Last year I was fortunate enough to go on vacation out to California to visit friends and people whom I still consider family in the city of Stockton. While I was there I took a lot of pictures - to say the least - and posted a good deal of them but there were some that I took that I never got around to working into a post as I wasn't quite sure how to do so. Well, with the recent announcement of Stockton rising to the number one spot as the most miserable city in America according to Forbes.com, the time has finally come when I can use those pictures!
The pictures in question were of a sculpture that graces the Stockton waterfront by the Stockton Arena which is aptly titled "Stockton Rising". The sculpture was designed as public art by Scott Donahue, a Bay Area artist who has created more than a dozen sculptures, to represent Stockton as a city on the move, pulling itself up from its humble beginnings as a town that once solely existed to serve the needs of the California Gold Rush. In his 1852 book, Life in California, James H. Carson wrote of Stockton, ""A rush and whirl of noisy human beings were continually before the eye. The magic wand of gold had been shaken over a desolate place, and on it a vast city had arisen at the bidding." Bear in mind the man was in Stockton attempting to recuperate from rheumatism so perhaps his view was a little jaded when he wrote that! Either way, it served as Donahue's inspiration for his artwork.
The City of Stockton shelled out $125,000 for this ... er ... lovely sculpture in 2006 that Donahue describes on his resume as,
"The overall cylindrical form of this artwork is similar to the Arena itself, and the large figures are the athletic without personifying a particular sport. The smaller figures refer to the family, friends, community, and second thoughts. Stockton is a Delta city and the surrounding waterways define the area and life of this region."Sure, Scott ... if you say so!
The then-mayor of Stockton and former Police Chief, Ed Chavez, proclaimed that the 12-foot-6-inch sculpture which depicts the Delta at its base and the city's skyline at its crown, "truly defines our city" but I think he might have been only one of a handful of folks who thought so.
In 2007 the city's Cultural Heritage Board first mocked and then rejected "Stockton Rising" as a winner of an annual award for artistic achievement. As a matter of fact, some of the board members thought some of the faces "looked a little scary" and thought it was neither subtle or abstract.
Truth be told, I am inclined to agree. That was by far one of the ugliest sculptures I have ever seen and my friend Cyndi, a Stockton native and lifelong resident, totally agreed with me. She was outraged that the City had shelled out $125,000 on a piece of art that looked like it was designed to scare small children and thought that the money really could have been better spent elsewhere.
Perhaps, though, Mr. Donahue was being prophetic as it turned out that Stockton truly has risen - right to the top of the America's Ten Most Miserable Cities. Last year I wrote a post about Stockton's ranking as the number two most miserable city in America when it was sandwiched between Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Apparently being second wasn't good enough, though, and Stockton rose right to the number one spot on the list beating out other such greats as Memphis, Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami, and St. Louis. Flint and Detroit actually managed to work their way down the list this year and came in at #6 and #7 respectively; while Modesto, which is a stone's throw from Stockton, came in at #5 this year, inching its way three spots up from it's #8 ranking of last year.
So what was it that made Stockton number one this year? According to Forbes, "Only 15% of Stockton adults have a college degree, which is one of the lowest rates in the U.S. Unemployment is expected to hit 15% in 2010, while housing prices should keep falling back to their mid-1990s level when the median home price was $130,000."
Stockton ranked in the bottom seven in four of the nine categories Forbes looked at: commute times, income tax rates, unemployment and violent crime. The city is also considered to be Ground Zero in the housing boom and subsequent bust with the country's highest foreclosure rate last year at 9.5% In 2008 housing prices dropped 39% and they are expected to fall another 36% this year. No doubt that's making for some truly miserable bankers and realtors as well as former homeowners. I rather doubt that commercial real estate is doing any better either.
Even though they're Number One and could be cashing in on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers, Stockton is apparently keeping their status rather quiet as when I called Cyndi this past Monday to congratulate her on living at the top, she hadn't even heard about it yet. I guess I'm not surprised, being at the top of being on the bottom is probably not something I'd be putting on billboards either.
Instead, according to the Stockton Record, the city is laying off 29 police officers and a trio of department heads in an effort to turn around its $30 million budget crisis. Nothing for nothing folks but when you're already that far in the hole and have crime rising at an alarming rate, do you really think that the $1.1 million dollars you're going to save via police layoffs is worth it?
Apparently myself and Cyndi aren't the only ones who seem to think that the city needs to find a better way to save some money. In a statement made by leaders of the Stockton Police Officers Association, the union that represents the department's rank-and-file, they concurred with us. "When we were at 440 officers we were barely treading water," said Officer Lon Hudson, a union official. "We have reached a point that it is unsafe for citizens and our officers."
I care deeply about some of those citizens Officer Hudson mentions and I still know some of the officers he refers to also; I would really hate to see the city leave any of them unprotected and unsafe in a town where more than misery is on the rise.
Back when I lived in Stockton, a very long time ago, it was touted as "Someplace Special" but now it seems more like "Someplace Scary" and I'm not just referring to that hideous sculpture that sits outside Stockton Arena. Maybe the city could put it on eBay and get a good enough price to help out with that $30 million deficit - there's got to be someone who appreciates "good art"! Maybe they could even get $1.1 million for it and leave the Police Department alone!
In the meantime, Cyndi - lock your doors and do me a big favor and check on Grandma Edith once in awhile; and John - just stay safe no matter what you're doing.