6 Reasons to Live in ‘Miserable’ Stockton While Working in ‘America’s Best City’ San Francisco

A new mural in downtown Stockton. Screenshot courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.
A new mural in downtown Stockton. Screenshot courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.

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…

Yosemite National Park. Photo by Sebastian Bergmann/Flickr.

…and here:

Cascade Lake, foreground, and Lake Tahoe, background. Photo by rickz/Flickr.
Cascade Lake, foreground, and Lake Tahoe, background. Photo by rickz/Flickr.

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.

Stockton Ballpark. Photo by Matt Beckwith/Flickr.
Stockton Ballpark. Photo by Matt Beckwith/Flickr.

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.

Photos from the "Dear Stockton" project.
Photos from the "Dear Stockton" project wrapped around a building in downtown Stockton. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.

Photos from the "Dear Stockton" project wrapped around a building in downtown Stockton. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.
Photos from the "Dear Stockton" project wrapped around a building in downtown Stockton. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.

Alex Gomez poses with his photo from the "Dear Stockton" project in downtown Stockton. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.

Whitney Ramirez poses with her photo from the "Dear Stockton" project in downtown Stockton. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.
Whitney Ramirez poses with her photo from the "Dear Stockton" project in downtown Stockton. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Saffold.

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.

 

  • who_the

    Neat post! Though a lot of the economic advantages you list are offset by the costs of commuting and the opportunity cost of the time you spend traveling.

    Since you work for KQED, I’ll assume you drive a Prius and can make the drive to and from Stockton on two gallons of gas each way. ($4 x two gallons x two drives each day x 5 days a week x 50 weeks = $4,000).

    2-1/2 hours one way? I hope that’s on the long end, but I’ll use it to assume 5 hours each day of travel time. (5 hours x 5 days a week x 50 weeks = 1,250 hours/year = 52 days a year driving in your car.)

    If we assume $10/hour as a minimal cost of your time, that’s $12,500 a year in lost potential income. (Many of us work second jobs, freelance or consult in those “extra” hours each day.)

    If we take that $16,500 and divide it by 12, that’s almost $1,400/month. Add that to your Stockton rent, and while you might not be able to score a three-bedroom house in San Francisco for $2,900/month, you can definitely get a “nice” one- or (maybe) two-bedroom in Potrero Hill for that price and walk 10 minutes to work for free.

    And if you did live in San Francisco, some of that 5 hours a day could be spend exploring The City and casting aside its stereotypical image of expensive, overrated restaurants.

    Totally, completely respect your choice. But that’s what it is, a personal decision, not one backed up by sound economics.

    • yupIsaidit_what?

      and while you’re living a life of numbers, the rest of us are just living. Everything is a choice. Including the one to respond to a post like an arrogant ass. I do the same commute and life is just fine. Cheers.

      • JustMe

        I was unaware logic = arrogance. It’s completely illogical to waste 5 hours a day commuting. Actually, it’s more than illogical, it’s completely retarded. I live in the Miracle Mile community and have had the back of my house tagged, one of my dogs stolen out of my back yard, my truck broken into for my stereo (before I had a removable interface), a gun showdown on my street with undercover police officers, and had identity theft from our neighbor’s gardener. This all occurred since January of 2011. One of those homicides was committed 6 houses down from me, luckily the man was caught and arrested. My roommate has been followed home from UOP a couple times, so he no longer walks to or from school. I agree there are some great things about Stockton, but spending 5 hours in a car just to live here? That’s ludicrous!

  • nope

    I admit i wish I have those extra 4-5 hours to do homework than just travelling to get to school. Also getting up at 4 just to get there on time to a 8:30 morning class sucks. Same with getting home at midnight after a night class.
    I actually hate commuting.

    I would do a lot better performance in school if I was able to afford to live in the city.

  • http://www.facebook.com/motecuzomatzin Motecuzoma Patrick Sanchez

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rachael.ruiz.9 Rachael Ruiz

    I am a Stockton Girl born and raised, I have to say I love my home town…my whole family and a ton of friends are still there…town is small enough that I see a lot of people when i’m home for the holidays but big enough that not everyone knows your business. I love coming home to mom and pop shops, like Chucks, Payters, Casa Grande, Mannys, Nennas, Empresso, (formerly Java aroma) Cancun and even Dave Wongs (lettuce wraps are better than PF Changs). I love that we are surrounded by farmland and vineyards, but we can drive to the city for the day. I love that there is a beautiful historic university right in the middle of town. I love it when the christmas lights are up on Ben Holt, I love every single farmers market, flea market and vegetable stand. I miss the way you can always count on hitting every green light all the way down El Dorado if you are driving 30 MPH. Down town is beautiful all lit up at night. I love walking to see the architecture of the homes around miracle mile. I love how diverse my hometown is, people of every race, color, culture, belief and income level. Stockton taught me a thing or two about street smarts. It can be a tough town, but I learned who to trust and how to handle myself, that is not something that every girl can say. I miss it when I’m gone.

  • truemisery

    “Miracle Mile”? It sounds like a socioculturally disconnected “enclave” of wealthier and higher educated folks from a predominately non-minority background. This is blissful ignorance at its best. This is like having someone from the Montclair hills defending all of Oakland’s vices because s/he has not truly experienced living IN a destitute, impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhood. Please.

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