to be officially updated, and he expects that he will do just that. But he also stressed the importance of jump starting development now, not in five years.

      On another note, yes, stroads are a problem all over the city. But at least attempts at road diets downtown should make for better pedestrian experiences in the near future (e.g. weber and miner ave streetscapes).

  8. September 17, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    I found it very refreshing to hear positive visions of Stockton’s future being articulated.

  9. Jon Seisa
    September 17, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    Besides Chase’s great idea to cross-optimize and engage academic institutes and grad students specifically in experiential urban design (“towns and gowns”), I see another area where this same strategy can also be applied to help generate diversified strength:

    Proposal: “UC DAVIS-DAMERON BIOMEDICAL INSTITUTE OF STOCKTON” – Last year the Dameron Hospital Foundation established a mutual affiliation relationship with UC Davis Medical Center (approved 11/15/12, Dameron Davis Management Company, a limited liability company [LLC]), and I can certainly see the opportunity here for the future expansion of thIS relationship via collaboration with the UC Davis School of Medicine and under the auspices of the University of California Regents into a new strategic satellite regional full fledge medical campus and joint-venture biomedical institute of higher learning for the city of Stockton and San Joaquin County.

    This could help facilitate the areas new emergent biomedical research and bio-med research development industry in the San Joaquin Valley, and perhaps can be aimed at a critical medical focus like cancer, pathological, biochemistry, bioengineering or cardiovascular research. It could tap into the “economies of scale” granted by a UC Davis-Dameron reciprocating relationship and also establish a mutual curriculum exchange program with the UC Davis School of Medicine, their physician facualty and med students of both institutes.

    It could groom a highly educated local medical workforce, having higher disposable income that will trickle down into the larger community through indirect economic conduits, services, and businesses, while also attracting other medical professionals, medical research firms, labs, and support medical and pharmaceutical vendors to Stockton.

    I can certainly see something like this as an urban-oriented campus institute in or around the vicinity of Downtown Stockton, or strategically adjacent Dameron Hospital designed via a long term strategic urban redevelopment master plan that will greatly enhance the vicinity, and bring additive activity to Stockton’s urban core.


    “UC Davis, Stockton’s Dameron Hospital affiliation gets committee approval”:

    “UC Davis Medical Center and Dameron Hospital form joint venture”:

    “Dameron, UC-Davis Affiliation ‘Good News,’ Editorial Says”:

  10. L.W.G.
    September 18, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Just want to say that you are doing a real service to Stockton’s Renaissance by covering positive, detailed, encouraging stories like this.

  11. Jon Seisa
    September 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Regarding the first comment/question by John Hopgher on police and crime, the following is certainly encouraging news for Stockton that developed in July…

    Stockton Reaches ‘Magic’ Number of Police Officers:

  12. Jon Seisa
    September 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    This incredible advising service site, Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC), is such an enormous resource for practical yet high-intensity ideas to transform and improve a city’s economic urban core and urban economic development through economies of scale and collaboration. Basically, ICIC has identified a tertiary stratagem of best practices that features comprehensive aid take-way implementation tools, joint-optimizing cluster-led strategies, case study samples, network accessing and leveraging, and powerful success drivers that will help lead a city towards economic and business renaissance, growth and job creation. Since 1994, ICIC has examined 100 U.S. Metros and engaged with 20 inner cities in the development of these strategies. The primary categories are…

    1. Utilize a cluster-led approach to identify market opportunities and focus business attraction and retention efforts.

    2. Promote and leverage anchor institutions as key economic and community drivers.

    3. Accelerate inner city business development by improving access to capital, providing business and management education for business owners and connecting businesses to procurement and supply chain networks.



  1. Record Metro Columnist Michael Fitzgerald's Blog - September 17, 2013

    […] The days when city officials meekly subordinated themselves to developers on land-use policy appear to be over. The days when the city channels development for the good of all appear to be beginning. A must read here. […]

  2. Why are Stockton’s parking lots so big and empty? | Stockton City Limits - December 31, 2013

    […] Stockton appears to be wising up to the follies of poor planning. Planning Commissioner Steve Chase frequently discusses the need for Stockton to grow inward. A new sprawling subdivision was voted […]

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