George Koster
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From Bankruptcy to Reinvention –

The City of Stockton

 

Episode 4: All your preconceived notions are wrong

Listen Now | VOC Producers | Share | Episode 4


A transcript, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.

Show Guest: Fred Sheil, Administrator of STAND

Series Introduction: Welcome to Voices of the Community which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. We introduce you to the voices of community thought leaders and change makers who are working on solutions that face our fellow individual community members neighborhoods cities and our region. This is George Koster your host.

Series Introduction: This episode is part of our documentary series "From Bankruptcy to Reinvention the City of Stockton California". The documentary series attempts to provide listeners with the insights points of view and personal stories from the various voices of change makers working to reinvent the City of Stockton.

The interviews were conducted from August to September 2016 leading up to the election of Mayor Michael Tubbs who is our central character in the series. The interviews in the documentary series have been edited to fit into our show format. The unedited full interviews will be posted on my website along with each episode of the series.

Show Guest Fred: Because most people we see and everything today. It's them it's so easy to be judgmental and put the them label on it versus us and that gives you a simple solution that allows you the out. To not have to understand the situation, to not have to get involved and be able to pretend that you're getting involved and you know, the answer. When in reality you do not know, "Jack-Diddly-Squat" and you don't really care to know "Jack-Diddly-Squat", which is really annoying.

Show Host George: In this episode we feature the voice of Fred Sheil, the Administrator of STAND Stocktonians Taking Action To Neutralize Drugs. Fred shares his passion insights and his organization's work over the past two-plus decades in South Stockton to address policing, neighborhood revitalization, slumlord abatement, housing and commercial development.

STAND, is part of the ecosystem of wraparound services that Michael Tubbs works closely with in the reinvention of Stockton. Fred and STAND's team works closely with the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition teams featured in Episode 7 with Jasmine Dellafosse and episode 11 with Hector Laura.


“It is easy to be judgmental and put the “them” label on it versus us and that gives you a simple solution that allows you the out”
— Fred Sheil, STAND

Fred: My name is Fred Sheil, I'm with STAND which is an acronym for Stocktonians Taking Action To Neutralize Drugs, and I'm the administrator

George: I was hoping you could provide our audience a little bit of background on why STAND was created and its mission?

Fred: STAND is a neighborhood group that started in the late 80s in Southeast Stockton in our neighborhood here out at that primary intersection of Airport Way and East 8th Street.

The late 80s was the crack cocaine epidemic and this is a predominantly African-American minority low-income neighborhood. And the crack epidemic just went crazy here, this was the place to come and buy crack for Sacramento, for Modesto, for East Bay, this intersection out here was where it was allowed.

And as long as it was done there, aaah nobody cared. And the neighbors and the Gangs went crazy, the murders went crazy, the continuous shooting, the hypodermic needles in the school sandbox and playground. And finally the neighbors a core of about 20 people got together and they just said we can't take this anymore and said we're tax paying citizens were all law-abiding people. All these folks out there selling they don't live in this neighborhood. Why are you allowing this to happen here?

And the City you are allowing it to happen here. The only time the cops would show up was in three cars at a time to pick up a dead body. They wouldn't come just one car all these three to protect themselves. But, they wouldn't come out for you know, if you called they wouldn't show up because that was not about protecting the neighborhood it was about protecting themselves.

So than the neighbors went to City Council meetings and they went to school board meetings, they interviewed with the newspaper and they basically humiliated the City and the County and the School District until there was cooperation. The Chief of Police at the time recognized the problem very well, and it was hitting his Police Department very hard since they were the ones having to respond to all of these calls and it was stressing all his line officers out and everybody was going on on health leave, workers comp leave, mental health leave and there is no body to replace them. So he came in and that was about the time community policing was starting to come across the country. We were one of the first places to wholeheartedly embrace it and over the course of three years working with the Police Department and my board they reduced crime 80% in this neighborhood, it was very successful.

It's amazing what can be done when you get a cross-section of people and City Officials that really want to do reform.

George: What would you say were some of the main elements of that approach that were the most effective so someone was listening to this and they thought wow, I wanted to do that in my neighborhood?

Fred: The two most important things are from on the community side are people do get involved.  And it's not just getting involved. It's the honesty thing, where you're dealing problems. If you have to be honest about, you know, my partner says it well so that if you're not ready to turn in your own family members than you are not ready for this

I was putting it a little bluntly but, you know in terms of how bad the crime was you have to be honest about the problem and you have to be honest about your own involvement in it. And not just go it's somebody else's fault, it's somebody else's fault, they've got to fix it, they got to do. It's got to be [00:06:00] level honesty on both sides. And on the City and the Policing side it was the same thing for them.

They had a myth that a big part of it was, as we're witnessing today is their own, what we're calling it implicit bias or unconscious bias about poor people, people of color that you're all the enemy and we're here to take you down when they come into the neighborhood. And what changed with the community policing is the Chief and the Upper Officers started to change that attitude.

The officers were assigned down here for a full year. We had the same officers, this was the only place they worked. So they got to know everybody. And once you stay in ah place and you start talking to people, and you start meeting their family and you start dealing with their problems.  Not just coming in and two people are fighting and arguing and you got 20 people standing around and you throw everybody on the ground and hand cuff them all and haul them all in which was the old practice. Now, you're actually coming, you are sitting down, you're talking with people, you know, the people beforehand, before the incident blows up.  And now you're recognized that the person you're arguing with it was mentally ill and he's on medication from the Mental Health Department.

But maybe he is or maybe he is not on his medication that day and you recognize that yes, he's all acting out and looking all violent, but he's not a danger. Because you know, he's a mental health patient. All that changes, once you understand the situation.

George: How would City Council Member Tubbs work here but also in bringing and rallying the Council and the City? Because that seems to be also a major component to it.

Fred: It's understanding the problem, both from an intellectual and from a personal and which is almost always, always overlooked a cultural point of view.  Anytime you're talking about fixing a problem reforming a problem. Reform is multifaceted. Within any organization when you're trying to deal with reforming of that organization has a culture that culture is conflicting with another culture which conflicting with another culture. And we almost always ignore the cultural aspects involved

George: Council Person Tubbs basically came to observe, understands it and then brought that message back. How did it work  hand-in-hand with STAND?

Fred: Michael is what I kind of call an "International Townie". There is no label for it. When I worked internationally the people, and it didn't make any difference. if you know, they were Filipino or Mexican or Dutch or English or Australian or American once you've gone through that process you see it differently. And you become basically an international citizen. Well, Michael has been through that process and he has brought that whether I don't know where he picked it up.

He did live in South Africa for a while and going to school and Stanford, which is very much an International Community. But from my point of view, he brought that internationalism, that understanding, that ability to see through all the... Bull Sxxt, all the walls and defenses that people put up because they really don't want to understand.

And be able to kind of cut through that and act as the Catalyst to go, "Okay, you come over here, Let's work together bringing different people in" and he just.... He is like your catalytic converter. All the valuable stuff that's inside your catalytic converter. All those precious metals that people want to steal right? When they don't do anything.

Those precious metals just sit there, when the gases pass over them and it converts those gases into something else. Now, Michael is a lot more active than that. But just that process of having somebody in the center being able to bring the different actors together, having an enough respect and status to be able to bring the various actors together and get them to cooperate and to see what's going on and understand.

That just tears down our society which is constructed of institutional silos. And none of these silos talk to each other and they all pretend they do. And they're all one's better than the other. The School District doesn't talk to the County School District, the County Mental Health Department doesn't talk to the City. Nobody talks to anybody, but they pretend they do.

So that they don't have to deal with the real issues and communicate across and outside of their own boundaries that they've created. There's a good reason for it, because times are tough, finances are limited.

George: So do you feel like STAND and the work that you're doing here is part of that catalytic converter that you are trying to bring together all of these disparate resources to this community?

Fred: We're not as good at it as Michael is. Because you need somebody at Michael's level, to bring the actors together. When we're in the community doing the work, you get involved in whether it's the crime issues or the housing issues and dealing with slumlords. You kind of get pulled down to the everyday job of getting it done and that's different.

That's a whole different role, than being the Catalyst to bring all the different actors together. You need to create real reform, real change and you need to have both.

George: You need to have someone at a policy level that can bring this players together, but you also need organizations such as STAND to actually execute that work.

Fred: Yes,

George: What are some of the most impactful programs, projects that you've been working here in STAND's existence?

Fred: I'll give you a brilliant example. We just are finishing up right now. Julian and Phelps street, which is a block off of Airport Way, we have had a probably 20 year old nightly open-air illegal Drug Market (located at the New Grand Save Market) going on there.

Small little residential intersection, residential homes all around it, small little thousand square foot home nine hundred or thousand square foot homes all built during World War Two, so very modest. But they're at the intersection you will have from nine o'clock at night until three o'clock in the morning anywhere from thirty to a hundred people hanging out in the street, on the sidewalks, drinking pop up their trunk and layout a full bar boomboxes going doing drugs and trading drugs and selling drugs.

How can that be allowed to happen on public property? And we have been arguing for twenty years that the costs to the city and to the police department to deal with that is so high. Wouldn't it be cheaper to just give us the money to buy those five homes right around this intersection, rehab those homes and sell them to low-income families because it is a low-income neighborhood, to stabilize the intersection. And with Michael we were fine. But because we got the Silos even the Police Department was going to the City Housing Department and they couldn't convince the city housing department that it was a good idea. I've had a succession of Police Chiefs totally sold on it. And they go we know but we can't don't even ask me again Fred because it just creates too much problems.

Oh! Trying to save the money, the City ah lotah, ah lotah  money... Because we're probably spent a hundred thousand dollars a month in Policing on that intersection.  Whereas we were asking for $100,000. And it ended up being $75 thousand dollars to fix it completely, and we done it over the last year. We bought those five houses, we rehabbed them and we sold them. In fact we're closing on the last one today 1510 Julia. And now the Drug Market (located at the New Grand Save Market) is gone.

And the neighbors are all going why didn't you do this before? And that's just Michael doing that, making the connection not beating anybody up over it. But just making the obvious, getting these two silos to work together.

George: So then part of that was doing the public outreach to create the awareness and the public support?

Fred: Correct? And Michael doesn't even take credit for that. I keep going Michael, you know and all you're campaigning for the mayorship right now, mayorship? mayorhood? mayoral office? Whatever you want to call it? You know, you don't take credit for that. He goes, no, I can't you guys did the work.

Michael we never would have, it never would have happened without you. Because we've been trying for 20 years, and boom you come in and you make people see the light and it's done.  Until then we were just the other, we are allowed to be labeled as the other. Oh it's their problem if we spend money on it, they'll just screw it up again anyways and we'll have to come back and fix it again. So why even bother, because the neighborhood can't get their act together that is why this exists. It's the same labels that are used over and over and over again. And then they wonder why the neighborhood's get angry at us

Show Mid Point / Show Host George: You're listening to voices of the community which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. This is George Koster your host and if you're just joining us in this episode, we are discussing the "Reinvention of the City of Stockton, California". We're speaking to Fred Sheil the administrator of STAND Stocktonians Taking Action To Neutralize Drugs, whose discussing his experience in working with the Police, City of Stockton, Michael Tubbs and the community to develop affordable housing at one of the worst intersections in South Stockton.

George: It sounds like STAND is a non-profit affordable Housing Development Corporation, like a CHDO (community housing development organization)

Fred: Yes, we are.

George: Okay, in my conversation with Michael yesterday he mentioned the liquor store that you guys are able to just close down. Perhaps you can share a little bit about the liquor store. And then I understand you have the first right to do something with the liquor store site?

Fred: There's the liquor store and then there's a large vacant lot just north of it. So there are two separate issues here. The large vacant lot is owned by the City, it was a Redevelopment project that the City now has to dispose of that vacant lot. And we have been given, because of our success with the housing in the neighborhood. The city is going to allow us to have the exclusive negotiating rights for that parcel over the next six months to put commercial retail, maybe housing on it.

The liquor store just south of it, has been a 15-year disaster. Just to show how "blinded" a community can be about something that's embarrassing.  Here you got a liquor store has been operating for 15 years. When you go in there. I won't even bother to describe it. What I'll tell you is when people go through the line and they ring up your purchases.

It's "ding" and the cash register opens, but nothing gets recorded on a tape. There's no sales tax charged. If you're buying returnable bottles, there's no CRV charged. If you're using your food stamp card your EBT card, nothing gets recorded on that. How can a business operate without having a recording or having the documentation for all these different taxing entities, from the Franchise Tax Board, to the County, to the City?

There's so many regulatory bodies there. Only way that kind of operation can go on is because, those authorities that are responsible do not give a holy hooped... And the drug trafficking went on and the drug dealers inside the store. Police at least we're trying but nobody wanted to enforce it. It wasn't that big a deal, as long as it was there it was okay. That's the message that the neighborhood gets. And when the neighborhood complains, all the city fathers and mothers go.... Well. "Why don't you just get your act together"? We were literally told that at City Council meetings. Like they're not responsible. Well, I've said it repeatedly that one of the best things to happen to this City was bankruptcy. Because with bankruptcy, we got a new City Manager and he brought in New City Department Heads and with that a new culture.

And the old actors, the old business interests, and I include unions as part of a business interest. They've had step back because they're the ones that got us into the mess. Between the housing developers and the unions that they brought along with them and bought them out and co-opted them,  they've had to go..."Okay, well it wasn't us, it wasn't us" So they've had to quit playing politics. So in the process now, you're getting decisions made at a City level that are for the whole city. They're looking at everything involved. Not just pockets where individuals want the City to basically cover and pay for them.

Right at that same time Michael decides to run for office and becomes a City Councilman. So now he's suddenly got a whole new group of high-level staff to work with. That really understand we got some good people. Our City Manager now is really good. And this is coming from someone, I'm going to say this publicly, it's going to... Because I've told all the City staff, I have been a huge critic of the City for the last 20 years. A tremendous critic... Staff have been controlled and manipulated and have done nothing for these poorer, older neighborhoods. All of that has changed. I'm a huge supporter of the City now.

They are doing great stuff. I sure hope it continues and I'll give them all the support and all the credit in the world. Because they are addressing the issues, and looking at the issues. They are being honest about the continued poverty down here, the continued lack of commercial development and they're working with us. Are they given us everything we want? No because they still got to deal with the whole City.

But they're being fair and they're giving us a chance and because of that things are getting done. And the attitudes are changing the neighborhood. Has it changed everybody? No, because there is a lot of resentment. I mean, you can't just.... There was a grand jury report that came out last year. I don't know if you studied it ? There was two of them. One was about the complete lack of code enforcement in the poor neighborhoods for the last 50 years. It just allowed [00:21:00] the slumlord have there way willy-nilly and then blame it on the neighborhoods for being so run down.  And the other one was just the absolute lack of investment, and lack of attention to South and East Stockton. And the Grand Jury just slammed them. And the City Council and City staff basically said yeah, it's true.

It's you right.  We're in the past City Council's before the bankruptcy would have been... "No look at the long list of things we've done" and you can lay out a whole bunch of thousands of teeny little details and make it sound like you've really done great things. When in reality, it was just all pretend.

George: To go back to the liquor store. How would STAND take an opportunity like that? And what would you do with it?

Fred: Within this period, the same period I was talking about, of the bankruptcy and new staff coming in. We got a Deputy City Attorney Susana Wood, who made it her mission to deal with code enforcement and to deal with that liquor store.

And so, she working with the Police Department and code enforcement started building the case to take that liquor store to court. To have the Judge appoint a receiver. It's one of the strongest tools they have now when you've got an owner that just continues to ignore all responsibilities.

And when ABC Alcohol Beverage and Control should have jumped in here years ago, we couldn't get them to move either. I hope they're listening. They wouldn't act, so the City did. We expected a huge fight, but didn't get it. Both the owner of the liquor store, and the operator of the store where there but they just kinda of... They didn't put up a fight at all.

I don't understand why, but it's now in the hands of a receiver. We have been holding many, many neighborhood meetings with various stakeholders in the neighborhood. Churches other neighborhood groups, neighborhood watches, other people that have been involved in the neighborhood, leadership folk. We've been asking them what do they want to see there? And one of the things that popped up right away was you know, the moms just went, Urgent Care. Us guys kind of went duh.... because the nearest Urgent Care is Miles and Miles. You got to go too far Northwest Stockton or far Southwest Stockton , to find an Urgent Care facility. We have a chance now to impact this community. We talked to the receiver and the court to get something in where that liquor store is, that's going to really serve the needs of the neighborhood.

George: What would be a best case scenario? What would you like to see? It is a resources that you need? And how would you like the community to rally around your mission to help you accomplish more?

Fred: So we learned that housing was a huge part of it and the slumlords were huge part of it and that store that was serving that, was was also part of it. So now we've gone from community policing, to housing, and now we are moving into commercial development. Because we have a huge lack of commercial development on Airport Way here and we see the need. How we going to do it? I don't know. But as you get to know people we didn't know what we're going to do when we started doing housing. Now we do apartment buildings too. We didn't know we were doing we started them.

But you just learn to be tenacious. You learn to be stubborn. You learn too, look for other people and working good solid relationships and people who are committed to this, the business community that believe in this. There's a lot that don't. And really they are not going to try and work with us. There's a lot of folks in the Bay Area who are interested in helping us develop this almost now three acres of commercial.

We're looking at some public space. Think of it like the old Mercado. You got all this retail, in the center of it is that you got this open public space where all the community activities go on. We are thinking of a small version of that. The inside you got the public space area where people can have their kids pinata parties.

They can have birthday parties and you got ringed around it is restaurants and shops. And upstairs from that is housing for an Urgent Care facility, nonprofit organizations, the housing authority is talking about moving its office right there. Maybe there is housing for special needs families, disabled families, and mental health services.

We have a lot of mental health people in this neighborhood that are getting no services. How we going to put all this together?  I haven't a clue. But, we have attracted a lot of really good talent. What Michael has done is just brought in tremendous talent. He's brought back all these international folks that have worked internationally and gone to Harvard and gone to Stanford and going to Sac State and then went to LA and worked in the poor areas of LA and come back. Brilliant people, and they've energized all of us.

They've energized me. Instead of being the old cynical guy, you know talk like this. It's really fun. It's funny, I'm a 65 year old guy and I've been doing this kind of work since I was 26 and this is the most excited I've ever been.  It's fun pulling other people in and helping them understand. There's a lot of frustrated folks just like us out there that are very talented and are willing to work hard, but they just need to do something they feel that is going to be effective.

George: So final question,

Fred: Right

George: Fred what is something that about yourself that people don't know?

Fred: I'm a Aikidoist, I have been for almost 30 years now.  And that really helps with doing this kind of work. Because for those that are familiar with Aikido, it's a Japanese martial art started in the 40s and the 50s. But it's all about working with your opponent, working with conflict not being afraid of conflict and accepting it, moving with it and dealing with it in a peaceful way. When I say peaceful , I don't mean it's passive at all. It's not aggressive but it is assertive. And to do this work, you have to be assertive. To work in the community and to put yourself out there in the things you are doing. After you're done, you are going why the hell did I do that? You, just got to throw yourself into it .And with it comes confidence and the willingness to do more and more. One thing Aikido and this work has really taught me is, working with somebody all your preconceived notions of looking at them are wrong they are just wrong.

First impressions mean absolutely, nothing. Our brain lies to us, our eyes lie to us. Until you dig deeper and work really hard with somebody and confront that stuff, do you really find out with people like.

George: Thank you Fred.

Episode Outro: That's it for this episode of Voices of the community. You've been listening to Fred Sheil the Administrator of STAND who shared his organization's work to develop both a liquor store, which was an open drug market (located at the New Grand Save Market) and a 3-acre vacant parcel into a mixed-use project to become a community anchor to the South Stockton neighborhood.

Series Outro: Voices of the community is a labor of love. This documentary series on the City of Stockton's reinvention is a tribute to my mother Josephine Koster Wyllie, who grew up in South Stockton and passed away during the production of the documentary series. My mom was a first generation Italian immigrant whose family migrated to Stockton and owned a motel on the Old Charter way now renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard, in the Heart of South Stockton. Mayor Michael Tubbs also grew up in South Stockton with his single mother Racole Dixon.

Throughout the series, you'll hear voices of community members who are working with Michael Tubbs, in both creating new organizations as well as working with fellow community members to reinvent both South Stockton and the greater Stockton Community.

Series Credits: I want to thank my associate producers Eric Estrada and Nick McClendon as well as advising producer Malcolm Cecil. Please go to georgekoster.com to check out our next episode of From Bankruptcy to Reinvention - The City of Stockton California documentary series as well as our archived past shows which feature community voices working on solutions to critical issues facing Northern California communities. Please rate us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and share this story with your friends. Follow us on twitter @georgekoster and email us at george@georgekoster.com  I'm George Koster in San Francisco and thank you for listening.

In memoriam of Jo Koster Wyllie


This has been an Alien Boy Production.

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Voices of the Community transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Descript  This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of Alien Boy Productions’ Voices of the Community’s programming is the audio record.