I live in what’s been described as one of California’s most miserable and most violent communities. I work in what’s been described as America’s best city.
My job is in San Francisco, which this week was named America’s best city for 2012 by Bloomberg Businessweek. Things are so good in the city by the Bay that as the economy continues to struggle, we’re discussing whether or not San Francisco has too many tech jobs.
My home, meanwhile, is in Stockton, which made news this week when one of its favorite sons - Oakland A’s pitcher Dallas Braden - brought a bat to an anti-violence meeting for protection and said he was leaving town. As of Wednesday night there had been 50 homicides in the city this year. In comparison, San Francisco recorded a total of 50 homicides in 2011. Recordnet.com, the website for the local newspaper (and my former employer), has a special page dedicated just to homicides.
In addition, Stockton is bankrupt and, according to Forbes, miserable; the magazine has ranked it as the country’s most miserable city twice in the last four years. It’s also been hit hard by the housing crisis - The Huffington Post called Stockton “Foreclosureville, USA.” And Stockton has one of the highest poverty rates for a suburban area in the country.
But despite all that and my two-and-a-half hour one-way commute, I’m not leaving Foreclosureville for Fog City any time soon. My reasons for staying are listed below. News Fix editor and known San Francisco snob Jon Brooks says it reads like the desperate boosterism of someone living in a city under siege. What say you? Leave a comment at the bottom of the post and let us know.
1. Stockton is cheap. On Tuesday I wrote a post about legislation that would permit 220-square-foot “micro” apartments in San Francisco. Estimated rent: $1,200-$1,500 a month. That’s about what I pay in Stockton to rent a remodeled three-bedroom house with hardwood floors, granite countertops and central heat and air. In its reporting on the “micro-units” ordinance the New York Times noted that:
The average rent for a studio apartment in (San Francisco) is $2,126, an increase of 22 percent since 2008, according to RealFacts, a company that tracks apartment rental data in cities across the country.
In Stockton, meanwhile, you can rent a house that has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and is 10 times the size of a micro unit for $2,300.
And it’s not just the real estate that is cheap. You can get dinner for two at one of Stockton’s better restaurants for less than $100, wine and drinks included. Which brings me to:
2. Stockton has some great and affordable restaurants. OK, so San Francisco is most likely the restaurant capital of the universe. But you'd be surprised by the dining experience you can have in Stockton for half the cost of a meal in the city (as we Stocktonians call San Francisco.) You might consider checking out Siamese Street, a Thai establishment whose owners spent $500,000 importing their decor from Thailand. You’ll also want to stop at Tandoori Nites, an unassuming strip mall Indian joint that has even impressed some Bay Area reviewers on Yelp. Total cost for dinner for two at either restaurant, including wine or drinks? $50 or less.
3. Stockton is in the middle of pretty much everything. It’s 146 miles from San Francisco to the glorious coastline of Big Sur, according to Google Maps. From Stockton, it’s about the same - 171 miles. But it’s a lot tougher for San Francisco residents to get to California’s inland wonders than it is for Stockton residents. In four hours or less, and without having to battle Bay Area traffic, you can drive from Stockton to here...
But honestly, I typically don’t enjoy road trips out of Stockton on the weekends. In part, that’s because...
4. I love my neighborhood in Stockton. Since 2005 I’ve lived in the Miracle Mile, a small enclave of boutiques, restaurants and older homes in the middle of the city. It’s a welcoming community where many of the the business owners are on a first-name basis with the residents. I can spend an afternoon shopping and an evening bar-hopping in the Mile and I’ll know most of the shop proprietors well enough to have friendly conversations. The neighborhood also is safe, and the residents and business owners help keep it that way. A few years back one of the landlords in the neighborhood helped chase down a purse snatcher and hold him until police arrived.
5. Stockton is home to two top-notch minor league sports facilities. The city’s decision to spend more than $60 million on entertainment and sports facilities in recent years has been roundly criticized as Stockton has fallen into bankruptcy. But the money has helped give the city and its residents two minor-league sports jewels: the 10,000-seat Stockton Arena and the 5,000-seat Stockton Ballpark. The arena is home to the Stockton Thunder, a minor-league hockey team that typically draws more than 6,000 fans per contest. It’s a great place to see a game - the facilities are modern, tickets are typically around $15 and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The ballpark, meanwhile, is home to the Stockton Ports, the high single A affiliate of the Oakland A’s. In 2005, the year it opened, the ballpark was included on Sports Illustrated’s “Summer Essentials” list as the baseball stadium fans had to visit. It’s a gorgeous facility that gives fans an incredible view of baseball and beautiful sunsets over the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Tickets on the park-like home run hill section can cost as little as $1.
6. Stocktonians are resilient, and they deserve some love. Sure, we all have our breaking point. Braden has said he’s leaving Stockton because he had been the victim of an attempted carjacking and that his grandmother's apartment was robbed. He also said Stockton police advised him to move. That advice from the cops might drive any Stockton resident to put their home on the market. But many residents choose to stay in Stockton despite its challenges, and they’re working to make the city a better place. You can see some of their enthusiasm in this year's "Dear Stockton" project, which led to the downtown mural at the top of this post and in part has photographed local teens and others offering messages of support to the city. Those photographs were then blown up and wrapped around a downtown building as a message of hope to Stockton.
On Saturday residents also will be gathering to show support for the city during “Stockton is Magnificent,” a festival created in part as a response to Forbes’ description of Stockton as America’s most miserable city. You can find details here.