Widely regarded as the “most miserable” city in California and one of the most dangerous cities in America, Stockton is not a place you want to move to.
Biggest Municipal Bankruptcy in the U.S.
Due to a record bankruptcy, the city’s budget has repeatedly failed. This has lead to a housing collapse, unemployment, and a massive loss of essential workers, not to mention the tenth highest crime rate in the U.S. But we’ll get into that later.
Before Detroit, Stockton was the largest U.S. municipality to file for bankruptcy, all due to a $26 million dollar disparity in the city’s general fund. This gap had been building since before the turn of the century, and finally came to a head in 2012
For most of the year 2007, Stockton was at the top of every list in America for cities most affected by the housing crisis. The housing boom had been big for Stockton- the city’s plentiful farmland had given way to subdivisions and apartment complexes. But then it all came crashing down. By the summer of 2007, one out of every twenty-seven homes was in foreclosure. Boarded-up and abandoned houses on nearly every street have given the city an eerie, ghetto appearance.
California’s High Cost of Living
Living in California has always been pricey. According to the 2020 Cost of Living index, the cost of living in the Golden State was 38% higher than any average city in the country. Once we consider housing costs, the price of groceries and utilities, the cost of gas and how far one needs to commute, as well as supply vs. demand in some parts of the state, calculations tell us that it would take an annual income of upwards of $70,000 for the average person to live comfortably in California.
Because of the city’s stretched budget, many businesses are forced to let employees go, resulting in a spread of mass unemployment. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped the problem, either. The unemployment rate in the city itself is 15.9%, dropping only to 13.2% in the surrounding countryside. Many people living in Stockton have found themselves forced to commute to the Bay Area for work, which is anywhere from a 30 minute to 1 hour and 30 minute drive, which increases what they must pay for gas.
Between the housing collapse, high cost of living, and unemployment, Stockton has found itself with a high homeless population. Nearly every underpass in the city has been made into a shanty-town, a camp for those who don’t have anywhere else to go. A volunteer census shows that the city’s sheltered homeless population grew from 311 people to 921 in January of 2019. And that only counts those in shelters, not those living on the street.(Source) The Stockton Shelter for the Homeless is at 125% capacity, many of which are newly evicted families with children.
The cost of providing resources for these people has only added to the city’s financial strain. Various shelters, soup kitchens, and volunteer groups have helped to take on the burden, but they can’t fix the problem entirely. Several city officials have spoken in favor of simply busing the homeless to other cities- shipping them away, out of sight and out of mind. But this has caused an uproar, and angered many citizens in both Stockton and and wherever the homeless were proposed to be sent.
Exodus of Essential Workers
Because of the increasingly tight budget, the city has had to cut spending for essentials, such as resources and pay for police and fire departments. This had led to many cops, firemen, and other essential city workers to eave, moving to surrounding areas for a chance at better pay. Stockton has lost 400 policemen in 4 years, leading to a dramatic increase in crime.
Stockton has always been a dangerous city. With 1, 399 incidents per 100,000 people, it is considered the most dangerous city in the state of California. According to an anonymous resident on a local forum: “Since living here, I have been subjected to several hate crimes, and for NO REASON. Spent a week at French Camp county hospital, after being beaten into a coma by a group of 3 people…. Crime rates are trash here, murder rate is one of the worst in the country, can’t wait to move, this place is pure garbage.” (Source)
With a crime rate that is 71% higher than the California average and 84% higher than the national average, Stockton ranks as the 10th most dangerous city in America. Recently, the city has reached a record number of homicides- 71 in a population of 300,000, which is the 2nd highest per capita in California.
Stockton police have placed most of the blame for the city’s violence on local gangs. The city has a history of familial crime. 15% of Stockton children, under the age of 18, live in single-parent homes; the percentage is the highest of any in the county, and higher than the state average. Unemployment, poverty, and single-parent homes are key factors in why Stockton youth- some as young as 12 years old- join gangs.
Police have documented 70 gangs, 30 of which are highly active, operating in the city; as of August 2019, the department has counted more than 2,000 gang members. Most of the city’s violent crime has some tie to gang activity, as well as to alcohol or drugs. (Source)
Center of Narcotics Distribution
For years, Stockton has been battling a drug crisis that is worse than California’s state average. Mainly, opioid drugs such as prescription pills, heroin, and methamphetamines. Historically, Stockton was the state’s center for illegal narcotics distribution.
Much of Stockton’s homicide rate stems from domestic violence- in the wake of the coronavirus, these types of murders have nearly doubled. In previous years, there were only one or two homicides caused by abuse– a sharp contrast to the 15 last year. Stockton police Chief Eric Jones says that this sharp increase is due to the pandemic- people cannot leave their homes, resulting in increased tensions and more violence. (Source)
The city’s crime rate overall is falling, but the homicide rate is rising- a 23% increase as of April of last year, topping a 3-year high in 2020. Even homicides within the homeless population have increased, making up 25% of the city’s overall homicide rate.
Not Much Nightlife
The crime rate has only added to the lack of nightlife– most residents don’t feel safe outside once the sun goes down. But for citizens who are looking for a party, they’ll have to commute to the Bay Area to find it. There isn’t a great selection of quality restaurants and bars, either- and most of them are pretty hole-in-the-wall places. Many buildings are being shut down, vacating businesses- storefronts come down more often than they go up. The downtown area isn’t much better, but the city is trying to revive it.
The city itself has minimal recreation. City parks offer a place to walk and picnic, but there’s not much else. There are several museums, but if you’re looking for entertainment with something a little more interactive, you’re out of luck. Most people head up to the Bay Area, or to Lake Tahoe.
Stockton roads are underfunded and poorly kept, and drivers are aggressive. It’s dangerous to be a pedestrian, but public transit isn’t much better.
Air Pollution and Water Quality
Due to dirt, pollen, and pesticides from nearby farms, added with city smoke and frequent wildfire smoke, Stockton doesn’t have a great air quality. It is generally acceptable for most people, though. Those susceptible to allergies will suffer greatly, and it’s highly recommended you wear a mask (not just for Covid!)
It is highly recommended that you use a filter for your home water system. A resident on reddit posted: “We use Brita filters with tap water, and after 2 weeks there would be a green film at the bottom of the water container (after being filtered). This is also true for the Watermill Express filling stations you see around. You see people buying tons of bottled water by the case at Costco.” (Source) Like most of the area, Stockton’s tap water has detectable levels of arsenic, although it does meet the federal and state standards.
“Horrible Place to Raise Kids”
Most locals would tell you Stockton is a horrible place to raise kids. From crime rate, gangs, and unsafe streets, it’s a dangerous place for a family to be. Last year, a study from Brandeis University in Massachusetts ranked Stockton as the fourth worst city in the U.S. to raise kids. The study ranked 100 cities across the country, based on criteria such as neighborhood conditions, schools, safe parks and playgrounds, and clean air. With all this in mind, Stockton ranked as one of the worst cities promoting health and development in their children.
The Brandeis University study showed that more than half of children in the Stockton area live in very low opportunity neighborhoods– only 5% lived in high opportunity categories, and none were categorized in very high opportunity neighborhoods. The inner central city had the worst opportunity– the higher opportunity areas aren’t accessible to everyone, specifically people of color. Stockton ranked among the worst for child opportunity by race and/or ethnicity:
- 17 in child opportunity for Black children
- 19 in child opportunity for Hispanic children
- 43 in child opportunity for white children
- 31 in child opportunity for Asian/Pacific Islander children
The study did say that Stockton can improve, but only by improving schools, providing access to early childhood education, and improving public health– all of which requires funding the city can’t provide due to the gap in their budgeting. In 2020, the city had applied for a state grant to help improve “opportunity zones,” including public health, the environment, and the economy.
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