The Stockton Sandwich

23 thoughts on “The Stockton Sandwich”

  1. “Could I find my tribe in Stockton? Are there enough funky individuals around to bond with and build a life around?”

    If others priced out from Pasadena to San Ysidro and from Santa Rosa to Berkeley to Gilroy fled within the state, valued not needing an airline to return to visit their cultural touchstones and old neighborhoods- maybe.

    Anchoring bias has many believing that there will always be flights for $40 from the Bay Area to Vegas, $50 to Phoenix, $60 to the PNW, or $70 to Salt Lake City.

    Places as far flung as Memphis and Providence, as distinct as Missoula and Baton Rouge all have displaced Californians. The same institutional dysfunction that has brought to coasts where they are exists in the Central Valley. The heat just isn’t turned up on that burner.

    I’m impressed by how great the bones of Stockton look- but Providence and Cincinnati look better and cost less. Supercommuters tend to settle in Tracy, rather than stockton.

    It’s hard to say which direction it’ll go.

  2. The neighborhood you like is where my dad’s side of the family, immigrants from Germany, settled. They ran a general store and, later, a market. To escape the summer heat they bought a beach house in Santa Cruz. Used to visit Stockton every year after Christmas. The relatives lived in a nice old house with a basement full of home canned preserves and a yard full of fruit trees. You can see what remains of the Knutzen market in this incredibly detailed website cataloging all the grocery stores of Stockton: I have some old pictures of it from the late 19th century.

    A friend’s dad was a literature professor at the University of the Pacific and also lived in a nice old bungalow. He was a Pynchon scholar so I’m guessing that there are a few freaks in town to hang out with.

  3. I used to live in Orange County. Stockton remains me a lot of Santa Ana. A lot of old houses not like Mission Viejo with more modern houses and a swimming complex.

  4. There’s an instantly recognizable pattern language to these dead downtowns. If they were a little smaller, they could be boutique-y and cute. And if they were a little bigger, they could have mobilized the giant investments into transit, public parking garages, government buildings, marquee destinations, etc to breathe life into them. But these places slipped through the gap. They had just too much square footage to keep alive with every customer & worker arriving in a car, so they became half dead. But if we created enough parking for everyone, then there’s just not enough “there” left to justify anybody being in the downtown. So they got stuck in a catch 22.

    But, that’s the old anti-urban paradigm where downtowns were exclusively commercial districts & “real” people lived in residential neighborhoods. These downtowns can also bust loose by sprinkling in a few apartment buildings & making some relatively minor investments in streetscaping. I’d be more surprised in 10 years that the downtown is dead than if it’s totally vibrant.

  5. Is the population of the U.S. going to continue to increase, or decrease?

    If the answer is increase, then all those abandoned commercial properties are going to have to be rebooted into something better. The alternative is paving over more of the country and leaving abandoned asphalt and building rubble behind.

    As you know, not everyone in the country can fit into San Francisco, Brooklyn and Austin, though they seem to be trying.

    1. There’s so much empty commercial. The UK has less than 5 square feet of commercial floorspace per person. The US has about 5 times as much.

  6. Johnny,

    I’ve been thinking a lot about one of your main themes. That of a new area or mall being built, being spanky new, and then deteriorating into obscurity when the next newest and best thing comes along. The question: what gives a place endurance or lasting power? One of the answers is having a natural or man-made phenomenon that people are attracted to and can’t be easily replicated.

    But I think the more distilled answer is that a place has to have a soul, character, personality, something which can’t be easily replicated. Anyone can build another McDonald’s but how many restaurants like Auto Spa Bistro are there? Or to take it a step further, how many McDonald’s are there that has Joe, the guy who always treats you right and has neat stories to share? Or maybe it’s underground railroads or natural spas that draw a person in.

    Something unique and repeatable AND attractive to a certain set has to be present.

  7. Given the insane demand for any kind of housing in the Bay Area, and especially walkable housing, it’s strange that downtown Stockton hasn’t been revived. It’s an easy day trip to the venture capitalists in the Bay Area; you’d think somebody would have tried business startups there.

  8. I too have kicked the tires on Stockton. In the final analysis, for all the reasons you describe and more (crime, mostly), it just doesn’t pencil. Sacramento is probably the only place in I could imagine myself in the Central Valley. It’s not a bargain anymore, but once the bubble deflates, maybe I’d jump…

    The sad thing here of course is the shortage of walkable neighborhoods and the systemic factors that prevent it from being built. If someone built a California version of Poundbury out in the flats next to a Capitol Corridor station, I’d be all over it.

  9. well put , I have lived in Stockton my entire 40 years and have lived in my same house since 1994 and love it but the community has changed so much I am glad you got to visit that area of Stockton those homes are beautifully kept homes and I thank you for not only showing the bad side of Stockton I appreciate that thank you

    dr. P

      1. It’s far enough outside metro LA to have relatively low house prices but without having that “909” vibe. Nice small town with an active downtown, a brewery, and lots of Mission and Craftsman architecture.

  10. Johnny,
    Off-thread and hopefully not published… but don’t know how else to reach you.

    I’m out here in Appalachia (SW Virginia) with my gardens and chickens and goats, remodeling and repairing homes for Virginia Tech professors.

    Love your posts but am somewhat anxious to install a LARGE rain tank, not simply a 55-gal drum… You mention these, show them in certain photos…

    Any chance you could pass along what you’ve learned in a post? One concern I have is algal growth. Out here I have freeze issues, too.

    Good rain THIS year, but next?!?

    Thanks, and keep up the good work!!

    1. Here’s what I can tell you about rainwater catchment and storage from personal experience.

      I had a house in Hawaii for 18 years and relied exclusively on rainwater for all my needs and never had a problem. Of course that location got 120 inches of rain each year which fell more or less evenly throughout the seasons.

      I currently have gradually upgraded to 10,000 gallons (two separate 5,000 gallon tanks) of water storage at my place in Sonoma County, CA. We have a long completely dry summer season that lasts for about eight months and a short rainy winter season. On average we get 37 inches of rain a year, but some years there’s no rain at all with occasional multi year droughts. More tanks plus serious conservation and gray water reuse is the solution. And in this location the rainwater is a supplement/back up to a well, not the sole source of water.

      FYI a 5,000 gallon poly tank costs about $3,000. Repurposed funky containers and DIY hacks can save money, but require time and effort. I’ve done it all and started with super cheap baby steps. I love these two examples from the desert of Arizona.

      As for algae growth – this is the result of sunlight and warmth. If your tanks are kept dark, shaded, and cool you’ll minimize the problem before it starts. A small amount of ordinary household bleach controls the little bit of algae that might still form. And relatively affordable carbon filters and UV zappers are highly effective at treating water if it’s for drinking purposes.

      Then again… there are advocates for allowing biological processes to exist in your tanks. You can go down a YouTube rabbit hole with Verge Permaculture.

      In a climate with hard freezes you need to keep the tanks insulated. Placing them inside a shed or barn with sufficient insulation and/or heat is one method. Burying the tanks is another. And the pipes that supply the tanks need to be self draining so water doesn’t stagnate, expand, and burst the pipes. None of this has to cost crazy money, but it isn’t free either.

      Good luck.

  11. Familiar with the demise of Stockton over the years. What are the prices of these beauties? Have they recovered appreciably from the lows? Close to the peak?

    Then again its so damn hot out there. Plus it takes a while to shed the negative image the city developed what with bankruptcy and public service declines.

    Got a portable job, maybe worth checking it out. Maybe we are at the top of a real estate cycle too. Risky…

    1. Like I said, my friends bought their three bed two bath place in a great neighborhood for $195K. I checked the real estate listings and places I’d be interested in run around $250K. Personally I think we’re in another bubble and after the pop things could drop significantly. Then again the feds could orchestrate a melt up and things could inflate even more… Who knows.

    2. Ok OK…OK!

      That 20’s neighborhood in Stockton is cute, quaint and has an honest bespoke character- As with nearly all 20’s-30’s neighborhoods in many towns and cities. Those places will never be built like this again- ever. You ought to see the mansions in older Detroit that would make a Californian cry with “charm envy.”
      It used to be that Chico was the place that had raw perfection- university, tons of tree-lined bespoke neighborhoods and a great walking town character wrapped in a larger small town. Now that Paradise is burnt, it’s a boom town with boom town pricing.

      If you want to live in Northern California, Sacramento’s core is fantastic and has the Pasadena feel, the bespoke tree lined neighborhoods, the shops, trendy tribes and food that’s equal to or better than the Bay Area. And, the summers are great and you’ll discover every evening The Delta sends a breeze and cools off the town. You can wear shorts all evening and sit outside on your patio, porch, or at one of a hundred restaurants where outdoor seating in the summer is preferred. The prices are up there for houses but there are still neighborhoods in where a bespoke home can be purchased and renovated. Plenty of upside and potential because these neighborhoods are being discovered and gentrification is in full force. Bad for the current residents whom will have to move out to southern Sacramento burbs that look like Compton.

      Sacramento has several secrets and the other is the rivers, foothills and proximity to lots of great wine in Lodi, Amador and Napa. You can drive to a mountain alpine lake in the Sierra’s and have dinner in a 49’er Gold Rush town and be home for a glass of wine on your summer patio. This is great.

      It’s not Texas weather with humidity and zero breezes. Whoever compared the Sacramento summer with Texas is way off base. This is like comparing SF with Seattle’s weather.

      Let me close by saying that SF has beautiful views. But it’s freezing in the summer, is a concrete jungle devoid of green and the traffic is soul killing.

      Get over it and realize that you’ll loose a lot moving from the Bay Area places like Rockridge in Oakland or the Marina, or maybe Marin, but you’ll find Sacramento has other attributes that compensate and balance so that in the end you’ll be ahead and live a better life and have a little money in your nest-egg when it’s time to go to full-time on your porch.

  12. Many Central Valley towns have nice old neighborhoods. Check out Colusa sometime. Even Lodi has a surprisingly decent downtown. But the Valley has been in decline for decades. It is now one of the poorest regions in the US per the US Dept of Labor, which says California now has the highest poverty rate in the country when adjusted for living costs. Much of this is in the Central Valley or the mountain regions. A retired person can buy a nice house at a good price in these towns, but the opportunities are limited for younger people. Even homegrown Silicon Valley companies, when they expand go out of state and not to the Valley, even though it is only a few hours away with reasonable housing costs, summers no worse than Texas’s (and milder winters), but also with mountains nearby.

    1. Well, the tech companies go to Sacramento. Its growing a lot faster in population now than Silicon Valley according to the US census. Granted, the tech companies would have been smarter to put more 2nd and 3rd tier business in this city or Fresno or Kern.

  13. ” Are there enough funky individuals around to bond with and build a life around? I ask myself this a lot wherever I go.”
    Trendy expensive areas maybe start with a few funky individuals looking for cheap homes who are able to attract other like minded people with arty type of advertising like writing about that place, and it becomes a chain reaction.

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