The Problem with Stockton

Stockton, California's City Hall, May 13, 2014. REUTERS/

Stockton, California’s City Hall, May 13, 2014. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

WC was born in Stockton, California. The family moved away when WC was four years old, and hasn’t been back for longer than a few months since. In fact, WC hasn’t set foot in the town since 1975.

But your hometown, the place, you were born, never changes. And WC has followed the fortunes and misfortunes of his birthplace with some concern.

It may have been karma, given the nature of WC’s law practice the last ten years, but Stockton filed a municipal bankruptcy – a Chapter 9 case, in bankruptcy parlance – when gross mismanagement, bad investments, over-generous pension plans and truly horrific accounting drove the city broke. In 2012, it began a long struggle to reorganize its debts, a process that only concluded early this year. The City Manager announced in 2015:

We emerge from bankruptcy a renewed city, perhaps better prepared for our future than any other city in the State, with a new value system, a thorough understanding of our operations and finances, and the tools to maintain solvency and adjust to economic conditions for decades into the future.

California’s big successes have passed the San Joaquin Valley behind, and California’s extended drought has only made it worse. Stockton will need that “new value system” to navigate its way to something like fiscal health any time soon.

Which make you wonder about City of Stockton v. Mariza Ruelas.

Mariza sold ceviche – $12.00 worth of ceviche – out of her home, marketing through Facebook. She was one of the targets of a sting operation by the City and San Joaquin County. She didn’t have all of the licenses the law requires. Now she is gong to trial for a misdemeanor count for operating a food facility without a valid permit and engaging in business without a permit to sell. She didn’t receive any prior warning from the the City or the County.

Sure, sale of bad food is a health risk. But anyone buying food on Facebook shouldn’t have illusions about guaranteed sanitation.

Really, it’s a question of allocation of resources. According to the FBI, Stockton, a city of about 300,000 people approximately 80 miles east of San Francisco, has one of the highest rates of violent crime in California. And Mariza Ruelas sold $12 of her home-made ceviche without a license. Which might better deserve Stockton’s very limited law enforcement resources? What happened to that “new value system”?

So far as WC knows, the City is still sending a tow truck out on fire calls to haul the ancient, worn-out equipment back when it breaks down in mid-response. As District Attorney Kelly McDaniel said, “Trials are expensive.” Maybe those expenses could be better spent on a slightly more serious crime?

When people ask WC where he is from, he answers, “California.” If they ask where in California, “he says, “The San Joaquin Valley.” If the inquisitor tries to pin WC down, WC always says, “Stockton; it’s a great place to be from.”

It’s still true.



One thought on “The Problem with Stockton

  1. Stockton’s claim to fame is its museum that owns some of the best and largest Albert Bierstadt paintings of the Sierras. They are truly beyond incredible.

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