Forbes: Stockton most 'miserable' city

Legal News Line Feb. 11, 2009, 10:56am


STOCKTON, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Jerry Brown just might have had a chuckle over his granola this morning if he read which city earned the top pick in Forbes America's 10 most miserable cities story.

No, not Detroit, home of the troubled autoworkers and the even more troubled 0-16 Lions. No, not even his own hometown Oakland, Calif., a city whose most recent claims to fame include police killing a man face down following New Year's Eve celebrations and the outbreak of gang violence last year that even chased away the Guardian Angels and their pretty red hats.

The winner was nearby Stockton, Calif., a sprawling agricultural town roughly an hour south of Sacramento and 90 miles from San Francisco. Stockton's population exploded in recent years as families fled the high-priced cities in search of affordable homes with a yard, a fence, maybe even a dog, but a hellish commute back to work.

According to Forbes, along with the home and the dog came taxes and crime.

Stockton "ranks in the bottom in four of the nine categories we look at: commute times, income tax rates, unemployment and violent crime," according to Forbes.

To make matters worse, now those that fueled the growth are now in danger of losing those homes.

"Stockton was ground zero for the housing boom and now the subsequent bust," the Forbes article stated. "Home prices more than tripled between 1998 and 2005 and then came crashing down last year."

According to RealtyTrac, an online company that reports on foreclosure data, Stockton had the highest foreclosure rate last year at 9.5 percent, even as housing prices continue to plummet.

Forgive Brown if he's thinking "I told you so," this morning.

In 2008, Stockton's business and development leaders took Brown to task for meddling in the city's crafting of a General Plan. After working on the plan for several years, the attorney general's office got a hold of a draft prior to a vote of the City Council.

He threatened to sue the city unless it modified the plan to advance green building codes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions on all future building projects, and direct growth back into the city downtown in an effort to limit urban sprawl. Working with the attorney general's office, the city crafted a new plan that was eventually approved by the Council.

Stockton's population of nearly 300,000 could double by the year 2035, according to city officials. The revised General Plan will force some of that group back into the city's core. The new General Plan requires that 4,400 homes be built downtown, with the goal of approving construction on 3,000 of those homes by 2020.

After the winning vote, Brown said the new plan will mitigate the potential loss of one million acres of farmland, improve rapidly deteriorating air quality that has already made the area among the smoggiest in the nation and decrease dependence on foreign oil.

Brown also hailed the passage of the new plan as a model for other cities to follow in drafting General Plan's that will reduce sprawl and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Billionaire developer and Stockton resident Alex Spanos, who also owns the San Diego Chargers, launched a bid to force a referendum on the plan, though he eventually dropped the bid after negotiations and assurances from the city.

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