Tag Archives: bankruptcy

CALIFORNIA: Stockton and writing

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Stockton, California, one of my favorite towns.

I was the crime reporter there for the Stockton Record from 1988-92.

This time, I met with students at San Joaquin Delta College, the area community college, in a class taught by poet/instructor Pedro Ramirez. We were talking about writing and how they could tell their own stories — part of my Tell Your True writing workshops.

I’ll be posting some of them soon on my TYTT storytelling page.

The town has taken a lot of hits, entering bankruptcy in the wake of the housing collapse — which seemed reflected in the tales the students wrote, most of which were pretty grim.

Cops have left for departments elsewhere — Oceanside is one, I understand — when they lose their houses due to their salaries being reduced. Crime is again on a track to break records. I did notice a lot of the parolee/addict/hooker kind of folks downtown.

One of Stockton’s problems is that, by design or not, it is within a hundred miles of something like half the prisons in the state: this includes Folsom, San Quentin, Deuel, and the new prisons down by Corcoran/Delano, as well as a women’s prison and a youth-authority prison. That’s a lot.

But there’s a backbone to the town that I always liked, and a down-to-earth quality to folks that I did not feel, for example, when I moved to Seattle for my next job. (Civil folks, those Seattlites, but not at all friendly. And then there’s the rain, or should I say the constant drizzle.)

In Stockton, I note still a lack of graffiti, which is good. When I was there, it was the graffiti that most seemed to drag down the town and give it a defeated/defeatist feel.

These photos suggest the town’s stiff upper lip remains.


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Filed under California, Prison, Storytelling, Tell Your True Tale

CALIFORNIA: Sad for Stockton

Stockton has filed for bankruptcy, making it the largest city in the country to do so.

It’s a sad day. It’s one of my favorite towns, a place I spent four years (1988-92) as the crime reporter for the Stockton Record. (Here’s the Record’s story, with a photo from my former colleague, Cal Romias, a great photographer.)

I learned an enormous amount in that job, and loved the realness of the place. I covered some of the worst atrocities humans can commit and still felt that the town had a soul that others lacked. Had the paper had a different owner (Gannett Corp.) at the time, I might have stayed.

Stockton had (has) great problems as a city, but it was confronting the issues of “multiculturalism” in real ways long before other cities who talked about the topic from a distance without facing its consequences.

It had, however, an almost Third World fatalism that I always found disturbing, that later city administrations apparently tried to overcome. It’s as if people, when I was there, felt the town was doomed to fail; failure and mediocrity were expected.

Some of the attempts to revitalize the downtown were in a larger sense attempts to get the city to see what it was capable of. They just overstretched, or did it poorly, not sure which.

I wrote a story about the town for the LAT of those attempts, six years ago, which now seems way off base, laughably so, given the headlines today.

At the time, though, the city seemed to be turning a corner in many ways that I thought were profound.

It was hard not to see the downtown, with its beautiful old brick buildings, as making leaps and bounds forward from what I’d known it to be, particularly at night: a depot for parolees, junkies, winos, and hookers, which seemed to prove all that Stocktonians felt about the town.

Gleason Park — in my day the most dangerous, forbidding park in the Central Valley — was gone. So were the dive hotels on El Dorado. The change was remarkable.

The waterfront was actually being used for what it should always have been used for — people enjoying it in the evenings and weekends. The Fox Theater was renovated.

I don’t know all that’s happened since then. But the attempts to change Stockton into a town with a belief in the future, however they were executed and paid for, seemed to me girded with optimism, making the bankruptcy all the sadder

Meanwhile, for a great local perspective, particularly about the accumulation of public-employee benefits over many years, read Mike Fitzgerald’s column in the Record. Mike is a friend and ex-colleague and one of the best columnists in California today, I think.









Filed under California