Thoughts after my first draft about the economic evolution of Vallejo, CA

January 19, 2011

Yesterday there was an article about Vallejo in the Financial Times. It says:

For an image of the future that is guaranteed to chill US civic leaders and bondholders alike, there is no better place to look than among the potholed streets and boarded-up houses that litter the Californian city of Vallejo.

It made me feel good that last year I went to the city to make a case study about it. I stated at Univ. of California, Berkeley during the whole Spring semester 2010. A few days ago I finished writing a paper called “VALLEJO, CALIFORNIA. FROM THE FRINGES OF THE CITY, A CASE FOR THE ‘CITY REGION SYSTEM OF SURVIVAL’. I wrote it to present it at the DIME-DRUID ACADEMY Winter Conference 2011, this week.

This paper is very heterodox, and is a paper on progress. The main purpose of it was to make a summary of theories I learned about Local Economic Development at the Berkeley libraries. I then tried to connect the case of this city (or district) of the San Francisco Bay Area, and its significance to entrepreneurship and innovation policy. Innovation from a broad sense, for the ones that now what I’m talking about.

I got much help from the locals of Vallejo, and one of them, the editor of the popular Vallejo Independent Bulletin, asked me to send him a copy of the article when I would finished it. Keeping my word I sent it to him, and he has published it online.

My article at the Vallejo Independent Bulletin

I am grateful he did it, because I got a few comments from the citizens. This made me realize that my ideas are still quite confusing. So I wrote a comment. It seems it has an anti-spam feature, I told the editor. For now I’ll put it here.

Since I read the comments of Ab and SomeoneElse on my paper about Vallejo and the Bay Area, I have been thinking a lot.

I am grateful for the comments. In particular, because I have realized that I have not made a good job to express my ideas. This is hard, as English is not my native language. But also because of the internal fight I have had. I am a PhD student specializing in local economic development, but it is the case of Vallejo that has made me changed many of my preconceptions. Now I would like to comment on the comments.

Ab says: -“the last line is spont on”- and then quotes me: -“Vallejo … end up like many cities in third world countries, where a few (police and firefighters?) live in affluence while the vast majority of citizens live and die in misery”- [police and firefighters added by Ab].

There are two things. First it should be understood that even though Vallejo has been a city, since the 19th century, I refer in the paper as a “district” of the city-region of the Bay Area. I know this may sound weird for any local (of the Bay Area), but coming from abroad I can clearly see that the Bay Area is a large metropolitan area, highly connected in its economic geography.

The second thing is that I don’t necessarily say that police and firefighters are the few, or the elite of Vallejo, nor of course the elite of the city-region. True, they are an interest group, and as I referenced in the paper they have a well known “symbiotic relationship” with the political power of the city. But going back to my first point, one has to look beyond the city limits of Vallejo. Making $150,000 as a safety employee it’s certainly high, but what about the bankers and real estate leaders who make 10 times or more, in the different districts of the Bay Area?. This is probably a stupid comparison, but what about the profits of a company of the city region, like Apple making 100,000 times more. But still, what is their responsibility towards their neighbors?

“Someone Else” points out we need to think outside the box. I’ll try to do it. There is so much anger against the public safety employees, and probably with a reason. But this is not going to solve the problem of Vallejo. Thinking outside the box… What about a Bay Area police? After all, the criminals operate in all the Bay Area, not only in one particular city. I am NOT an expert in safety, but I see that the New York City Police Department, covers 8 million people, more than the 7 million of the Bay Area. The Bay Area has already the BART police, that would fall inside the Bay Area Police. The 9 counties police departments (sheriffs), a heritage from a bygone era could also be reduced. I repeat, I have no idea about this field. But as an economist I would think that cities (and their tax payers) would avoid the “competition” among them. And that is the idea: work more towards collaboration, than competition.

Of course, safety should not be the only thing. In fact should be the least. The most important things would be towards, education. I had the chance to be in UC Berkeley, one of the most amazing universities in the world. Also visited friends in Stanford. Great places. I know all these ideas have been said many times before, even from the former Governor (I still can’t believe people voted for an European actor). But there should be more mechanisms to get more funding for the rest of more ordinary higher education. However, what I think is of really concern, is the high inequality in the school districts across the Bay Area. In Europe we have many problems, don’t get me wrong! but with the exception of a few countries (like UK), every child has the same amount of money allocated for education, regardless in which neighborhood was born. There is an urgent need for a more cohesive education across the Bay Area.

More cohesiveness should be as well for access to justice, healthcare, transportation, innovation and entrepreneurship policy, etc in the Bay Area. That’s what I am trying to say in the paper. Because the different parts of the city region are so interdependent.

The same goes to having X or Y Mayor. Sure, many question if Davis should be the Mayor. But I think it does not matter if X or Y, or Z would be Mayors. Neither if Vallejo hires the best consultants, or the best City Manager. My hypothesis is that it does not matter who is in the leadership of Vallejo. The city will not survive.

Unless, they realize that: 1) Vallejo is dependent of the city-region. (This does not mean surrender). 2) There is need of active coordination, at local (Vallejo) and city-region level. That is stop fighting at local and inter-local level, and start collaborating.

If not, and now I clarify, the city region of San Francisco, will become more and more as third world country, “where a few live in affluence while the vast majority of citizens live and die in misery.”. Many in the elite, as the mentioned Andy Grove in the paper, have noticed it.


2 Responses to “Thoughts after my first draft about the economic evolution of Vallejo, CA”

  1. Jason Says:

    One thing Davis campaigned for a lot (and maybe you saw this) is to push power down to the local level. I don’t know that there is anyone that has power at a regional level like you talk about (other than the governor of course, but his is statewide). So our political infrastructure isn’t setup like that. And I believe Davis is trying to give cities more power. But like you are saying with Vallejo, that would have little effect.

  2. carlos9900 Says:

    Jason, I understand that this new type of regionalism does not exist. It’s almost an utopia, or what some planners openly called the ‘pipe dream’. However, as I explained in the article, there has been attempts of forming a more cohesive Bay Area, in the 1950-60s and the early 2000s, even though it’s an almost dead process. Only with some rests, like the BART, and environment projects, laws, parks, etc.

    Considering to give more power to cities. I also say in the article: “Undoubtedly there are positive aspects regarding empowering communities, however, this also creates a strong urgency for local politicians to act as entrepreneurs, something that it has been heavily criticized for all the mistakes made in the past (Harvey, 1989; Roberts, 1979) (…) Furthermore, this study confirms that ‘community based’ development, is unequal across cities. A place with lower resources (education, income, etc.) are in a worse position to do well, than places possessing these factors.”

    As you also say, this will be of little help to Vallejo.

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