Let’s stop comparing Stockton to Lathrop, Manteca, or Tracy

Last week, the City Council passed the “Stockton Economic Stimulus Plan,” reducing Public Facility Fees for homebuilders throughout the city. Depending on your point of view, this temporary reduction is either a job creator that will jump start the city’s stagnant construction sector, or a giveaway to single family home builders who will surely only construct homes outside of the price range of the average Stocktonian.

But I’m not writing to critique this policy. Instead, what strikes me about the debate on fee reductions that has unfolded over the last several months is the narrative that we need to act now because Stockton is falling behind neighboring cities. Proponents of the fee reduction and council members themselves routinely argue that we need to “do something” because homes are being built in Lathrop, Manteca and other cities in our county. Without action, Stockton is missing out on building homes. While this may or may not be true, not once during this debate did anyone ask the most important question: Do we want to be like Manteca, Lathrop, or Tracy?

I argue emphatically that we do not. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to our neighbors. Stockton is not Lathrop, or Manteca, or Tracy, and we should not strive to be. These cities, at best, are bedroom communities for the Bay Area, devoid of true character and lacking authenticity as they have decided their best option is to grow continuously outward. Stockton, on the other hand, is a real city—for better or worse—with culture, history and diversity, which we should embrace.

For Stockton to realize its true potential, we must lean on what makes us unique: Our historic homes, walkable neighborhoods and underappreciated waterfront. No other community in San Joaquin County can boast these same characteristics. The homes currently under construction in neighboring cities are largely indistinguishable from any other form of housing built en masse over the past 25 years. On the other hand, Stockton has historic districts, with homes and buildings dating back to the 1800s. We can build all of the suburban housing we want, but it’s these historic neighborhoods and areas that people must embrace for Stockton to separate itself from the rest of San Joaquin County.

The cynics will cry that these “historic” area’s issues with crime, homelessness and blight are insurmountable and really our best hope is simply to forget about these neighborhoods and build new communities on the fringes. This viewpoint is incorrect and indicative of the defeatist attitude that keeps Stockton down. I’ve personally lived in multiple neighborhoods in other cities that were more crime ridden than any in Stockton, but have found new life with the nation-wide trend of people and businesses moving back into city cores. In all other cities, historic neighborhoods are the most cherished, there is no reason why Stockton cannot embrace this same principle, and indeed we are already seeing an increased interest in these areas, specifically in downtown.

It’s good to know that there is a healthy dialogue around land use policy in Stockton. Let’s continue to figure out the best way forward to make our city the best it can be. But let’s not compare ourselves to smaller commuter towns. We should have higher standards and aspirations than to simply build suburban homes for Bay Area workers.

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Categories: Community Commentary

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

7 Comments on “Let’s stop comparing Stockton to Lathrop, Manteca, or Tracy”

  1. Bill Fuhs
    November 25, 2015 at 9:54 am #

    I think comparisons are good. But we should be comparing Stockton to Davis and/or Palo Alto. It is surprising what a building moratorium, and a green belt can do.

  2. Ned Leiba
    November 25, 2015 at 10:22 am #

    Hello David,

    I entirely agree with you about the incomparability, for many purposes, of Stockton with other cities.

    While my loyalty and sentiment are fused to Stockton, I would be a little cautious in expressing pejoratives about those other noble cities: Lathrop, Manteca or Tracy. They are not “…devoid of true character and lacking authenticity….”

    My worry: it is rational to have an “economic stimulus plan” and use adjustment to various fees for that purpose? A perfectly unbiased, public finance economist would say, the fees should be set to cover incremental public costs. The fees should compensate for the externalities of construction. Where is that computation done and debated in all of this process?

    Instead, the fees both flowing to the general fund and the restricted PFF seemed to be counted on as revenue sources for the City, period. I do not see in any of the discussion a focus on fee setting that is based on compensating and mitigating externalities.

    And of course, we have no recent financial reports – not for the general fund or the PFF. Without reliable, current financial information, no rational analysis can be undertaken.

    So yes, Stockton is unique and grand and I live in an historic district and walk downtown to my office, for all the reasons you recite. But the fees should be set by rational analysis. It is unchained sentiment that gets us into trouble.

  3. Jon Seisa
    November 25, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Very good, David. Indeed, Stockton’s historical novelty and unique one-of-a-kind features should be punctuated and highlighted with great pride. And furthermore, if any comparison is to be done, why not compare Stockton to cities that Stockton should be aspiring UP to? It helps to have a mentor or big sister city for inspiration. That will produce much more desired and positive results, rather than as you so poignantly conveyed, ” But let’s not compare ourselves to smaller commuter towns. We should have higher standards and aspirations than to simply build suburban homes for Bay Area workers.”

  4. Aneesa
    November 25, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    I understand your view point, but no need to speak so negatively about surrounding cities. Yes cities like lathrop and Manteca are much more populated by commuting residence but the statement that they are void of character, culture and history is not true. At the end of the day we are united as one region. Let’s do our best to help every city live and develop to it’s full potential!

  5. Fred Sheil
    November 25, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

    Very well said. Do you know what I like about Manteca? Nothing. Or Lathrop? Nothing. I am not putting those places down. They are just not for me. Stockton, for all my bitching about it, is for me, with all its ills. So let’s love it, and fix it. Not make it a cookie cutter version of suburban american that I have grown to loathe.

  6. Monty Gardea
    December 21, 2016 at 4:00 am #

    More cops less blight! More Art less homelessness! More small businesses less
    Chains! Then the city will will blossom like a flower it already is. I agree with you.


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