Who Took Down Stockton?

2014, Economics  -  31 min Leave a Comment
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Stockton, California boasts the most foreclosures in America and is the most bankrupt city in national history. This short documentary seeks to discover the cause behind the intended rise and subsequent fall of a city run into the ground by a combination of optimism, idealism, and greed.

The audience is given a brief history of Stockton's status as an impoverished neighborhood during the economic downturn of the 1970s and how, in the late 1990s, a new mayor and town manager aimed to turn things around through the development of a vast stadium and lavish downtown waterfront district. The area was experiencing a housing boom at the time, but although there was good tax revenue coming from the housing swell, the city council also sought another means to pay for the development project; they would sell $47M in municipal bonds.

The decision was made with only one dissenting councilmember expressing reservations. The bonds, typically considered a safe bet when used to fund general city infrastructure projects and not high-stakes glamour developments, sold within weeks. But the arena and waterfront projects failed to draw the crowds and revue needed to be sustainable.

When the overall national economy began suffering Stockton experienced a domino effect in which property values plummeted, homeowners began missing payments, millions disappeared from the city fund and the city itself failed to make payments on the bonds. In addition to these financial stresses, the city had also increased pension plans for civil servants after 9/11, a promise they would struggle to keep.

The civil servants of Stockton, from former 911 dispatchers to retired police officers, share heartbreaking testimonies of how the failed bonds deal has devastated their lives from salary cuts to loss of health benefits. Creditors repossessed major buildings including City Hall, and regularly block moves by the city council to prevent further pension cuts. In essence, Stockton is now owned by its creditors.

The citizens of Stockton were left out in the cold by the city they'd invested their livelihoods in, but is blame to be placed on the banks, politicians, or both? This emotional and informative film turns a spotlight on a little-known city, putting a personal spin on a widely-known national financial problem.