Tuesday, July 4, 2017
[San Joaquin County] Stanford team creates vision for vacant south Stockton lot
Blog note: this article references a two-year-old grand jury report (planting a seed).
STOCKTON — Fred Sheil frequently asks himself a question these days whenever he sees the broken concrete, the dirt and the scattered weeds that comprise the long-vacant lot on the southeast corner of Eighth Street and Airport Way.
“I ask myself, ‘Is it really possible?’ ” Sheil said recently. ” ‘Is there really going to be something there besides lots of hot, wavy air?’”
Lately, Sheil said last week, the answer to his own question has been a resounding yes.
“There’s way too much momentum here,” said Sheil, the longtime administrator of southeast Stockton’s STAND Affordable Housing. “There’s way too much support. All the stars are aligned.”
Sheil’s most recent optimism stems from work by Stanford University and some of its engineering students. Their efforts resulted in a design for a proposed mixed-use project of affordable housing, retail businesses and a Community Medical Centers facility that would bring life to the aforementioned vacant lot. The Stanford plan recently won the Low-Income Housing Challenge, a 25-year-old competition sponsored by a bank and a brokerage firm.
“Our students greatly want to do work that makes a difference in the world,” said Lynn Hildemann, a Stanford professor of environmental engineering.
“The severe socioeconomic challenges facing south Stockton, its tremendous need for affordable housing, and the fact that it is part of our Northern California community all strongly motivated these students to create an affordable housing project designed to flourish in this location.”
Hurdles still must be cleared if the students’ vision is to become a reality.
First and foremost, there’s ownership of the vacant lot, which currently is held by the city. Last October, the City Council granted STAND a six-month exclusive window to negotiate purchase of the lot. The window since has been extended another six months.
Sheil said STAND is close to submitting a proposal, which then would be reviewed by the city ahead of a vote by the council to approve or reject the deal. If all goes as he hopes, Sheil said, the deal will go through in a few months and construction could begin late next year.
Micah Runner, Stockton’s director of economic development, expressed guarded optimism Friday. Referring to STAND’s current exclusive negotiating window, Runner said, “From the progress I’ve seen, I think we’ll get an agreement.”
Stanford’s project was crafted over several years.
In 2014, graduate student Derek Ouyang told The Record, “We want to create and influence policy that will one day make a beautiful community here.”
For now, the “beautiful community” Ouyang first imagined three years ago exists only in a series of artist renderings that depict a modern three-story structure with commodious apartments, a leafy courtyard and signage marking the presence of a local market.
If actually built, Sheil and others said, the project would represent an investment of about $30 million in southeast Stockton.
“It’s a big deal,” said Mayor Michael Tubbs, a Stanford graduate who met Ouyang at a conference in 2013. “People have been asking for investment for a long time. I think it shows leadership does matter.”
Councilman Jesús Andrade added, “It’s not going to solve all of the problems overnight, but it’s a rallying point.”
Sheil said the prospect of the Eighth Street project combined with last year’s closing of the blighted New Grand Save Market and plans for a major rebuild of the nearby Sierra Vista public-housing development offer hope that southeast Stockton is finally moving forward.
Just more than two years ago, the San Joaquin County civil grand jury issued a report blasting the city for decades of neglect of its south side. Ouyang said he and his Stanford colleagues were well-aware of the south side’s challenges as they drew up their plans.
“I think we’re just proud to have helped a community revitalize its neighborhood center and reclaim its own future,” Ouyang said. “If we can make a positive impact in Stockton, we can make a positive impact in all of our cities.”
July 1, 2017
By Roger Phillips