Ten years ago, no one, including Stockton’s leadership, anticipated the economic crash we experienced in the Central Valley, California, the nation and the world. But ambitious dreams requiring ongoing financial support made Stockton vulnerable when the economy faltered.
Its leaders saw a future of steadily increasing tax revenue and growth, and set their goals and employee compensation to match in hopes of shaking Stockton out of its old reputation as another valley cowtown and into an All-American city.
Stockton built a waterfront marina, baseball park, events center; purchased a new and bigger city hall; invested in its workforce.
But when the real estate market tumbled, it all suddenly became unsustainable. And now, the city has filed for protection from its creditors.
The case of Stockton might be a study in hindsight, but it is still a poignant warning to anyone in government — and to the candidates looking to enter it this November.
While Tracy is not now on a path to bankruptcy, the lessons of Stockton apply.
Leaders must be judicious in negotiations with employees, balancing the city’s need to trim millions off its general fund while maintaining a happy and competitive workforce. The contracts recently reached with six groups of employees, including the Tracy Firefighters Association, seem to strike that balance.
More negotiations loom in the future, however, and without union cooperation and management’s diligence, Tracy might someday stare down the same gun barrel facing Stockton.
Elected leaders also must be vigilant to not write a check the city can’t cash in the form of unsustainable capital improvements.
Almost everyone agrees there’s a need for competitive and recreational pools in Tracy. But such a facility must not put an outsized burden on the general fund.
The city already supports the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts. While we believe that modest expense is worth adding a first-class theater, gallery and art studio space to downtown, such a balance must also be struck with any swim center.
A lavish water park that would rely on the city’s general fund dime should not be on the agenda at a time the city is trying to cut every ounce of spare flesh it can.
When votes come up for such facilities, we ask the Tracy City Council to remember the example of Stockton. Because the city on the edge of the Delta isn’t the first in the country to declare bankruptcy — and we bet it won’t be the last.