Tubbs shapes vision for South Stockton

STOCKTON – Slowly, quietly, Councilman Michael Tubbs is building a coalition of people dedicated to the idea that the south side has a brighter future.

He spent four hours Wednesday at two roundtables that are part of his Reinvent South Stockton initiative.

“Proverbs say, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ One of the problems with south Stockton is there is no vision,” said Tubbs, also quoting from another book in the Bible, Nehemiah, in his morning remarks. “The walls (of Jerusalem) were rebuilt when the people had a mind to work.”

Tubbs said those two verses are motivating his efforts.

In the morning, a dozen members of the city’s faith-based community sat around a table at City Hall to explore how they can help create meaningful and positive change.

In the afternoon, more than two dozen people, including representatives of Stockton’s largest builders, talked about south-side housing.

“All we have are bedrooms here,” said Carol Ornelas, president and CEO of Stockton-based Visionary Home Builders. “There’s no infrastructure. No markets. No health clinics. Everybody has to travel somewhere else.”

Fritz Grupe, chairman and founder of The Grupe Co., asked early on: “What is the problem? We need to clarify that, and that’s difficult. We’ve got to define the problem.”

After an hour of discussion – much of it focused on developing new housing – David Nelson, senior vice president with A.G. Spanos Cos., offered his appraisal of where the housing roundtable should focus its attention.

“I challenge the necessity of new housing stock,” Nelson said. “I see as a problem the existing housing stock. How do you take what exists here today and universally raise its value?

“This area has been forgotten. We have to figure out how to improve it.”

Those inside the community room at the Maya Angelou branch library had been given a homework assignment before arriving at the site on Pock Lane. Each was asked to drive through a residential area and look around at the neighborhoods.

During their discussion, they developed a list of challenges:

» The existing housing stock is the oldest in Stockton, creating infrastructure problems.

» The south side is pockmarked with vacant lots, blight and abandoned buildings.

» Municipal fees make improvements expensive, and municipal staff cutbacks have code enforcement officials “in triage mode.”

» Fear. Some residents are undocumented and afraid to seek out the authorities when neighborhood problems arise.

» Many residents, either because of language barriers or a lack of education, are unaware of available resources.

» Some would benefit from basic personal finance instruction.

» Slumlords prey on unqualified renters and overcharge them.

» High unemployment and low-paying jobs contribute to the challenges of making property improvements.

Tubbs was undeterred by the challenges.

“It is possible to make it financially viable to develop this side of town,” he said. “People are spending their money somewhere. The liquor stores are not going out of business. There is a market (for housing). How do we get developers to see that?”

A smaller group met in the morning. South Stockton has more than 60 churches, but only two or three pastors took part Wednesday.

Bob Margaron is the executive director of the Peniel Mission near First and Sutter streets. He and his wife, Lisa, have been there for 20 years.

“South Stockton’s future is in its children,” he said. “It’s not one, individual solution. It is all of us being consistent. It is a privilege to work down there.”

The roundtables are the third and fourth in a series leading up to an ambitious July 26 community assessment undertaking. Tubbs is hoping 1,000 volunteers will be involved in reaching out one on one to 1,000 south-side residents.

The idea is to involve community members at their front door in helping identify problems and solutions.

“I congratulate Michael for his holistic approach,” Grupe said.

— Contact reporter Kevin Parrish at (209) 546-8264 or Follow him on Twitter @KLPRecord.

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