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Greenbelt idea recedes, but some ask: Don’t we need to keep our distance from Stockton?

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Posted: Thursday, July 29, 2010 8:34 am

With the Great Recession now dragging into its third year and property values lingering anywhere between 35 to 65 percent of pre-recession highs, these are indeed tough times for many, many individuals and families here in the San Joaquin Valley.

New homes that were, just a few years ago, fetching upwards of $500,000 along the Eight Mile Road corridor, which is Stockton’s northernmost border, now have great difficulty attracting potential new home buyers, even with banners boasting of new homes priced “in the low $200,000s.”

The once-serious possibility of the region’s property owners being offered and accepting unconscionable amounts of cash by developers has been exposed as a pipe dream, or at least been delayed by a decade, maybe two or three.

Not unexpectedly, considering the region’s economic malaise, the once hot-button issue of the city of Lodi — “let’s face it, the city of Stockton was never really on board with the idea” — wanting to establish a “greenbelt” between the two cities has pretty much been forgotten about.

With unemployment standing at 16.5 percent in the region, contractors, developers and those who they employ are struggling mightily just to keep their heads above water. Who would possibly entertain such a notion as a “buffer” between the two proud cities?

On the other hand, many in Lodi read the papers and see how the city of Stockton is seemingly devolving into near chaos, and believe a buffer is needed now more than ever.

I mean, when you have the union representing the police officers association actually posting billboards stating how bad the crime rate is in the town they are sworn to uphold and protect, many people just shake their head in disbelief. The fire department seemingly believes that antiquated labor agreements should be considered sacred and not at all subject to negotiation, even though most in the department work only two to three days a week. Nothing against unions; my union actually agreed to a two-tiered wage structure years ago, where the newly hired are paid a different scale than longtime members. Nobody wanted to do it, but the economic realities are what they are.

Forbes magazine just this year rated Stockton as the second most miserable city in the entire United States, second only to Cleveland. The good news for Stockton is that it actually improved from last year, when Forbes ranked it as THE most miserable city in the U.S., based on unemployment, foreclosures, crime rates, sales taxes and commute times, among other determining factors.

Don’t get me wrong: Lodi is no bastion of perfection by any means, but Lodi has, I believe, fared far better due to its desire to control growth, making the most of existing resources and limiting expenditures, something that is much more manageable in a city of 63,000 or so. The city has done well in comparison to many other cities, in using discretion and making sometimes painful choices in setting utility rates.

Private property rights are, and should be, considered one of our most cherished rights granted to all Americans by the Constitution.

In all actuality a greenbelt may be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. That will not stop however, the desire of an untold number of Lodians that a definitive, distinct and absolute separation be forever put in place to clearly and unmistakingly establish a line of demarcation between the two entities.

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