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Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
Dispatch / March 25, 2009
By Yasha Levine

The trouble started before I even drove to Stockton. First off, most of the foreclosed McMansions listed on Craigslist weren’t available for rent, which was understandable enough. (According to a buddy of mine who works as a repo man, there’s some kind of law forbidding banks to rent out property. Plus, it’s a time-consuming game the banks don’t want to get into. They’d rather unload the properties and get them off their books once and for all.) But those that were rentable turned out to be not any easier to rent.

Most of them were put on the market by investors who had recently snapped up the foreclosed properties. I assumed that with such an over-supply of rentals, they’d be scrambling to fill them with tenants on any terms. Boy, was I wrong. Instead of getting the savior treatment, I was told to bugger off once the landlords found out I was looking to rent their house on a month-to-month basis. Not only were these people in no apparent need of cash, they had potential renters lining up out the door.

One woman, the only person who considered me, said she’d rent the place to me if the two families vying for the house suddenly fell through. “But they seemed pretty serious. They’re stopping by in a few hours to drop off the deposit,” she said. In other words, don’t call us, we’ll call you. Another landlord got aggressive on me, sending me a flurry of emails requesting proof of employment, pay stubs and bank account details. He never even bothered picking up the phone when I showed up in Stockton.

Had Kurt Badenhausen, senior statistics editor for, bothered to get off his ass, he’d…well, he wouldn’t be a senior statistics editor. But one thing’s for sure: he’s a tool (he last authored a slideshow called “The World’s Top-Earning Golfers”), but worse, he’s a tool who wasted my time with his bunk attempt at analysis.

I went to Stockton last Saturday. The weather was windy and wet, but the new parts of town on my itinerary were bustling with life. People were out BBQing, middle-aged couples were taking brisk walks on tree-lined sidewalks, long lines of cars queued at red lights and the parking lot of one strip mall/grocery store was at 75% capacity. For Sale/Rent signs were a rare sight, posted on maybe 1 out of 10 homes. At most a third of the properties had a vacant feel to them, with no cars in the driveway, empty garbage cans and shuttered blinds. Thirty percent vacancy isn’t a very good indicator (and explains why property values fell by almost 60%), but it’s not utter collapse either. For every house sitting empty, there were two or three overflowing with humanity and pick-up trucks, not to mention boats, RVs, and more than a few Mercs, BMWs and Lexuses.

Some of the residents were entertaining guests out on their driveway. Despite the sprawling fields and limitless land stretching to the horizon just across the street, houses were placed no more than 5 feet apart and had backyards the size of a large balcony. San Francisco backyards feel like ranches compared to these McMansions. The greedy developers would stop at nothing to squeeze money out of these “commuter developments.” And commuters have no need for backyards. Most of them spend a third of their waking life driving to and from work; they wouldn’t have the time to enjoy them even if they had them. And most of these people are just fine with that.

“Recession or not, these properties are still very desirable,” one of the investor/landlords told me after seeing my shock at the number of renters vying for property in the still-under-construction neighborhood called Weston Ranch. “There were a lot of foreclosed properties here last year, but many of them have since been bought. We’re only one and a half hours from San Francisco and less than an hour from Sacramento.” (She lied; It was more like three and a half and two during rush hour.) But no matter what, Stockton’s future as a commuter paradise remains certain.

Meanwhile, my search for the shit continues. Next stop: Victorville, CA.

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  • 1. call me the ganja farmer hydroponic  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    I heard Tracy is a disaster zone. Also Marysville, north of Sacramento.

  • 2. geo8rge  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    FWIW, Stockton may declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Although the mysteriously successful California bond auction, as compared to the failed UK Gilt auction, may indicate things are OK. You migh find out what your neighbors do for a living, I always wondered what people in stockton did for a living. Everyone can’t work for the government, can they?

  • 3. Gooftroop  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Oh my god, fearmongers, maybe the evil American empire isn’t collapsing? Maybe all your cries of the impending apocalypse were a little hasty and reminiscent of the 24 hour cable news channels you usually mock? or is the sky still falling? or maybe americans are dumber than lemmings.

  • 4. geo8rge  |  March 25th, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Just for fun you might look up the title records and see what the history of the property is.

  • 5. Evilcor  |  March 25th, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Naturally the rental market is choked. All those former homeowners just got dumped on the market and they’re too fucking stupid to understand the concept of “lowered standard of living.”

  • 6. robotslave  |  March 26th, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Quit dicking around and find a place in Modesto, already.

  • 7. Baltimoron  |  March 26th, 2009 at 4:21 am

    If you’re not committed to California, take the six hour drive to Phoenix. Along I-17, just north of the more developed parts of the city, there’s a long chain of mcmansion and townhouse subdivisions that have never been occupied. These “neighborhoods” were nearing completion right as the bubble burst and the developers went ahead with finishing them just in case they could find any buyers. Unsurprisingly, no yuppies materialized to help the investors recoup their costs.

    I’ve seen the perfectly manicured desolation with my own eyes and can vouch for its post-neutron bomb attack emptiness. Even if you can’t find a place for rent, the area provides ample squatting opportunities if you’re willing to go that extra step in the name of gonzo.

    Phoenix is the place to be right now if you’re looking to chronicle the rock-bottom moment of Amerika’s debt addiction. The snowbirds so vital to the city’s economy can no longer afford to come down during the winter, guys in the building trades (the heart of Phoenix’s economy for a number of decades) can’t get work despite being the front-runners in scab labor’s race the the bottom, and the Mexicans are leaving faster than you can say “andale” as the jobs disappear and a xenophobic honky reaction gains momentum.

    You’ve also got the local spectacle of brown-shirted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. This fascist goon made his law enforcement bones at the DEA, where he was known as “Dimebag Joe” for the quality of his arrests and the caliber of WOD POW he liked creating. No surprise that he’s the most popular area politician among Phoenix’s white idiots. Ideal fodder for any journalist looking to stir the pot.

  • 8. Jasen Comstock  |  March 26th, 2009 at 6:11 am

    WoooooHoooooo Victorville! I spent three years of high school living in that miserable shithole. three years competing with college grads for jobs at fast food restaurants because they went insane with the 4 hour daily commute to LA. I had to join the military to get out of it.

    Stockton doesn’t have shit on Victorville.

  • 9. FloridaLotteryWinningNumber  |  March 26th, 2009 at 10:03 am

    Very good post

  • 10. 28  |  March 26th, 2009 at 11:21 am

    @Gooftroop: I’m going to be leaving my job soon, but I’m interested in being a professional PR co. blog commenter. Does you company let you telecommute?

  • 11. Eric  |  March 26th, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    bakersville. bakersville. BAKERSVILLE.

  • 12. DocAmazing  |  March 26th, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Y’mean Bakersfield?

  • 13. Brody  |  March 26th, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    I am assuming Valencia, California must be looking shitty right now. I visited a couple times when my friends were at CalArts. The town was only created in the eighties, and is full of McMansions and is anchored by mini malls with the usual chain store suspects. So devoted to the shitty parts of Anywhere USA that its a bit surreal, albeit in a boring way, not in a Dali kind of way. The commute from LA is probably two and a half hours with traffic at rush hour.

    For a place full of beauty and intellectual firepower, Cali sure has a lot of dead zones with vapid, bone-dry suburban cultural voids. Stockton, Fresno, Riverside, Bakersfield, Victorville, Santee, Irvine, Modesto, and San Jose, perhaps the most non-descript large city in America.

  • 14. Gooftroop  |  March 27th, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    I’m living off the dole, actually, chap, while I write the great American novel. Thanks for your tax dollars, they make going to the bar at noon so much fun!

  • 15. d0man72  |  March 27th, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    California has the most military bases than any other state (just look at California’s war on terrorism casualties), the 8th largest economy in the world (for now), houses Silicon Valley, California the 2nd most important technological center in the world, and is the state that is in the forefront of alternative energy and technology. The city of L.A. has more influence on world culture than any other city in the world. Suburbia is what fuwked up California over the long wrong. The whole place is devoid of cultural outlets and everything is land of the tract houses with superfreeways running for miles. Land of the automobiles, tract homes, and superfreeways is all Cali has going for it. California is incapable of having its own intellectual pool of people it has to import it from other states because the natives drop out of high school. Not to mention California is over taxed by the federal govt. and the govt. re-distributes the money to the GOP states yet the native Californians are too clueless and too pussy sh*T to start their own militias to stand up to it becuase the whole place has no identity.

  • 16. d0man72  |  March 27th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    This is not only in California thats happening mass suburbanization is happening across the whole country. American cities are composed of crack town ghettos in the centers and culturaly devoid land of commuter driver consumers in the suburbs. American cities are sad. Even Asian cities look way cooler than American cities.

    Whenever somebody things about Stockton, Fresno, Riverside, Bakersfield, Victorville, Santee, Irvine, Modesto, and San Jose its like who gives a fuwk? what are those places known for anyways?

    San Fransico is the only thing thats worth caring about in Cali.

  • 17. hydroponic  |  March 28th, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    Why no mention of Visalia/Tulare/Porterville… CA’s hottest, meanest, dumbest metropolitan area? My guess would be that hick developers ran wild down there during the boom. But only a truly heroic war correspondent would take that assignment.

  • 18. Anonymous  |  March 28th, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I just love how melodramatically the trash-out guy at 4:26 with the gloves on hams it up, WITHOUT TAKING OFF THE SUNGLASSES. Goddamned Los Angeles. The boss seemed sincere though. And I am pleasantly surprised that they at least tried giving the stuff to charity, and that the grass paint is biodegradeable.

    Baltimoron, the Exile is aware of Sheriff Joe:

    I hate to admit it, but Gooftroop has a point. Maybe the mindless sprawl beast will keep growing with only a slight hiccup, oozing from oil to gas and coal and uranium and electric cars. And if Gooftroop really is on the dole in the USA and writing a novel, then as far as I’m concerned the poor guy is welcome to use what little tax money he gets from us on alcohol. It won’t fix any of his problems but it might ease his pain a little.

    d0man72, if Silicon Valley is the 2nd most important technological center in the world, what’s #1? Taipei? Tokyo? NYC? Shanghai? Mumbai? Now that Detroit is firmly out of the running, I’m not sure I can think of any other places really known primarily for engineering rather than finance or manufacturing or art and fashion. Engineering work is pretty evenly distributed.

  • 19. Frankenblank  |  March 28th, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    *Even* Asian cities? That’s a laugh. No one does cities the way Asian people do. If you want to see what a *real* city looks like, go to Asia. Everything else is just several million people spread out in the burbs, with one or two ‘cultural’ things in the vicinity of the CBD. It’s like saying *even* Lennox Lewis could punch out the local wheelchair-bound midget with spina bifida.

  • 20. aleke  |  March 29th, 2009 at 3:20 am

    So, Gooftroop, how about that PR blog commentator job? I’m looking to supplement my wealth in the Cash Flow Game 2009

  • 21. d0man72  |  March 30th, 2009 at 12:52 am

    to 18. Anonymous Tel Aviv, Israel might be considered the first. Its referred to as a “mini-Los Angeles” by the Economist. Many computer scientists from the former Soviet Union live and work in Tel Aviv and is considered top 10 influential tech hubs of the world.

  • 22. d0man72  |  March 30th, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    19. Frankenblank My point was for a state that has the 8th largest economy in the world, has important world technological hubs, the most military bases than any other state in the union (look at California’s war on terrorism casualties) and has a significant influence on world culture, Cali has alot of suburban devoid dead zones. Suburban expansion over the years messed up California along with suburban expansion in the rest of the nation. China builds like thousands of sky scappers per year while America has ghetto crack towns in the centers and land of the suburban commuter drivers who spent most of their lives commuting in their cars and living in cultural devoid places and act more like demanding consumers to their govt. rather than citizens.

  • 23. Anonymous  |  March 31st, 2009 at 1:23 am

    Ahh, yeah, Tel Aviv, that’s a really good point.

    The US could probably help ourselves as well as the Palestinians by making it stupidly easy for Israelis to become American citizens and move here, and then slowly and gently phasing out the military and no-strings financial aid we send Israel…

  • 24. duke  |  April 1st, 2009 at 11:36 am

    It might exist in the rest of Cali as well, but a company in the Lake Elsinore area offers tours of their McMansion/Stepford deadzones…

  • 25. d0man72  |  April 2nd, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    out of the 500,000 Israelis that have duel ISraeli USA citizenship, 300,000 of them live in Cali. West Coast already under Jew control, which is probably the reason why the west side is the best side.

  • 26. Laius  |  June 15th, 2009 at 10:57 am

    What a glorious civilization we Americans have built! And we deride France. The frontier mentality will never die here and we will continue to crap up the land.

  • 27. Nobody  |  October 2nd, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Mercs? Mercurys? Oh, you mean Benzos.

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