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.

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I rarely talk about energy, however today I’m going to transcribe a section of the book “The Last Entrepreneurs” (1979) by Robert Goodman, now a Professor at Hampshire College, MA (I tell you where he’s now because there are many Robert Goodmans). I like the book on how it criticizes many of the strategies taken by local governments. It’s somewhat similar to David Harvey idea on Urban Entrepreneurialism (1989), but if focus a lot on solutions for local governements, and even supports the idea of “Regional Socialism” (I told you similar to Harvey :)   However I’m going to type down this part about energy, because I found it very interesting. It kind of makes me think why we don’t have on the top of the roof here in California a simple solar water heating device.

3000 thousand years ago, the King Solomon was supposed to have said “There is nothing new under the sun” (Bible, Ecc. 1:9). So when we talk about energy, we all know that today’s use of energy comes from an evolutionary process. I remember when I spent the summer as a kid in my grandmas pueblo in Spain, that she put the plastic bath tub during the siesta in the sun. I remember the water was cold when she put it, but it was later quite warm to take a good bath!

Anyways here is these paragraphs:

The Short Life of Solar Energy. The development of regional energy systems was shaped not simply by what most naturally available, but by what was useful to the large energy companies. The “new” solar energy systems of the 1970s actually began to develop in California and Florida as early as the 1890s. But growing private energy companies, exploring for gas and oil in the 1900s, were able to nip that development in the bud.

The technology for present-day systems was patented in 1891 by Clarence Kemp, a Baltimore inventor who put four galvanized iron water tanks in an insulated pine box covered with glass. By the early 1900s thousands of solar water heater users in California were saving about 75 percent on their gas bills for heating water. By the 1910s at least 4000 known solar water heaters had been manufactured, and uncounted others were being produced by local plumbers and tradespeople. By 1920 one small company was selling 1000 units a year. Florida saw an even more impressive boom; by 1941, at least 60,000 solar water heaters had been installed in that state.

In the 1920s, the gas utilities expanded their energy role in California. As the companies made new discoveries, for a time they dropped prices drastically, helped finance the sale of gas units, installed them free, and sometimes even carried the loans of the gas heaters for a few years. A similar kind of promotion was used by the electric utilities in Florida in the late 1940s and 1950s.

With the demise of solar development, the technology for gas and electric heaters improved. Electricity and gas became standard, solar energy as exotic, and increasingly nonexistent, alternative. As people became locked into their electric and gas system, the utilities could raise their prices. The effect of the energy company action was virtually to eliminate the development of solar energy, lock users into fossil-fuel systems, and accelerate our depletion of those fuels.” (Goodman, 1979)

I find interesting that the Home Depot, close of where I live, they have a big banner by the highways that says Go Solar.

I’m currently in Berkeley, California. Besides the good research environment I have experienced here, I came because of the city of Vallejo. Why Vallejo?

In March 2009 I went to visit our old friends the Tanners, here is Jason’s website. They picked us up in San Francisco and we were driving to his home in Folsom. While driving on I-80, he told me that this city we were driving by (Vallejo), recently declared bankruptcy. He told me it was because of the unions (the police and firefighters), they were getting super high salaries, and the city couldn’t pay them. I was like “come on, you always blame the unions. no matter if it is the car industry or the education system”. We discuss the situation for a while, and then I kept it in mind.

The Doctoral School at my university, Aalborg (Denmark), encourages PhD candidates to study abroad for one semester or so. Something I wanted, was to be able to improve my qualitative research on Local Economic Development. I also wanted to go to a place where I could communicate with any problems (sometimes in Denmark is hard for me), a Spanish speaking country or English place would be fine.  So I looked at a few possibilities in my home country, Spain, England and the U.S. But I was looking for a place somewhat similar to Frederikshavn (see Differences and Similarities between Frederikshavn and Vallejo), with an industrial history, and in the struggle of transform themselves. Besides I had to go to a fine environment research, which is what the Doctoral School wants too. That is to a good university or research center.

Fortunately I knew about Richard Walker at UC Berkeley, from some of his literature, I think his publication with Storper is the number 4 most quoted reference in the discipline of Economic Geography. But specially I knew him from listening to one of his classes on line, [that anyone can follow] or the Berkeley podcast on Economic Geography. It’s an introductory class he teaches to undergrads. Because I also have to do the same, I liked to listen to this classes while I cleaned or cooked at home. I used some of his stuff in my classes. By the way he received the Distinguished Teaching Award this semester too. At the AAG 2009 meeting, I went to thank him for putting his classes online, and the inspiration I got from him. He said I made his day :)  I think he remembered me, so when I asked him if I could visit his Dept. of Geography, he agreed to sponsored me. He’s not an expert on Local Economic Development, but his approach to it is really enriching. I’m really grateful to him, and the whole UC system here. He also has given very good insights for my PhD project and research.

So here I came in late February, and I will leave by the end of July. I like Berkeley, which by the way it’s the institution who gives more PhD degrees in the world. I’ve heard around 800 a year, so here they know how to make PhD’s. have been enjoying visiting a few classes, and I’ve learned a lot from seminars and colloquiums they always have around. The case of Vallejo is amazing, and my family is quite happy to be here visiting Berkeley.

Stay tuned, today Vallejo is the canary in the coal mine.

I believe today I have practically finished my qualitative work in the city of Vallejo. Although I might visit it again with my wife and daughter just for fun. I have interviewed a lot of people from different important sectors. I think this relates in certain way to my interest in the theory of Systems of Innovation, even though it’s not used too much for local level. For this theory it’s crucial to understand the Actors, the Institutions and Networks. So that’s why I interviewed people from different sectors.

These are the people I have talked to:

Representatives from:

  • City Management
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Solano Community College (Center in Vallejo)
  • Schoold District
  • Historic Museum
  • Visitors Bureau (Tourist Office)
  • Great Vallejo Recreation District
  • Firefighters
  • Local Media
  • Citizens Groups
  • Vallejo Economic Development Commission (former members)
  • Vallejo Business Incubator (now extinct)

Individuals:

  • Around 30 individuals in the waterfront, streets and businesses.
  • Several business owners (accountants, lawyers, restaurant, retail, etc.)
  • UC Berkeley students who were originally from Vallejo
  • Around 15 people from the Bay Area, and Northern California in general.
  • City librarians
  • Bank workers
  • Construction workers

Academic support:

  • My advisor: Prof. Richard Walker
  • Several PhD students from different departments, but specially my colleagues from Geography.
  • Presented a seminar about my PhD project, in the Dept. of Geography last week, and I got feedback from UC Berkeley faculty and students

I always took notes, and in some occasions emails have been exchanged.  A couple of times it was done by telephone, but I always preferred face by face meetings.

There are two groups of people I have not been able to formally interview: The Policy and City Council. Regarding, the Police, two friends, who were family of police officers of Vallejo, gave me their emails and I asked them for interviews. I have not an answer since March. But I have informally talked about the issues to other cops. Concerning the City Council I have sent a few emails to the official addresses. I have not received an answer, but I understand it, as they might be full of spam or/and these elected politicians might be very busy.

Secondary sources, have come from a dozen of books citing Vallejo, most of them found in UC Berkeley (Public Policy and Bancroft Libraries) and the Library of the Naval and Historic Museum of Vallejo. Of special interest has been the outstanding XIX century newspaper publications of the city, Images of America by Jim Kern, and the official documents of the mid XX century with planning and local economic development plans. For most recent material, I have also gathered information from city publications and 11 newspapers with online edition (having read over 60 articles about Vallejo) and TV segments in youtube.

I have attended an key City Council, in which they Firefighters contract was renewed. To complement the qualitative research I have visited and observed the city several times for the last 3 months. As I can drive to Vallejo in less than 30 minutes from Berkeley.

Most of the sources have been used to understand the current situation, but I have also inquired about the historical development of the city.

Before I start some qualitative research in the area I have to study the background. I always like to pay special attention to history. In the outstanding libraries here I have found some very interesting material, some of them quite old. I have a pearl to share.

This is from “The prospects of Vallejo; or, Evidences that Vallejo will become a great city. A re-publication of a series of articles first printed in the Vallejo evening chronicle, from March to July 1871.”  It came with a nice map, and when they gave it to me, the librarian told me: “careful, the map is falling apart”.

To put in context, the leaders of Vallejo at the time, were explaining the reasons why Vallejo was going to become a big metropolis, probably among the top 3 cities in California (being at that time the city of San Francisco their main competitor, which even though it had the 25% of the State population and the 50% of its wealth, it seemed to show some weaknesses related to economic geography issues). The articles are actually really good. In such a fashion that I think anyone could be convinced. The main reason they argue was that the train arrived to the city (direct connection from East Coast to West Coast), and that their harbour was starting to take off. During the various articles they mix the best skills of real estate, politicians, academics and marketing fellows.  Their main point was to attract capital for their harbour. Probably these guys had all the investments in their life there.

The interesting thing is the different language. Something that now would not look politically correct. Their thesis all across the articles is: 1) “the intelligent men” look for the most profitable places for their enterprises, 2) They go where they are, and 3) That’s what creates economic development (me paraphrasing).

In the following snippet, (that I think I’m the first to transcribe on the internet) they quote the magnate Horace Greeley, and then they present a rebuttal:

Horace Greeley on San Francisco

At a dinner given in New York on the 13th of October, 1869, to an excursion party of the California Pioneers, Horace Greeley having been called on to respond to the toast of “New York and California,” in the course of his remarks said:

When we speak of the present or the expected greatness of these two remarkable cities, New York and San Francisco, I bet that it will ever be remembered that great cities are the expression of great ideas that they grow out of genius men. Alexander gave his name to the city he formed, and that city bears his name and is memorable to this day. Rome is mighty because of the Senate and people that made her high and proud position – made her the Eternal City; eternal because the genius that created her still lingers over her hills, still is reflected in the sunshine that gleams on her palaces; and thus the shadows of ancient greatness recall to our minds memories and associations that make us nobler that we otherwise would be [Applause.]   If these two cities are to be great, they will be great because of the men who have still the genius to preserve and extend the advantages they have won. Had there been no De Witt Clinton, and had there been no Erie Canal, in vain would have been the central position and commercial advantages of this city. She was not the first city of America until her great men gave artificial extension and development to those advantages, and thereby fixed on her, I think, for centuries, certainly for the present age, the honored advantages of being the emporium of the Western World. If she is to maintain this position, she will do it because she will do it because she will have great men continually able to keep her in advance. As she has seized the canal, telegraph and railroad, and pressed them into her service, so she must be ready, as new inventions are presented, to seize them and turn them to her advantage. As it is with New York so will it be with San Francisco. Les us not believe that because this city has quadrupled in population in the last half century that it is in the order of things and must continue. She will maintain her position, for her great men have the power to plan new enterprises, and her great financiers shall second those efforts, and continue to keep her at the head of the commercial world. So with San Francisco. The great railroad recently achieved would never have been if there had not been men in that city who saw capacities and perceived opportunities and possibilities which the multitude did not see.

Mr. Greeley is wrong in supposing that the construction of the railroad is due to San Francisco; he is wrong in supposing that the danger to which that city is exposed (he refers to it, evidently, though he does not mention it,) could be averted by the genius of the business men; and he is wrong again in assuming that genius makes cities. It is the good site that attracts and rewards genius, and stimulates enterprise.