Over the years I’ve groused that Stockton is perennially given chicken feed by state and federal governments (President Biden’s Covid relief money being a welcome exception). Well, now the city has a chance to rake in $1.2 billion — and may not take it.

Worse, if it doesn’t, Uncle Sam’s going to smack Stockton with paralyzing growth restrictions. And force tens of thousands of property owners to pay pricey flood insurance. 

“I’ve never seen a community work so hard against itself,” said Kim Floyd, a public outreach consultant to the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency, or SJAFCA. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for our community. And one which other communities have taken advantage of.”

Floyd refers to a mail-in vote underway asking Stockton property owners to approve an annual assessment, a co-pay necessary to secure the $1.2 billion and fund the lower San Joaquin River Project. The deadline is June 8 (tomorrow).

That project is 23 miles of levee improvements essential to protect north and central Stockton from radically changed flood risks, including a so-called “megaflood.”

If you think Stockton’s adequately protected, because it hasn’t flooded here in so long, think again. Climate change and new laws changed everything. 

A 2022 scientific study warned Stockton is Ground Zero for “the most expensive geophysical disaster in global history.” The city could be submerged in a deluge dwarfing in cost Hurricane Katrina’s toll on New Orleans. 

Stockton’s existing levees are not up to Mother Nature’s big new threat. They’re not even up to the new normal, the wild swings between drought and record rains.

What will the assessment cost? If voters say yes, 78% of property owners will pay under $100 dollars a year, raising $140 million; the state and Uncle Sam would kick in $9 for every local $1.

It’s a sweet deal. Yet Floyd is petrified Stockton voters won’t take it. 

Because, she says, Stocktonians are “Just pushing back for the sake of pushing back because it’s a quote-unquote “tax increase.” 

Floyd understands that an assessment (which differs from a tax, being a fee for a service that benefits a property owner) could be unpopular, given inflation.

“People feel they have no control over cost increases, utilities, gas, food, so they want to say no to something.”

To which I would add that Stocktonians are justifiably sour about taxes that don’t bring results, such as Measure A, which promised 120 cops but never delivered.

I hope Floyd is just being paranoid, but on the off-chance she’s right, be clear: By nixing this deal Stockton would suffer an atomic triple whammy.

  • Loss of $1.2 billion.
  • Mandatory flood insurance. Homeowners in “low to moderate” risk zones will pay around $700 a year; in special flood risk areas, $1,300 and up.
  • A halt to new buildings of all types, and redevelopment, within the flood zone.

The latter scenario, a sort of municipal snakebite, involves the Central Valley Protection Act of 2008, or SB5. SB5 requires Central Valley urban areas to armor themselves against the sort of big flood statistically likely to occur once every 200 years.

The levees needing these upgrades criss-cross Stockton: the Calaveras River, 14 Mile Slough, 10 Mile Slough, Mosher Slough and the San Joaquin River at Van Buskirk.

Upgrades must be done by 2025. 

“If we fail to meet this requirement, which we will, that will put the kibosh on significant development,” Floyd warned.

New housing projects will be banned, even redevelopment projects blocked. 

Say Target moves online, Floyd said. The city could not rezone the building to housing or anything but the permitted use. “So the community cannot adapt to changing economic conditions.”

That is why all north-Delta flood control agencies — Sacramento’s, West Sacramento’s, Sutter Butte, Three Rivers in Yuba — all leaped at the deal.

A last-chance voting table will be set up outside the public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 8, at the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors’ chambers, 44 N. San Joaquin Street, 6th floor, Stockton.

“There’s absolutely a need to do this,” said Councilman Dan Wright, who’s also a member of SJAFCA. 

Wright worked for a school district during the floods of ’97. 

“We were sandbagging down by Taft Elementary,” Wright said. “What hit us in ’97 is nothing compared to what can hit us. We need to get our levees as safe as we could possibly be.” 

Michael Fitzgerald is an investigative news columnist for Stocktonia. His column usually runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. email: mfitzgeraldstockton@gmail.com

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  1. Other than a few town hall meetings, I wonder who else was pushing the reasons to vote for the assessment. Every HOA, every service club, the chamber of commerce and all businesses should have been doing so. I wonder how many of this group did . It would be interesting to know who did and who didn’t.

  2. So, I’m reading this on July 4, 2023
    And I don’t live in Stockton anymore
    What happened to the vote? What were the results? You have a tendency o write the story but never give us the answers? What happened?

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