Editor’s Note: Alison Hope Alkon is a sociology professor at University of the Pacific, where she writes, thinks and teaches classes about environmental justice, food and housing. She holds a PhD in sociology from UC Davis and is the author or editor of four books, including Cultivating Food Justice and Black, White and Green: Farmers Markets, Race and the Green Economy. Prof. Alkon’s  opinions are her own and do not reflect the views of Stocktonia News Service.

Stockton is a city defined by its diversity, but as in many cities, diverse communities have very different experiences of living here. Real estate and urban planning have played large roles shaping these inequalities.

When the federal government sought to promote home ownership in the wake of World War II, it created the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) to offer low-interest loans to developers and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation to back mortgages for new buyers.

But the places where people of color lived were excluded from these programs. Indeed, the word redlining refers to the color-coded maps that the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation used to denote which neighborhoods were worthy of investment. Loans for new developments, such as Lincoln Center, required that sale agreements included racial covenants, which specified that the homes could only be sold to white residents.

In Stockton, this created not one color line but several. Black, Indian, Mexican and Filipino communities couldn’t go north of downtown’s Main Street. Chinese, Japanese and Italians could go a few blocks further, up to Harding Way.

According to local historian Phillip Merlo, these were not just housing restrictions. Police interrogated and even incarcerated individuals for merely moving beyond their restricted zones.

In 1949, the FHA began to offer loans to cities for the clearance of “blighted” neighborhoods, which it defined as “in economic decline or racially mixed.” Nationally, urban renewal enabled the establishment of the federal highway system, urban landmarks such as New York’s Central Park and universities like Georgia Tech. In each case, these areas were home to Black and other communities of color, who were forced to sell through eminent domain or otherwise evicted.

According to Dr. Dawn Mabalon’s beautiful and heartbreaking tribute, Little Manila is in the Heart, despite lawsuits and protests from a multiracial coalition of residents and business owners, Stockton used FHA funds to purchase land downtown for what became known as the East End and West End redevelopment projects. These projects displaced approximately 12,000 Black, Hispanic, Asian and Filipino residents, largely without compensation, from the Barrio del Chivo, Chinatown and Little Manila neighborhoods.

In 1974, additional demolition made way for the construction of Highway 4.

These exclusions and displacements had not only social and economic effects, but environmental ones. If you look at the historic map showing which parts of Stockton were redlined, it is nearly identical to the California EPA’s map depicting which parts of the city have the highest exposures to environmental toxins.

The census tract that encompasses Highway 4, as well as neighborhoods to the south and east, have pollution burdens higher than 95% of the country, including exorbitant rates of airborne particulate matter, pesticide use and threats to groundwater. This is a primary reason that asthma rates in South and East Stockton are so astoundingly high.

In 2013, California launched a carbon cap-and-trade program to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gasses that directly contribute to climate change. The overarching goal is economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045, and the state hit its 2020 interim goal for years ahead of schedule.

Cap-and-trade is a market-based system in which polluting firms can purchase the right to release particular amounts of gasses. Thus, the system earns revenues for the state. When it was initially passed, environmental justice organizations across California fought hard to convince the state to designate 35% of earned funds to be spent in disadvantaged communities. One project funded in this way is the Transformative Climate Communities grant program.

As a University of the Pacific sociology professor who teaches classes on both housing and environmental justice, I’ve been thrilled to see a diverse group of local activists take advantage of this opportunity.

The city manager’s office and an array of community-based organizations have applied for and received funding for a groundswell of programs and projects designed to promote sustainable development in the neighborhoods that have been devastated by redlining and urban renewal.

The city’s Stockton Rising program, along with 11 community partners, surveyed over 2000 residents on their needs and desires in order to create the city’s Sustainable Neighborhood Plan. Now with additional funding from the state, they are working to implement these suggestions. GRID Alternatives is installing no-cost solar systems that can reduce both emissions and power bills while training individuals with barriers to employment for careers in alternative energy. Little Manila Rising and PUENTES are working with the city to plant 1750 drought-tolerant trees, which will sequester carbon while absorbing particulate matter from the air.

The Edible Schoolyard farm in Boggs Tract is growing beautiful organic produce, which they make available through a no-cost Community Supported Agriculture program while also providing field trips and cooking classes. All the while, Public Health Advocates, Catholic Charities and Little Manila Rising lead ongoing community engagement efforts to ensure that local residents are included in planning and implementation efforts. Many of these nonprofits are led by young people with deep roots in the project area and have hired additional staff for these projects, creating an ongoing opportunity for good jobs improving our community.

At the same time, the Stockton Mobility Collective, which is led by the San Joaquin Council of Governments, has been working to create clean, affordable transportation options such as electric car and bike sharing programs, especially in neighborhoods with low rates of vehicle ownership.

On May 1, the Stockton Mobility Collective and Stockton Rising will host their first interactive summit to share their successes and engage with local residents and leaders. Morning sessions will offer overviews of the various projects and the investments they have brought to the city. The afternoon will focus on community engagement, including panels of community organizations, local residents who have guided and benefited from these efforts, and opportunities to strategize and plan for the future.

Stockton Rising and the Stockton Mobility Collective hope to deepen relationships with residents who have been impacted by the legacies of redlining and urban renewal to ensure that they are involved in these efforts to improve our local environments and communities. With this increased community input, they hope to develop a roadmap for the future of the city. 

The Stockton Mobility Collective and Stockton Rising First Joint Summit will be held on Monday May 1, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium on North Center Street in near downtown Stockton.

To view the full schedule and RSVP, visit bit.ly/StocktonSummit23

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  1. Great article. I can remember heavily enforced zoning laws that were in affect in Sacramento in the early 1970’s. While in grade school, I was returning home late from a sporting event. I was stopped by a Sacramento County Sheriff who informed me I was on the wrong side of town, and that if I did not promptly leave he would arrest me.

  2. Good article.

    I was an early and strong proponent of using cap and trade funds thru the Stockton AB 617 program to support urban greening and vegetative barriers in South Stockton.

    We should insist on a public health approach to pollution abatement measures. We need high quality studies to support pollution mitigation measures to insure they have an actual, cost justified, public health benefit.


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