Since taking office in January 2021, Stockton Mayor Kevin Lincoln has been faced with and confronted a host of issues, from a global health crisis, chronic homelessness, high-profile crimes amid an ongoing police force shortage and, most recently, record rainfall and storm damage.
Lincoln spoke with Stocktonia earlier this week about his first two years in office. The first-term mayor reflected on all that occurred as well as what lies ahead.
Here’s what he had to say: (Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.)
How would you rate the first half of your term? How do you think Stocktonians would rate your first term?
I would rate the first half of my first term as stable. I would say Stocktonians will see that they have a stable local government. One of the things is that we’ve had to navigate some very challenging times the last two years.
When I came into my first term, and even when I ran for office, who would have thought that I’d be entering office during the global pandemic? I didn’t see that in the near future when I decided to run for office, but ultimately through that process, the citizens of Stockton decided to hire me on election night, and we immediately went to work to address COVID. We lost two public safety personnel in my first two years. In fact, today is the anniversary of the passing of Capt. Max Fortuna.
We also dealt with the serial killer this past year. And then at the end of my first two years, and the beginning of my third year, we dealt with a one-in-200-year storm that impacted the residents of Stockton.
And so, I would rate myself as a mayor that’s present, that is focused on the fundamental needs of the community, and being transparent in communicating with the residents of Stockton regarding matters that are of great concern to them. And that’s what I mean by stable.
During times of crisis, during very difficult and challenging times, you need stable leadership to help guide you through those circumstances. The people want to know that they can trust the decisions that they’re going to make, and that they can depend on you for information. That ultimately has been my goal, to provide that level of leadership for the residents of Stockton.
You have two years left of this term, as well as an election next year. What will this time be like for you? What are you hoping to accomplish?
Now entering the second half of my first term, reelection is right around the corner, and we’re moving into a presidential primary, which will take place in March of 2024.
Essentially, we’re 14 months from my next election, the primary. Between now and then, it’s to finish and build upon what we’ve been able to start, and the foundation we’ve been able to lay over the last two years here in office. We are addressing the needs of the community, in the area of homelessness, in the area of public safety, in the area of economic development, and housing as well.
The beginning of your term was defined by COVID-19. The start of your second half kicked off with record-breaking, damaging storms. Both were declared local emergencies, one by the City Council with your predecessor and the other with you and the current City Council. Not to mention a historic drought. What has that been like?
It’s definitely been challenging, juggling the different crises and disasters we’ve had to deal with as a city, but I haven’t had to go at it alone. And what I mean by that is we have a very experienced council, a very experienced city staff, and we realize that in order to effectively navigate these difficult challenges and difficult seasons for the city of Stockton, we ultimately have to work together.
We ultimately have to set aside any personal, political ideologies and focus on what are the immediate, midterm and long-term needs of our community, and how can we align together as a governing body to meet those needs.
What’s next for Stockton, and how much do these crises influence what’s next?
I always say that strength is built through resistance. When you go through difficult times, they can either make you or break you.
For the city of Stockton, every single one of these crises and natural disasters that we’ve experienced, they haven’t broken us. They’ve made us stronger. We’ve seen the community come together and unite on a level that it never has before. Community-based organizations have been working not only collaboratively with one another, but working with the city of Stockton to make sure that we get financial resources, supplies and support to the community.
Stockton is also finally coming out of bankruptcy, with the light at the end of the tunnel getting brighter. The city is finally planning for economic prosperity rather than just staying afloat. How does that change what you and other city officials have planned?
One of the main things we accomplished in my first two years is the development of an economic and strategic plan for the city of Stockton. It was no small feat, but this provides a road map, from an economic development standpoint, to move our community forward, with specific measurables and milestones along the way.
Stockton is ranked in the top 25 for positive momentum growth throughout the nation. Stockton is the 16th most fiscally solvent city in the nation. We’re the No. 1 most diverse city in the nation. We have the first chartered university, with the University of the Pacific, in California. We have one of the nation’s top junior colleges.
In Stockton, we have a tremendous amount of assets, we have a rich history, a rich, diverse culture, and we’re at a point now as a city where it’s time for us to tell our story. We are in the process right now to develop a marketing and branding strategy for the city of Stockton, so that we can begin to shape that narrative of what it’s like to experience life in the city of Stockton. We have a clear vision for the city of Stockton.
The vision will be the best city in America to live, raise a family and grow a business. And every decision that we make from this day moving forward is going to be in alignment with that vision, to help our community, to help our families, to help our businesses take that next step towards prosperity while living in Stockton.
What can the city do now that it couldn’t before? How do you view your role in what’s happened economically and what’s to come?
My role as a mayor is to be the political leader of this city, to be the face of this community, to work alongside the council and to help guide the city manager and the city staff on how we move forward.
The policies that we implement as a council, the policies that I recommend for council consideration will be in alignment with meeting the specific needs and the priorities of the community.
One of the things that I specifically am excited about accomplishing within the last two years is advocating with the Big City Mayors Coalition – which are the mayors of the 13 largest cities in the state of California – we advocated for funding directly from the governor and the Legislature for youth workforce development. I was able to obtain $4.3 million to help launch a program to hire youth and young adults not only in City Hall, but also with four other partner agencies and organizations in the community. And through that initiative, we developed a framework that is scalable, and right now I’m working alongside the big city mayors and the governor’s office to secure additional funding in this next budget, so that we can continue the program.
Specifically, within the city of Stockton, we are going to be able to hire over 430 youth and young adults to work and help them get connected with potential career pathways for themselves. As we move forward, the additional funding is only going to help us grow that initiative.
Of that 430 total students and young adults that we will be helping to employ, over 200 of those will be hired with the city of Stockton. And that will help us create a pipeline for future city employees.
Another thing that is important to the community, as it relates to our youth, is our school district. The city of Stockton doesn’t have jurisdiction over the school district, but we have a responsibility to the students in our community because we have the same vested interest of the school district, and that’s our students, which are the future of our community.
Are you starting to plan for reelection? Are you planning to run again? It’s rare lately for a Stockton mayor to get a second term. Does that worry you?
I started as soon as I closed out my 2020 campaign. In 2021 I opened up my 2024 campaign committee. The fourth quarter of last year, I already started my fundraising efforts for reelection.
Stockton has lacked stability for two decades when it comes to the office of the mayor.
What I mean by that is every four years for the last 20 years, we’ve had a new mayor. And it’s hard for any organization to effect sustainable change if there’s constant turnover at the executive level.
My goal coming into office was to prove to the public that I’m the same man they voted for. I’m the same leader they voted for. The same level of engagement that they saw from me in community outreach when I was running for office in 2020, and when I took office in January of 2021, I still not only maintain that level of engagement with the community, but built upon it.
What have you learned over the last two years? How will you use that for the next two?
One of the main things I’ve learned over the past two years is how much politics impedes progress. What I’ve learned is that you can have a good policy, a good program, but sometimes on different levels, different political ideologies get in the way and slow down the progress we can make, if we (don’t) set those differences aside and focus on the needs of the people.
I’m committed as a mayor in making the tough decisions that are in the best interests of the people and the community, stand on those decisions, but also be willing to set my personal ego aside and listen to my colleagues and the needs of the constituents that they represent and implement policy that best represents those needs impacting our community.
Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, what are the biggest issues facing the city
Homelessness and housing, public safety and economic development, and youth programs and development.
Where is the city on the homeless shelter project beneath the Interstate 5 and Highway 4 freeways?
The Stockton shelter just received their final permit approval from the state. They will also be coming before the council on Feb. 7 with a comprehensive update of the project. As we speak right now, additional foundations are being laid. The project completion time for that project is June of 2023. The project is well underway. They are fully funded for the construction of the project.
This is one of many significant projects that will help the city in mitigating homelessness throughout our community. We’re going to be adding 180 beds with a navigation center at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless as a direct result of this project. We just closed out a notice of funding for low-barrier shelter expansion in the city of Stockton, which will, when it’s all said and done, add an additional 320-plus beds into the pipeline. That could all be realized in 2023.
As a whole right now, we have 554 beds in the city of Stockton. We added an additional 320 beds, and that’s going to put us at 874.
We’ve also taken steps and measures in the city of Stockton – which is another one of those major accomplishments in the first two years – where we’ve invested $5.7 million in a Care Link program that helps us better respond to calls for people who are experiencing some sort of a behavioral health challenge, whether that’s substance use or mental illness. We realize that over 20% of our unsheltered population are dealing with some sort of a behavioral health challenge. I’m all about addressing the root cause of issues and challenges in our community. Our Care Link program is one of those initiatives that addresses one of the root causes of homelessness that’s been impacting the city of Stockton.
Even though we’ve had a 3% reduction from 2019 to 2022, we still have a lot of work to be done because the truth is, the people of Stockton don’t necessarily feel like homelessness has been mitigated. They still drive and see individuals that are unsheltered, they see encampments throughout the city. Our small businesses are still being impacted. Our families still can’t access parks from time to time because of encampments.
The city of Stockton is doing everything we can within our powers to mitigate encampments, mitigate the impact to the small-business communities, clean up our parks, provide beautification projects for our city, so that we can improve the quality of life for everyone. And that’s what we’re committed to.
How will you be addressing the city’s ongoing police shortage?
Recruit, recruit and more recruiting. Our new police chief has come in. He’s assessed the situation, assessed the needs, he and his staff have ramped up recruiting efforts. They’re being very creative and strategic and innovative with their approach. They are engaging youth, young adults at the high school level, at the college level, creating opportunities and hosting multiple job fairs for the community.
Last year we were able to provide an 18% increase to the wages through the last collective bargaining agreement with the Stockton Police Officers Association, and the firefighters association as well. These are all efforts that are going to help us hire more police officers, but not just hire, but also retain, the police officers that we currently have.
What is your top priority regarding crime?
As a follow up to the previous question, if there were 100 officers, 100 candidates that were qualified to be hired tomorrow, the city of Stockton would make it happen.
The shortage that we are experiencing right now as a city is not because we can’t afford to hire more law enforcement personnel, but it’s because that has been the market impact across the nation. There’s a shortage of law enforcement and public safety personnel throughout the nation. So we’re going to continue our efforts, and our chief is going to continue to be innovative and strategic in his approach regarding his recruiting and retention efforts.
My top priority regarding crime in the city is to reduce gun violence and nonfatal shootings. In 2022 we saw a 6% reduction in nonfatal shootings, even though we experienced a 20% increase in homicides. But the true indicator of reducing crime in the city is the reduction of nonfatal shootings.
So, as a city, we have to be creative in how we get illegal guns off the street and how we reduce gun violence in our community. That’s the No. 1 public safety concern for me. Every illegal firearm that we get off the street is a life that is potentially saved. And we realize that we can’t reduce crime on our own.
I want to see the community take ownership of their city like they did last year, when we had to navigate the serial killer situation. We would not have been able to make the arrest of the alleged serial killer if it had not been for the community providing tips and information that led to the surveillance and apprehension of the suspect. And what we were able to do with that case is unprecedented because serial killer cases don’t get solved in that short of a window.
That just speaks to the level of leadership that we have through our chief, our relationships that our city has with the community and the community-based organizations. We want to continue to improve upon that relationship, build trust throughout the community through community policing.