Stockton, Re-Invented

By Dr. Bob Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a day-long visit with civic and community leaders in Stockton, California.  The day was conceived by Stockton’s innovative, wunderkind mayor, Michael Tubbs, and organized by Northern California Grantmakers.  Representatives from 26 private foundations joined together on the day of touring and visits.

There is a newer, emerging narrative about California’s future, and it goes like this: the future of California goes through the Central Valley.  For many years the civic attention of our great state has been hyper-focused on the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and LA.  But political scientists and thinker-doers like Manuel Pastor at USC and Karthick Ramakrishnan at UC-Riverside point to population-, demographic-, and political-dynamism in the historically-forgotten Central Valley and the Inland Empire as the key to California’s civic and political future.

Stockton is a case in point.  This community has received national attention recently, as the youthful, African-American Mayor Tubbs exerts leadership with his colleagues on the City Council to test new ideas to advance wellness and opportunity in Stockton – such as a cutting-edge community peacekeeping effort to prevent violence, and a new minimum basic income pilot program.  But even Mayor Tubbs asserts that the re-invention of Stockton goes beyond implementing couple of interesting ideas.  During the course of our visit that day, we witnessed:

  • The welcoming of brand new school district Superintendent John Deasy, who I had the pleasure of working with in Los Angeles; John will bring fresh energy, boldness, and optimism to a school district already beginning to make meaningful progress on issues of educational equity and career preparedness and readiness.
  • Clear signs that public safety leadership and the county juvenile justice system is implementing reforms that emphasize prevention and positive youth development in young people of color, rather than the punishment approach that haunts the criminal justice system nationwide.
  • Forward-looking housing and community development leadership and partnership, as vacant lots and land are being re-imagined for uses responsive to the vision of community residents.
  • An impressive visit to Stockton’s University of the Pacific, which is steering its attention and resources towards partnership with community leaders to assert how young people of color and from working-class families can “see themselves” as creative leaders in a new economy.
  • Community-based, grassroots-level organizations who are beginning to advance a sophisticated “inside-outside” strategy to drive needed changes in public systems, policies, and practices – with “inclusion” and “equity” as core themes.
  • And, regional health system leaders working in partnership to advance a more holistic prevention and wellness approach locally.

So, while having a rising star like Mayor Tubbs at the helm provides great benefit to the visibility of Stockton in the California and national landscape, it was clear to us as private foundation leaders that by the end of the day, the re-invention of Stockton was not a one-trick pony or glossy media blitz.  There is meaningful and substantive partnership between and among community, government, and the nonprofit sectors to advance a fresh, dynamic civic story in Stockton.  It is reasonable to suggest that if the future of California goes through the Central Valley, then the future of the Central Valley may very well pass through the community of Stockton. 

Dr. Bob Ross
The California Endowment


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