By Almendra Caprizo
STOCKTON — Emma Smith remembers when the city tore down the once-vibrant Little Manila community during the 1960s in downtown to make way for the Crosstown Freeway.
Smith, now 73, recalls families being driven out of their homes and neighborhood, which at one point held the highest concentration of Filipinos outside of the Philippines.
They couldn’t afford to move anywhere else, so they moved into poverty, the Stockton resident said.
Now, three buildings, blight, a gas station and a fast food restaurant are what remains of what was once also home to Japantown and Chinatown in Stockton.
Redlining — the practice of denying services to neighborhoods based on their racial and ethnic makeup — made it possible to dismantle Little Manila and is also responsible for creating social, health and environmental inequity, according to advocates who spoke during the Greenlining the Hood: Reclaim & Rebuild Our City forum on Tuesday. The conversation, which was open to the public, was intended to address problems and challenges, and to build partnerships to change the outcomes for years to come.
“This blight wasn’t created by just the poor,” said Dillon Delvo, executive director and co-founder of the Little Manila Foundation. “But in the fact that cities have said, ‘OK, there’s a place for people like you over here and a place for people like you over here.’ ”
Sergio Cuellar, community engagement coordinator for the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, said blame is put on people who live in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, but communities were designed that way.
The impact is tied to the redlining of Stockton as far back as 1938, he said. Decision-makers decided to not invest in areas that had high concentrations of poverty, which were mostly populated by minority communities, he said.
The place people call home determines how long they’ll live, said Sammy Nuñez, founder and executive director for Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, which hosted the forum.
“It’s really the tale of two cities, right?” he said. “Many folks in Stockton … have opportunities and live in communities that are vibrant and have opportunities for pathways out of poverty … and are liberated from the fears that many of us in these communities are talking about.”
According to research, the difference in ZIP codes can mean having a life expectancy of 74 for someone living in Stockton’s 95205 or 83 in the more-affluent 95219. It can determine how much hotter a home and neighborhood is and the quality of air people breathe in.
Stockton has three ZIP codes — 95203, 95205 and 95206 — that fall within the top 10 most polluted areas in California.
“Just by a ZIP code you can tell who’s going to live a longer life,” Nuñez said. “Not by any decision you make, just by a ZIP code.”
The ZIP code, according to maps provided by Cuellar, can also mean access to opportunities.
Older urban areas “have weathered decades of disinvestment as development dollars followed higher-income residents to the northern suburbs,” according to the 2015 report Mapping Opportunity in California’s San Joaquin Valley conducted by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. “They now face People Opportunity challenges such as unemployment and poverty rates as high as double the regional average.”
Lower-income communities in south Stockton also face limited access to health care facilities and supermarkets, while poor neighborhoods in east and north Stockton grapple with paying for housing.
There’s an illusion of scarcity in Stockton, but there’s wealth, Nuñez said. The problem is, “we’re stingy.”
The forum brought stakeholders together to deliberately connect people with resources and collaboratively develop an action plan, he said.
Stockton city officials were invited to the forum, but none were present. San Joaquin County Supervisor Kathy Miller was in attendance.
The information provided during the forum was important, and it should be elected officials who should be alerting the community about opportunities for funding solutions, said Irene Calimlim, health justice coordinator for Fathers & Families.
During the forum, state, city and county organizations presented programs and opportunities available to Stockton’s residents. California ReLeaf highlighted the existence of grants to create urban forests and green spaces, Kaiser Permanente Central Valley presented its community benefit program, and the Department of Community Services and Development gave information about weatherization programs created to make sustainable technologies attainable to lower-income families.
The next step is to become a model for other cities by applying for grants and empowering communities, organizers said.
Although redlining became illegal with the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, the issue remains, according to organizers.
It’s subliminal, Delvo said. It “exists in our minds and our hearts. The community has been taught the idea that instead of building community, people must buy into a community.”