As I write this, Fire’s dispatcher is broadcasting a 2-alarm fire at an abandoned factory at Hazelton and Aurora streets: the incredible disappearing factory I wrote about a month ago. A factory that is being carried away piece by piece by metal thieves with big tools and trucks, as well as by a horde of homeless people who were living en masse in a back-building while carting off the factory’s lighter parts to the recycler.
Though I don’t know for sure, it is a safe bet today’s fire was caused by the same homeless people, the ones earlier cleared out of Mormon Slough. They not only are stealing the building, they have burned part of it down, probably accidentally, with a fire meant to warm their bottoms.
Which raises a couple questions. The first is, at what point does the police department shift resources to property crimes? It was right that the focus be on violent crime, but absurdly brazen metal theft is as Wild West as it gets. When you can pull a truck up to a building in broad daylight and steal it, it is time to revisit law enforcement priorities.
The second is what to do about Stockton’s outsized and very public homeless population. Readers know I am perennially conflicted on this issue. My Christian upbringing calls for compassion. But the urbanist in me says compassion toward the suffering, and a poor person’s right to beg, has to be balanced against other citizens’ right to a clean and safe environment. Stocktonians are taxed at one of the highest rates in the state. We should not have to live in perpetual crumminess.
This is an economic development issue as well. The whole point of the Gateway Project, into which taxpayers sank $2 million, was to make the downtown Stockton ”gateway” off the freeway presentable. It is not. The first sight that greets the driver is a homeless guy with a sign standing at the bottom of the offramp. Then comes the fiasco of the Gateway McDonald’s, which somehow has become an unbudgeable day laborer zone, as well as a panhandling mecca for the homeless and addicted.
If the point of the investment was to better impress visiting employers, the Gateway Project is, at best, unfinished blight abatement. At worst it is a Walker Evans photo of the Great Depression. Welcome to Stockton.
There is no question we can do better than this. The only question is when. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready now.