Some observers, mostly outsiders, have portrayed Stockton as a depressed city, not unlike dismal Detroit. In reality, Stockton boasts settled, vibrant neighborhoods, a fine private university, a bustling port, and many attractive features. Stockton does have blight, however, and it suffers from a rising crime rate, driven in part by the 20 percent cut in its police force. Cuts like that will become common in other California localities unless they can rein in their spending. In San Jose, for instance, reform-minded Democratic officials say that without substantive changes to government employees’ pensions, their city won’t be able to provide the public services that residents expect. Stockton, which squandered tax dollars on subsidized stadiums and Western European–style employee benefits, shows what happens when such warnings aren’t heeded.
Hundreds of Stockton residents have expressed sadness about their hometown’s bankruptcy. But the bankruptcy is the first step on the road to recovery. The real question is whether officials in other California cities learn anything about fiscal discipline and stop blaming unforeseen economic consequences for their own bad decisions.