STOCKTON — A potentially dry public meeting focusing on the abstract topic of how Stockton will plan and prepare for its next quarter-century might seem to belong atop an extremely short list of events a teenager might choose not to attend.
But Tuesday night, 17-year-old Keeronn Pearson says he is going to attend what will be the first in a series of public workshops on Stockton’s General Plan amendment. And because the city purposefully scheduled the workshop in south Stockton, there’s something Pearson says he wants officials to understand.
“If they change how south Stockton is, the way it looks in general, it will make people see the value of living and give them more reasons to be here,” said Pearson, a member of a Community Partnership for Families youth leadership group.
“I'd like them to improve the south side of Stockton, make it look like the north side, keep it fair and even.”
A city’s General Plan is a forecast of the long-term future and an effort to prepare for how land will be used in the years and decades covered by the document.
In Stockton’s case, the current General Plan runs through 2035. It was adopted in 2007 but became irrelevant almost instantly when the Great Recession hit and, subsequently, when Stockton fell into fiscal disrepair that culminated in bankruptcy.
A subsequent legal settlement agreement in 2008 with slow-growth and environmental activists sealed the current General Plan’s doom. No longer would Stockton be able to spread its boundaries into the hinterlands while downtown stagnated and older neighborhoods festered.
Instead, when the city finally adopts a new General Plan carrying through 2040, that document will be required to hone in on older neighborhoods such as those on Stockton’s south side.
And the General Plan settlement agreement is not alone in providing impetus for change in south Stockton.
The San Joaquin County Civil Grand Jury issued a report last year in which it found that Stockton is guilty of “long-term neglect” of south Stockton. It’s a finding that was not exactly startling to Pearson and some other members of his youth group.
“They need to build things and act like they care about this part of the city as much as they do the north side,” 19-year-old Dupree James said.
Javier Garcia, 17, added, “You come out here, it’s like, ‘This just looks ugly.’ ”
Can a General Plan make a difference? Dave Stagnaro, the city’s planning manager, says the public workshops that will be part of the General Plan process are an important starting point for community involvement.
“If you want a better quality of life, if you want the way we use our land to be better than it is today, this is a very important forum for you to participate in,” Stagnaro said. “We have an opportunity here to change for the better how we do things.”
Workshops are scheduled Tuesday at south Stockton’s Merlo Gym; Wednesday at north-central Stockton’s Seifert Community Center; and Sept. 28 at San Joaquin Delta College. Stagnaro said the Delta workshop was scheduled as a special effort to reach young people.
The city held a public workshop two years ago at downtown’s Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium for what turned out to be a false start toward a new General Plan. South and east Stockton were badly underrepresented at that workshop. Tuesday’s Merlo Gym workshop aims at bringing the process directly to the people, Stagnaro said.
What do some young people wish to see in older neighborhoods? Pearson, James and Garcia were unanimous in mentioning one particular improvement: sidewalk upgrades.
It might come as a surprise to hear that young people notice damaged — and in some cases absent — sidewalks in older neighborhoods. And they said a lack of pavement sends a message.
“(Deficiencies in) sidewalks are dangerous for children,” Pearson said. “It makes them feel society values them less.”
Infrastructure is, indeed, a component of the General Plan process. The city acknowledges the existence of sidewalk shortcomings in older neighborhoods in some of its planning documents.
Referring to Boggs Tract, one document says, “Residential streets have very few sidewalks and many gravel or dirt paths.” Another says, “The city of Stockton does not currently have an inventory of sidewalk locations or where gaps exist in the sidewalk network.”
Missing or damaged sidewalks in low-income and minority neighborhoods have been found in studies to contribute to everything from obesity to a greater likelihood of pedestrian injuries or deaths.
A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of 154 communities in 2010 found that 89 percent of affluent areas had sidewalks. For low-income areas, it was 49 percent.
Stockton Planning Commissioner Elizabeth Hull raised the sidewalks issue at a meeting six months ago. Tom Pace, Stockton’s director for planning and engineering, responded, “Your (current) General Plan doesn’t delve into that level of detail on that issue at this time. But it’s something to be considered in the new General Plan as we move forward.”
Perhaps Pearson will raise the sidewalks issue at Tuesday night’s workshop. And if the new General Plan leads to improvements in sidewalks or anything else, it will send a powerful message to young people, Pearson added.
That message, Pearson said, would be that “people actually care. … We can actually make a future for ourselves.”
— Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/phillipsblog and on Twitter @rphillipsblog.