As you’ve probably heard by now, a handful of individuals are making a push for the Weston Ranch neighborhood to formally leave the city of Stockton. As reported by The Record and other local media outlets, some citizens of this South Stockton neighborhood are unhappy with what they are perceiving as a lack of attention from the city in regards to police resources, maintanence and economic development. But aside from the posturing and the process of actually disincorporating a neighborhood from a city lies a deeper issue—why would the city allow a neighborhood to be built where people don’t even feel like they are part of Stockton?
At first blush, this proposal to split Weston Ranch from Stockton seems pretty foolish and could be easily dismissed. This push is being organized in part by Dale Fritchen, the former Stockton city council member who lost his seat only two years ago. This new bid to sever an area of a city that he once represented smacks of hypocrisy. How can someone who once represented the people of Stockton now claim his nieghborhood would be better off leaving Stockton? That’s like a Senator losing reelection, and then starting a movement for his or her state to leave the United States. From that angle, this seems like nothing more than a desparate move from a bitter politician (perhaps so he can run for mayor of Weston Ranch?).
But ultimately, whether or not Weston Ranch moves forward with disincorpration lies with its citizens, and that is where the discussion merrits more attention.
I expected those who I knew in Weston Ranch to quickly dismiss this movement—if you can call it that. The vast majority of people I meet and speak with are proud Stocktonians and would scoff at this kind of proposal, so why would Weston Ranchers be any different? But I was wrong. While I didn’t conduct any sort of comprehensive poll, the individuals I spoke to were open to hearing arguments about leaving Stockton. One resident even referred to herself as “passionately neutral” on the topic. The Weston Ranch Community Association is also not taking a position on this issue. So, no one was running for the exits, but the fact that people are willing to listen to arguments about disincorporation is a HUGE reflection on the city. Basically, they feel no connection to the city, so if these residents stand to gain with better public services from the county, why would they want to stay in Stockton?
In the end, the city hasn’t given the residents of Weston Ranch a reason to be proud to be a part of Stockton. The neighborhood itself is a model of suburban sprawl, a virtual island completely closed off from the rest of Stockton. There are no defining features of this area that make it much different than any other suburban part of the city. The neighborhood lacks most amenities and is devoid of any sort of character or charm and as a result, there is little emotional connection. Weston Ranch has a Walkscore of 11 out of 100, tying with Spanos Park East as the least walkable neighborhood in Stockton. The shrotcomings of Weston Ranch were even highlighted in the recent book “Happy City,” which explores what makes neighborhoods and cities good places to live (spoiler alert, Weston Ranch was heald up as an example of how to NOT make a neighborhood).
This is the city’s fault. The city allowed a terribly planned neighborhood with no walkability or connectivity to be built. Couple that with the devastating effects of the foreclosure crisis, and it’s no wonder residents are open to hearing about disincorporation.
And if the residents of Weston Ranch are marooned in their own neighborhood, why would they care if they were no longer a part of Stockton? In fact, many residents in West Ranch spend the majority of their time commutting back and forth from the Bay Area, so there’s virtually no time to build a connection to the city you live in, especially if your home doesn’t feel like a part of any city in particular.
Ultimately, I hope the resident’s of Weston Ranch will vote against disincorporation—if it even gets that far. It would be a huge embarassment to see an entire neighborhood of around 20,000 suddenly disappear into the county. National media would surely descend upon Stockton, dogpilling on a negative story about one of the country’s most downtrodden cities. But mostly, it would be sad to see these residents so fed up with their city that they decide they no longer want to be called Stocktonians.