Stockton’s General Plan 2035 was a product of hijacked government.
Stockton’s planning process had been inordinately influenced by developers and land speculators, a city planning staff cowed into subordination and council members and staff who didn’t understand the economics of sprawl. Or — worse — knew they were compromising the city but okayed it because they, too, felt appeasing powerful interests was preferable to bucking them for the greater good.
Now — Deus ex machina — the recession has rendered the General Plan a dead letter. It has done so not only by changing the macro-economy but by educating Stocktonians in the school of hard knocks. City leaders and residents have learned that a city treasury is not a magical, self-replenishing well. It is a limited resource that can be stretched with smart growth or squandered by sprawl.
The building industry would not object if the city returned to the old days. But Stockton can never go back. Fiscal discipline now has to undergird everything the city does. So the issue is not, as John Beckman, head of the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley, said in today’s story, whether the city is “open for business” or closed. It will be open for business. The question is whether the business will be run in the public interest or for special interests. If the former, the grossly sprawlish General Plan 2035 needs more than tinkering as Beckman contends. It needs throwing out the window.
Which is not to demonize developers. It is instead to invite them to be parters in a historic opportunity to change Stockton’s future for the better. We have the rare opportunity to go back to the very source code and reprogram the city with newer, smarter ideas that can reduce blight, strengthen neighborhoods, help the environment and bring forth the city’s huge potential. Getting there begins by relegating the building industry to its proper role in a new order.