Who Took Down Stockton?

2014, Economics  -   19 Comments
Ratings: 8.54/10 from 105 users.

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.

More great documentaries

19 Comments / User Reviews

  1. J

    Maybe there are no bad guys. At least, no major, singular guys causing all the problems (although we'd like this, as it would easier on all of our consciouses). Maybe we live in a world with lots of pros and cons, and while people have better benefits than ever in the history of the world, nothing can ever be perfect.

    "You say you want a revolution... We all want to change the world."
    "You ask me for a contribution. Well, you know, we're all doing what we can."

    Let's take baby steps with cases like Stockton.

  2. DT

    How can so many American citizens be so cold and heartless? Wall Street is the bad guy in this case. All Americans should rally to Stockton's support and demand justice from our leaders. Wall Street is destroying America in order to save it but at this rate few of us will survive. The WS attitude and philosophy causes us and millions of other people around the world horrible pain and suffering. It is not necessary. Everyone should be critical of WS not Little old Stockton. Have a heart like the Canadians.

  3. winter

    Mostly, I feel sorry for the 20% of the people below the poverty line who will have to work till they drop dead because they don't have benefits. I also feel sorry for the middle class who don't work for the Stockton city government. They will also work till they drop dead to make ends meet.
    The average person who becomes disabled will not get government benefits till they can no longer dress or feed themselves. Those who get disability before they get to this situation are scammers. So why should private workers who do not work for the government be forced to support those who are tired of working. I would believe that an exception is in order for the policeman who had a brain tumor.

  4. winter

    I feel really bad about all these public employees who are not getting the medical care they need after they retired early. I feel worse about the average person that struggles to get disability, and believe me, it's not easy to get, and receives 200.00 a week. Granted, that puts them on medicaid.

    The problem as I see it, is that these women are not disabled. No one is helping them put on their clothes. They are well groomed. They are not in wheelchairs. They are driving around. Why should the private sector pay for them to live in comfort when the private sector is struggling to make ends meet, has no health care, and has no pension. Most people in the private sector will have to work till they drop dead.

  5. James Campbell

    I truly feel sorry for most of you Americans, We from the outside have watched for years (I’m Canadian)
    The decline of the American Empire.
    It first started in the late 80s when our base manufacturing moved to Japan, then China.
    China has managed to pilfer everything.
    Except for ray natural resources we don’t make/manufacture anything in both countries.
    Its far too late to go back or even look back; History will write its own pages in whatever language the Victors speak.
    We from the outside of USA have been watching, we all feel the doom, the gloom, these are the birthing pains of a falling Empire.
    Now my fellow North Americans, we should be preparing for war; not for The war with China, but the day after.
    None of us think America will go out with a whimper like Great Britain did as a world power.
    Like your 4th of July, we know there will be fireworks; just maybe Chinese Fireworks now.
    We already miss you America-(Be smart, work hard and get ahead)

  6. Rebut Ifucan

    I had to stop watching at 6:00. This is soooo indicative of the new America, where people who are obviously capable of work, are opting out on "disability". They are draining the system then turn around and blame the demise on the politicians. This scam by the non-working is far too pervasive in the new America. It's simply frightening.

  7. bobbyd118

    for the voters to blame city hall is much like a drug user blaming the drug
    dealer for their problems.....for 50 years.....these people voted for people
    that put these policies in place....the generous retirement benefits just kept
    getting bigger and more generous.....the bond holders have every right to demand
    their bond money...it was used to finance city workers lifestyle......

  8. Greg R.

    It's kind of a "no-brainer". Would you spend your whole lifetime slaving away 9 to 5 to make close to a million (If you're that lucky) or ripoff a city, make billions and spend 5 years in a country club "prison" for white-collar crime? You'd have to be an idiot to "do the right thing". From top to bottom, we've reworked our society to benefit and financially reward criminal aspirations. There's more than enough evidence all around us that crime definitely pays very nicely.

  9. Sven Breugelmans

    Life is tragic, and basically in all its forms a ponzi scheme, life consumes the natural world around it, whether you're in the US of A, the south of France or smog-filled Beijing. So stop crying and lying to yourself. Do you truly want to stop the suffering? Stop making babies then.

  10. Steve Perreira

    How about that "smart" Mr. Louis spending borrowed money like a drunken sailor? A trophy girlfriend can spend money wiser than he. But it's not just him, just about everyone is greedy. Almost all government workers are over-compensated. We, in the private sector do not have the benefits or pay of government workers on a job by job comparison. Therefore we cannot afford to pay for the overpriced health care and unfunded pensions of others. Government workers will get less than a pigs share - the courts have ruled - but it will still be plenty, and a lot more than the rest of us. The reckless bond spending drove you into bankruptcy a decade sooner than the pension crisis otherwise would have. Either way, big government collapses - the sooner the better! I wish you well though Stockton citizens. Stay alive, privatize!

  11. MaxVibrantUser

    Regarding home prices, Stockton is an overflow area from places closer to the Pacific Ocean. The upshot is that prices closer to the ocean are more stable and overflow areas experience price volatility over the business cycle. When things are good in Stockton, everybody thinks they will stay that way but it simply cannot.

  12. Horst Manure

    US economy is on the improve except 1 in 4 are on anti depressants 25% live in poverty more than China or Russia....if you have $10 and no debt you are better off than 1/4 of the rest.....more jobs created again..things are looking good.

    1. Toy Pupanbai

      Another Trillion was added to the National Debt, last year!

  13. awful_truth

    An excellent documentary that needs to be watched by everyone who has concern for their community. I must admit, it felt like de je vu. As someone who sat on council, and was the lone voice voting against a foolish debenture, to invest in (you guessed it) a sportsplex, something that was already heavily subsidized by the taxpayers of the community.
    Now, as a mere citizen, I constantly have people in the community coming up to me saying that I was right, and asking me to run for council again. The irony is that municipal governments have very little say, and when they do, they better be smart about it. The global pyramid scheme is so well entrenched in the legality that governs all of us, it is easy to blame the elected officials, while ignoring the construct that binds them to the decisions they make. Great documentary TDF, keep up the good work!

  14. t8y gnaS

    I watch TDF almost every night, to see what's new or interesting, then I see this, never thought about seeing my own city. Here's my thoughts about it. Other than that, this is a good documentary, I enjoyed it. I live here in Stockton, and this documentary says it all. I see that downtown may look nice but they have neglected on other neighborhoods that need to be worked on, streets that needs to be fixed, and people who need help.

    The city lives of image, they use all the money they have to build a stadium, the only time I went there was for a hockey game, sure it was nice but we need better revenue than just a stadium. How about those empty buildings, and those long stretch of roads that you have to circle or be on to get to the other side of the city, construction here in this city is nearby business, that only support the ones that can afford such leisure time.

    They should start by working their way from the center then out, I only see the production from the borders of Stockton, very beautiful on/off ramps of the freeway, are you trying to attract residents? How about creating new jobs, new business for the people of Stockton first. I love this city but I hate the rate of growth, and the bad reputation we get from all of this.

    1. Imightberiding

      I'm curious. You are from Stockton. Both the video & you spoke of sports & a new stadium/arena. With the rise of MMA & the UFC as a Billion dollar industry, has the fact that Nick & Nate Diaz (both well known, popular & successful fighters & brothers who fight in the UFC) are from Stockton, made any financial impact on the city or generated any positive financial interest in the community?

      Perhaps they are not well enough known to have caused a difference either way. Has MMA or the UFC reflected positively on the city? I'm thinking of other sports stars who have had an impact on the areas they have lived & played/fought. Then again, these fellows may not be main stream enough or as popular as others who have generated large sponsorships & boosted the economies of the sports franchises & cities from which they hailed.

      *Edit: I had no idea that Stockton was bigger than Detroit. I always thought of Stockton as a mid-sized city in North-Central California. Maybe the size of Spokane? Apparently I was very wrong. They stated Stockton is the largest city in the USA to ever declare bankruptcy.

    2. Mixologist Mike

      MMA is NOT big enough to save anything. Sure, it's popular, but NOTHING compared to MLB, NFL, even hockey. Outside MMA fans, who has ever heard of the Diaz bros.? I watch some MMA, and I've never heard of them. Stockton wouldn't even benefit if Urija Fabor lived there. He's a bigger name than the Diaz bros.

      What was Stockton thinking building a huge arena? The only major sports affiliation they have had is spring training for the SF 49ers, and that's held at the University of the Pacific. How does spring training equate to building a sports arena?

    3. disqus_gW9Mj4M5g7

      You definitely are not wrong. Stockton is no where near the size of Detroit.

  15. KC

    What happens to the local banks? The city could have use the extra money to help build up local financial services, like credit unions, to lend money (at low interest) to small businesses. And what's up with that idiotic city manager and building ballparks. Building ballpark is one of the best way to throw away public money, just read the book "Filed of Schemes" by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause.