Another great (but tragic) Valley mayor

 

Kevin Johnson

We’ve been talking about what Valley mayors can be.

In today’s SacBee, Marcos Breton grapples with the complicated legacy of Mayor Kevin Johnson. “He once told me what he wanted most of all was for Sacramento to be a cool place. You know what? It is now … ”

Yes, Johnston infused the office with youth, star power and optimism. He kept the Kings in Sacramento. He led the drive for a new arena.

“A new downtown is taking shape,” Breton writes. “The downtown railyard is poised for development. A culture of restaurants, art galleries and craft beer breweries has gained traction, as has a nascent tech community.”

“He changed the mindset of Sacramento,” said Scott Syphax … “His major accomplishment is that he changed Sacramento from a ‘can’t-do’ community to a ‘can-do’ community.”

Yet Johnston’s political career was wrecked by allegations he molested a teenage girl in 1995 while still in the NBA.

There are only a couple parallels between Johnson and Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva. Both came from the wrong side of the tracks. Both were undone by personal foibles.

Perhaps there is another parallel: Johnson entered public life with a big skeleton in his closet. I believe the same to be true of Silva, though his troubles with the legal system have not materialized to the extent I expected. In Johnson’s case, he may have taken the risk out of a sense of NBA star privilege, that he was just too powerful, that his lawyers has his past sewed up. Silva may have banked on the failure of Stockton’s institutions to properly police his errant behavior.

But all that’s beside the point. Johnson supercharged Sacramento with urban vitality and reinvention, even more than the talented Mayor Ashley Swearengin did in Fresno. And in between those two cities sits a unique Delta city brimming with unrealized potential and high hopes for its mayor elect.

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How not to go bankrupt

San Bernardino held a night of remembrance Dec. 2 in honor of the victims of the Dec. 2, 2015, terror attack that left 14 dead and 22 wounded. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The city goes bankrupt. The city “preserves preserves pension benefits for employees and retirees, though employees will have to contribute more to their pension plans and benefits were modified for new employees.”

Retirees  lose some health benefits. “Meanwhile, some bondholders and unsecured creditors will be paid only 1% of what they were owed.”

Sound familiar? It’s not Stockton. It’s San Bernardino. The SoCal city went bankrupt around the same time. But it spent over a year longer in bankruptcy, and is only just emerging, because public employee reps were so deeply entrenched on the council that reform was hard to achieve. Those guys argued over free latte at the snack bar as the Titanic went down.

Here, the Fire Department’s excessive privileges and deal sweeteners were revoked when strong leaders trimmed their budget, eliminated perks and when voters eliminated pricey over-staffing by approving Measure H. San Berdoo literaly had to lay off its entire unmanageable Fire Department and outsource fire protection to the county. Plus voters there may not approve service-restoring tax increases as voters here have done.

Which is to say, Stockton was inept in the run-up to bankruptcy but competent in crisis. San Bernardino was a Punch and Judy show every step of the way. Imagine if we’d been in bankruptcy all this time. I guess we should thank God for small favors.

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The flying actor contraption

It’s called the Track on Track system, and it was invented by Peter Foy in 1962.

Here’s a diagram and explanation.

Here’s the result.

Lydia Kaye commutes during Stockton Civic Theatre's production of "Mary Poppins." Photo: Clifford Oto.

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Stockton: most un-recovered housing market

HSH.com analyzed the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Home Price Index.

 

Most recovered metro areas Percent above “boom-era “ peak
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO 58.18%
Austin-Round Rock, TX 53.52%
Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX (MSAD) 46.60%
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX 44.49%
Fort Worth-Arlington, TX (MSAD) 36.81%

 

Areas with largest recovery gaps Home price gains Percent needed to regain peak
Bakersfield, CA 48.89% 43.93%
Las Vegas – Henderson – Paradise, NV 88.07% 41.11%
Stockton – Lodi, CA 82.91% 39.08%
Cape Coral – Fort Myers, FL 77.51% 35.09%
Fresno, CA 47.48% 34.43%

How much homes were overvalued in our city during the housing boom is not factored in. I, for instance, don’t expect my home to be worth $500,000 as it briefly — absurdly — was at the peak. Still, imagine the the city’s fiscal health if property taxes were raking in an additional 39%.

See the full list of 100 metro areas 

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The Republicans come for the Delta

 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. says alternatives to the bill, weakening Delta species protections, will be worse in a Repblican-controlled congress.

They didn’t waste much time.

A Republican rider on a water projects bill “undermines both state and federal environmental protections for the Delta ecosystem,” House Democrats say.

“The House Democrats, though, have little ability to stop the bill,” reports McLatchy.

The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act is likely to pass, though the “poison pill” inserted by South-Valley Republicans has caused a rare public split between Barbara Boxer, who opposes it, and Dianne Feinstein, who helped negotiate it — but who always gives too much weight to south-Valley Big Ag.

The country has been turned over to ecologicllay reckless leaders who see Nature as “resources” and who see the altogether insufficient regulations slowing the march to extinction of Delta species as anti-farming.

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If Modesto can do it …

“San Diego (see item, below) is not alone,” writes Larry Parlin.

The City of Modesto, to has a city service app: GoModesto!

Says the city website, “This intuitive, on-the-go reporting tool provides quick, easy access to online systems in twenty two languages and helps residents instantly submit service requests to the appropriate department. With one click, report street flooding, fallen limbs, street light outages, illegal dumping, tagging, vandalism, even broken playground equipment in parks.

“GIS mapping on photo submissions shows staff exactly where the service request is needed for quick and efficient resolution, and helps understand customer needs. The app even notifies you once the job is done!”

And Stockton can’t do this why?

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What a Valley mayor can do

Ashley Swearengin

The Fresno Bee sums up the successful 8-year tenure of Mayor Ashley Swearengin: she turned around a city on the precipice of bankruptcy, kick-started downtown revival, weaned Fresno from excessive groundwater dependence, beefed up mass transit and synched it with an infill-oriented General Plan.

Not bad at all.

Fresno was on the same spiral towards Chapter 9 Stockton was, for the same hauntingly familiar reasons. “Fresno was $36 million in the hole and the general fund reserve was down to $1 million, The Bee reports.” And what Swearengin did is what  Stockton mayors Ed Chavez or Ann Johnston could and should have done. Had they not lacked the acumen and the gumption.

Swearengin didn’t just put out fires. She broke the paradigm of Fresno’s rampant sprawl. No leader here did that; the Sierra Club had to sue the city out of its bad planning. Private sector leaders such as Ten Space had to provide the vision for a revived downtown.

The one-word moral of the story is leadership. For far too long holding a top slot in Stockton meant acceding to a substandard status quo. Ours is a culture of settling for dismal. You can tell a real leader because they don’t. If we don’t get real leaders like Swearengin it is because voters fail to demand them.

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A good government app

A story in today’s New York Times profiles an app I’d love to see Stockton government develop.

Here’s the story.

See a pothole in San Diego? There’s an app for that.

Over the summer, the city introduced “Get it Done San Diego,” an app and companion website that allows residents to report problems along the streets and sidewalks using their smartphones.

After six months of operation, we checked in with city officials to see how it’s going.Almis Udrys, San Diego’s director of performance and analytics, said the app had been downloaded roughly 9,500 times and was used to send more than 38,500 reports to the city.

A screenshot of the “Get It Done San Diego” iPhone app.
A screenshot of the “Get It Done San Diego” iPhone app.

Courtesy of City of San DiegoAbout half of those reports have been resolved, either fixed or determined to be a nonissue, he said. The rest were referred to other agencies, like a utility company, or remain open.

The most common complaint? Graffiti, followed by potholes and broken streetlights.

According to Mr. Udrys, the fix time has averaged around 10 days, but longer in the case of a big repair like a bent traffic light pole.

There are still kinks to work out. Some app users have expressed frustration after reporting problems that fall under the responsibility of other agencies — for example, a bridge managed by Caltrans.

The city refers those reports to the agencies, but whether they get addressed is anyone’s guess, some users said.

What’s more, for residents uninterested in downloading yet another app, San Diego does not offer the convenient 311 phone reporting system used in other cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Mr. Udrys said San Diego hoped to introduce one in the “next few years.”Reviews of the “Get it Done” app in the iPhone store and Android website, as well as in a recent discussion on Reddit, the online forum, have been generally positive.

Karl Decker, 38, said he used the app to report a curb that needed a fresh coat of red paint outside his house. Workers took care of it in less than a week.

“I was just really, really impressed,” he said.

Of course — sigh — San Diego is wealthy and staffed up. Stockton government would probably not be able to dispatch workers at an equally timely rate. Still, what a great outreach by City Hall.

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Shut up, kid, ya bother me

The latest local rock art:

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Letter of the day

James Marsh writes:

“Thanks for your excellent and thoughtful letter to the local Muslim community in this morning’s Record.  I was kinda hoping someone at the Record would do something like that.  It was sorely needed; you nailed it.

Officers of the Islamic Center of Stockton show a hate letter the center recently received.

“Sadly it seems our new Misogynist In Chief (The Idi Amin of 1600 Penn. Ave.?) refuses to take responsibility for his own already brazenly public irresponsibility.  There’s no sign he’ll reverse that habit so it will be up to local communities to reign in the wackos he encourages out of the shadows from now on. ”

Marsh’s point about our individual responsibility is an important one. The country’s going through a  catharsis of white, working-class anger at economic displacement, the browning of America and a political correctness many feel amounts to a perennial scolding. To the extent this shifts policy towards treating Rust Belt workers better, support it. To the extent this rouses all the hate simmering in our multicultural republic, step on its venemous head.

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    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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