George Koster

VOC/COS Episode 9 Transcript

From Bankruptcy to Reinvention –

The City of Stockton


Episode 9:
Poverty shortens lives by 20 years

Listen Now | VOC Producers | Share | Episode 9

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

Guests: Barbara Alberson / San Joaquin Public Health, Benita Ortez, Franklin High School Spanish Club / Teacher Horacio Viramontes and Student

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.

Series Introduction:This is George Koster your host. 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.

Series Introduction: The interviews were conducted from August to September 2016 leading up to the election of Mayor Michael Tubbs. Who's 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 George along with each episode of the series.

Show Guest Barbara: Reinvent is different from anything I've ever been a part of and I've been in this world doing this kind of work for decades. It's different. I have never seen this kind of community engagement. That's authentic. You know, it sounds a little bit like jargon, but it truly is seeking out and using the voice of the community as you can see here today.

Show Host George: In this episode we feature the voices of Barb Alberson, Benita Ortez, as well as Horacio Viramontes along with students from the Franklin High School Spanish Club. Our first voice is Barb Alberson, the Senior Deputy Director for Policy and Planning at San Joaquin County Public Health Services who shares her insights into the impact of poverty on health outcomes.

So our commitment is to make sure that we carry out what we can do to help them do what they want to do
— Barbara Alberson, San Joaquin Public Health Services

George: Please tell everybody who you are.

Barbara: I'm Barb Alberson, and I'm senior deputy director for policy and planning for our local Health Department Public Health Services

George: Barbara, tell the audience a little bit of background on yourself. And then also Department that you work with

Barbara: My background is I've been a public health professional all my adult life and my area of expertise has been Community Education. And not so much telling but they need to know but giving people the tools, they need so that they can do something and act and feel confident to take care of their own health. And at the health department now doing policy work, it's really helping to advance some of our ideas in a more broader and more purposeful way.

George: Barbara you're engaged in the Reinvent of South Stockton movement, and we're here today at their second annual resident conference. Thank you again for taking the time to share your story with the audience. Tell us a little bit why you wanted to get engaged in Reinvent South Stockton?

Barbara: Well when we talk about public health it is different than medicine. Public health is all about prevention. It's all about trying to ensure that nothing ever happens so people stay healthy. And Reinvent is a perfect place to do this kind of work. In that we're not addressing why you need to go to the doctor or that you have to take care of yourself better, so you don't get diabetes. Of course, we care about that. But these days we're talking about, we call it going upstream, but it's what are the social determinants?

What are the conditions in the community that make it difficult for individuals to be healthy? What are the environmental conditions that make it very tough? For example, it's hard to have a healthy uh, menu for your kids if there's nowhere to buy groceries that are healthy.

It's hard to be able to uh, have physical activity if you're frightened, let your kids out of your sight and there's no park close by that is safe. So, we work on things that impact health and that's what Reinvent is all about. So, it's ideal in terms of a public health advocacy to help make that happen. And to tell you the truth, the working with the colleagues that I'm working with, the passion and the compassion and the roots they have in the community uh, make it all that much more exciting and purposeful.

George: And so, what would you say are some of the biggest issues that face a resident of South Stockton with regards to their health and in turn their um, prosperity and sense of well-being?

Barbara: We actually did a focus group at the summit last year about health as part of our community wide Community Health needs assessment that we did with the hospitals. And residents get it. They really talked about things like blight and uh, activities for youth. And dogs that are stray dogs that frighten everyone and no access to healthy food. So the things that impact Health are right front and center on their agenda for helping make things happen. And then when you further explore, we're talking about jobs.

Economic vitality and a safe and stable place to live top the list and for me, you can't talk about health if you don't have a stable healthy place to live and a way of having an income.  And so, you're on this treatment committee. What would you say you from your findings and from the information gather the resident’s participation?

What is um, Reinvent South Stockton doing to try to execute some of the findings and some of the strategies that organizations come up with? Reinvent is different from anything I've ever been a part of, and I've been in this world doing this kind of work for decades. It's different. I have never seen this kind of community engagement.

That's authentic. You know, it sounds a little bit like jargon, but it truly is seeking out and using the voice of the community as you can see here today. Uh, Most of the volunteers are kids who live in South Stockton and it's just delightful to see all of these young folks who truly want to make a difference showing up and finding ways to do that because nothing is worse than giving false expectations false Hopes And Promises. So, our commitment is to make sure that we carry out what we can do to help them do what they want to do.

George: What would you like to see as the best outcomes of your efforts and Reinvent South Stockton's efforts?

Barbara: The fact that we tie political will to social will and that sounds jargony again, but that's giving voice to the deciders the decision-makers.

So, they understand and value that they need to invest, and they need to pay attention and they need to uh give extra attention actually to South Stockton. They've been ignored in some ways uh, in terms of infrastructure and new buildings, etc. and uh, apartment complexes that get a permitted as anything you think of across the board, they have had very little investment. And that we need to turn that around and in order for the deciders to listen to us the US has to include the community demanding that they get their fair shake.

George: Do you see that happening? Um, I mean, obviously we have Michael Tubbs who helped create Reinvent South Stockton, but also who is running for mayor. But do you feel like the um, political powers that be in Stockton are listening and willing to do the hard work?

Barbara: In a way they haven't before. And I haven't been here long enough to know the long-term history, but some of the um, players who we work with all the time, it's resonating and they're explaining and are proud of the fact that they're see changes that they never would have seen before. Aah, just for example, um, the closing of the New Grand Save Market, the drug infested New Grand Save Market something they were trying to do for 10 years and it happened. The cleanup of all the playgrounds it's happening. Um, having Michael has been a catalyst, that

George: This is Michael Tubbs?

Barbara: Yes, is been a catalyst that it's very rare to have a political animal be ah part of and invested so heavily and deeply and be a part of the movement. Usually you're knocking on the door trying to get the ear of the establishment. And now not only do we have it, but he has a way of asking for things that we could never ask for. And for pushing the agenda in a way that we never could. And he does it in such a kind supportive way, uh... That he's making friends where we might make enemies.

George: Barbara, how could you someone who's listening to the show get engaged? Whether there are a resident of South Stockton ah, resident of Stockton or a resident of you know the Central Valley for example?

Barbara: Well, we have community events oh gosh, at least once a month. We have a park clean up. The last part cleanup we had we had um, oh, at least a 100 people there, 60 of them were young people. They paint benches, they pick up trash, they fix things that are broken.

Uh, we put in an actual playground at one of our Parks, we got some funding from Kaiser Foundation to do that. So, there's always that kind of clean up, spruce up, beautify activity going on. But we have uh, many many activities that relate to some of the changes we want to see happen.

Like there's an education subcommittee working with Stockton Unified School District and the new superintendent of schools to ensure that we get more of our youngsters on track to graduate ready for college what they call those the A through G requirements. So they're depending on people's interest, we can do triage and find a place where it needs some additional support and attention and passion.

And that's all we really want. We want people with passion and commitment that are here for the long term. This is not something we're going to do uh, in the next two or three years. We have a 20-year game plan. Our Promise Zone is a 20-year game plan. 

George: Recently, I know that uh, the organization applied for the Promise Zone. They weren't chosen by the feds. So, I imagine, you are probably go out again.

Barbara: Yes, but it's not necessarily something that is uh, all or nothing.

George: Right

Barbara: We're doing it Anyway,

George: So, you're using the construct of what the requirements of a Promise Zone are that you're just executing against

Barbara: And what it allowed us to do and what it was important for us to do, is it made us focus. It made us think about uh, the world in terms of indicators. And really be um upfront about what are the outcomes we're looking for rather than the feel-good touchy-feely kind of we want to make a difference which everybody does but that's very vague.

So, Promise Zone has had us uh, go through the process of zeroing in and being specific about what we need to do and we're. So, it's been a gorgeous process for us. So, whether or not we got the designation we're thrilled with where we are, and we will go through it again. And uh, I think we would have a good chance. But like I said, it's not our end all be all, we're there any way.

George: Right, so turning back to health and health policy and indicators, in your mind what would be the indicators of success within the construct of health and health policy? 

Barbara: Well, health is the kind of thing that shows up 40 years from now when you talk about chronic disease, for example. Um, because an awful lot of our burden of disease is ah, obesity and diabetes and heart disease, asthma. And it's difficult to see uh, changes in the short term. So, long term changes by making the community more walkable, making it safe to go outside and be physically active. They're huge, huge benefit uh, obesity is ah… risk factor for every chronic disease you can think of. So, we can get folks off their Fannie's and Outdoors and active, that's very, very, very good.

Also, if we have access to healthy food and we're doing a lot of work on that Arena right now with what we call Healthy retail. Which is working with the little mom and pop stores uh, to be able to get them to Market. And have uh signage and storage so that they can have healthier foods and vegetables.

Even if they're not a regular full-term grocery store so that they can have something on the corner so that Mom can run in and get a little bit i.e. bananas, or oranges uh, and not have to worry about that there is just junk food on every corner. So, working on chronic disease prevention is a long-term activity.

But we do know that we have proxy measures and working on obesity prevention, working on walkability and making the community so that its safe. Uh, not just in terms of safety in terms of violence prevention, but safe in terms of a good infrastructure so that uh, we don't have pedestrians and bicyclists getting hit by cars.  Speeding cars, that’s another problem.

So, there's many factors that point to having a healthy thriving Community. But like I said those social determinants are the proxy measures for us. Because here's the those telling can statistics, I think for us. Is that Lincoln Village which you can throw a rock at it from South Stockton. It's what six miles away.

The average life expectancy is over 90 years of age. In South Stockton in areas of South Stockton the average life expectancy is 69 years of age. So, you tell me if it's not the environmental conditions that make the difference and not the fact that people are not being healthy in what they do every day.

So, we have to work on the environmental conditions of policies that um, really have to do in with investment to ensure that the community thrives.

George: Thank you very much Barbara, that was great.

Episode Break Show Host George: You are listening to Voices of the Community, which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. This is George Koster your host and if you are just joining us, in this episode we are discussing the reinvention of the City of Stockton California. Our next set of voices are Horacio Viramontes IB Spanish Teacher and the Spanish Club Advisor along with his Franklin High Spanish Club Students who share their community service work at the second annual Reinvent South Stockton Coalition Resident Summit.

Show Guest Fatima Michelle Ocampo: I think what motivated me was the amount of times that I hear people say that Stockton is such a bad Community due to all the violence and the graffiti, etc. And when I'm with Spanish club and along with Reinvent South Stockton, I feel like I'm making a difference.

Horacio Viramontes: Hi, I'm Horacio Viramontes.  I'm a teacher at Franklin High School and I've been teaching there for 20 years since 1997.

Fatima Michelle Ocampo: Hi. I'm Fatima Ocampo and I'm a student at Franklin High School.

Frankie Santos: My name is Frankie Santos and I am a senior at Franklin High School

Alexandro Montes: I'm Alex Montes and I'm a freshman at Franklin High School.

Brian Ramirez: My name is Brian Ramirez and I am a freshman at Franklin High School.

George: Would you like to tell uh, the audience a little bit of background on the Spanish club? Why you created it?

Horacio Viramontes: Yes, uh... We started the Spanish club in 2012 I believe, a group of seniors wanted to start a Club to help out the community. Our three purposes is to help out the community as much as we can as a club, to promote our culture, our language, which is Spanish, that is why we call it a Spanish Club and to motivate our students to inspire them by bringing former students that graduated from Franklin High School that are doing good things in the community and who are going to college. Those are the three main purposes of the Spanish Club.

George: And you are participating in the program? 

Fatima Michelle Ocampo: Yes, I recently joined this year and I think what motivated me was. The amount of times that I hear people say that Stockton is such a bad Community due to all the violence and the graffiti etc. And when I'm with Spanish club and along with Reinvent South Stockton, I feel like I'm making a difference. So yah..

George: And your participation in the Spanish Club?

Frankie Santos: I'm Secretary of Spanish Club

George: This is Frankie.

Frankie Santos: Yeah, it's Frankie and I am Secretary of Spanish Club. I'm very excited to see like the new members coming. We have like more than a hundred members now and I am really glad to see people helping out the community. They want to help out the community. We want to give back to the community and we like seeing people happy.

George: How many members are there in the Spanish Club? 

Horacio Viramontes: When we originally started with the Chloe had like between 20 and 30. Well, one of the last meetings that we had we had about a hundred and fifty-six members. We had to move from my classroom to the Media Center, but from the Media Center, then we had to move to a small Auditorium that we have at Franklin High School. So, about a hundred and fifty-six students

George: And you started with?

Horacio Viramontes: With 20, 30 in 2012-2013.

George: Why did you become a member of the Spanish club? 

Brian Ramirez: Well, I became a member because my brother he was telling me all it was great that they went to parks, they painted, and they love to see the kids’ faces. And so, he told me I should try it out, and I went to one of their meetings and I was like, okay. And then Mister Viramontes, he took me to a park, a penny at the park like around a month ago. And I loved it. We gotta paint the benches. We did all these other things and I just loved it and I fell in love with Spanish Club. And now I'm a member.

George: And you're a freshman?

Brian Ramirez: I am freshman, yes.

George: So, by the time you become a senior you could take over as secretary / president

Brian Ramirez: um, um,

George: and how about yourself?

Alexandro Montes: This is Alex here, and I'm a freshman. So, I've only been in the club for a few weeks now. But ever since I came to the first meeting, I could tell it is a special Club. You know, you could really tell that all the members really had a care for the community and wanted to make a difference.

And it's really like a family like everybody like cares for each other and like tries to help each other. But the things we do look really like inspires me and like gives me hope for the future seeing all this like amazing things were able to do and on the positive impact we have on the community.

George: Mister Viramontes, I'm sure I'm destroying your name... Your goals of obviously starting the club was to get students engaged. What would you like to see the club do?

Horacio Viramontes: Exactly while my main goal is you know as more as possible students to participate in the community, especially in the south side where I grew up. There is a lot of need and we have been doing that since last year and it's growing every year.

So hopefully it continues like that until I retire. So, the more students we get helping out in the community for them, you know to be able to give back to where they grew up to the school they went to. And help us, you know be humble people and help them as much as they can. People in need not only the community, but the people too.

George: Would anyone like to talk a little bit about where you see yourselves going?  You're a senior, you're going to go on to college.

Frankie Santos: Yeah, my name is Frankie and I really like art. And my plans are to become a graphic designer. And I want to attend the Academy of Arts University in San Francisco. But I'm still in like the process, I'm still thinking about it.

I'm still not sure yet. They came and talked to us. They came to Franklin. And in my art class they came to talk to us about the university and like it really interested me. Like I really want I'm thinking about it.

George: Did you design the t-shirts?

Frankie Santos: Yeah, I did. I decided that one. And as well as the NHS one. The National Honor Society, that's another club that we have at Franklin and also the art club. I also did that one.

George: And how about you Fatma where would you like to go?

Fatima Michelle Ocampo: I'm a junior, but my dream school would probably be Stanford. But I see myself attending UC Berkeley for industrial business management. 

George: Why industrial business management?

Fatima Michelle Ocampo: I really like industry. I really like numbers, math. So I really want to major in something in business. So yeah....

George: And Alex who's a freshman

Alexandro Montes: I'm currently freshman still. But right now, I'm barely focusing on high school. So, I plan on maybe continuing on with Spanish club will for sure continue on. Maybe becoming president one day who knows. It was really like crazy to think how much it's grown in such little time. So, I'm hopeful to see where it goes in the future and also for college.

I'm not entirely sure. Probably my dream school would be here at UOP. Because I want to continue making impact on the community in Stockton and I plan on becoming a teacher one day here in Stockton Schools.

George: Thank you everybody. It was great.

Episode Break Show Host George: You are listening to Voices of the Community, which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. This is George Koster your host and if you are just joining us, in this episode we are discussing the reinvention of the City of Stockton California. Our next voice is Benita Ortez a grandmother and community activist who shares her experience living in and trying to make changes in Stockton. 

Show Guest Benita Ortez: I'm very, very, very involved with the community. I like the Southside of Stockton. There is a lot of really dedicated people that are living there and trying to make it better. But the most unfortunate thing about it is that the South Side of Stockton has been left. We're not talking first, second, third we're talking fifth, sixth generation of that.

My name is Benita Ortez. I'm a single parent. Uh, I adopted my grandchildren. I have a now 10 years old Joshua and Jesse who is eight. I first met Michael when he was campaigning, and he was knocking on the doors. And I lived on Scribner Street on the South Side of Stockton. Little did I know that was a really really bad, bad street.

I went down there on all hours to see the place how it was, how people reacted. The place was nice. It was up kept. The whole neighborhood was okay when I went there. But then they started releasing felons and apparently one felon in particular had a family that lived there, and it was known that was his territory.

So, when he got out, he decided he wanted his territory back. And it causes, oh my goodness for at least six or seven months we were on the floor. I had an emergency closet where my kids had to sleep in. I would call continuously to the police department. No show... Nothing... On one particular bad day it got so bad that it was shooting all night and, in the morning, when we looked out, the streets were glistening with the empty shells.  Not a cop in sight, nothing went down. Nobody came out it continued all night. Several times I would peek out the window and I saw were people were loading bodies into the trunks of the cars and they were taking them off. Where they went, I don't know. 

Mike started campaigning and he was knocking on doors and he came to my door and he introduced himself. And I says Michael this is not a good Street for you to be walking. I go, I thought this is a nice Street. I thought it was a nice homes. I thought everything but, we've had so much violence here and I says and it's horrible.

I'm saving to try to get out because my kids are frightened. It became worse and worse. And so, I was finally able to get enough money and I moved like oh, several down. And um I've helped with the community. I'm very, very, very involved with the community. I like the South Side of Stockton. Ah, there is a lot of really good dedicated people that are living there trying to make it better.

But the most unfortunate thing about it, is that the South Side of Stockton has been left.  We're not talking first, second, third, were talking fifth, sixth generation of that. The old people who are monopolizing that whole South Side and has a lot of interest to keep it like it is. They're getting old, and the little armies of people that use to be their soldiers are now worse than what they've ever dreamed it could be. And now that they're pretty much sucked the life out of the South Side it started to encroach into the North Side.

And that's why we've seen a lot more help being generating to the South Side to Lance out the cancer because it's going into the North Side. And Lord knows you don't want it on the North Side because it's bad enough on the South Side. So, a lot of the older people are now....  passing.  And the younger generations are taking over the properties of the older ones. And they're becoming more and more portraits of bad.

George: So, what would you like to see as the ultimate outcome? You're here today at the Reinvent South Stockton Second Annual Resident Summit. Michael talks about you were inspiring him to run and make a difference. What would you like to see happen?

Benita: The schools?  I've taken my children out of Stockton Unified because the schools are really bad, especially on the South Side.

You've got some administrators who have been spanked in the hands because of bad behavior or um, misappropriation or whatever and they're dumped on the South Side. And we had a lot of good parents who were Champions for our kids and when they dump these kinds of people into our backyards... They don't do nothing about it.

And when the problems come back then they penalize us the parents. This is a sore spot with me because they give us workshops, conferences, they teach us how to be better parents. How to know and deal with the system and when we start using the system and start using what we learned... They do nothing about it.

They spank us they toss us aside. Like we don't know what we're doing. Oh, they're Hispanic. They're black. They're Native American. They don't count.  Well, I'll be darned we do count. We have advisors. We have people. We have Area Representatives who never return calls. We have people who look at us and walk away.

We had a lot of good parents that have been stalked, watched, dis-encouraged to be on the school property when we had the right to be there. And we were not causing problems. I've asked the Stockton School District to look into investigations for misappropriation. Not just a few thousands of dollars, but aaah lot.... of money. And nothing was ever done.

Yeah....  I have a bone to pick laughter.....

George: What I'm hearing you say is you would really like the school district for example, that power structure to really work and engage with your community?

Benita: What I would like, is that if an administrator is caught with dirty hands or doing something that's wrong. They should be re-educated. Retrained not at the expense of the children, not at the expense of the parents not at the expense of the taxpayers.

They should have that coming out of their own pocket, because they got spanked. Do not take money out of the children they have already taking it out enough.

George: Right 

Benita: Programs are not existing there no more for the kids. And the kids are not coming out any smarter.  That's sad... Not in my America laughter... Violence, that's another thing. That needs to change.

Not about a month and a half ago. There was a drive-by shooting right in front of my house. The body laid there for almost six hours. My kids were traumatized. They have to go to counseling again... They don't eat. They don't sleep. They heard loud noises they are underneath the bed. That's scary. We're not in Afghanistan. We're home.

This should not be happening here. Our kids should not be afraid to walk out the door. My kids do not play in the front. And way before it gets dark, they are not allowed to be on the streets. That's sad... 

George: So, you like to see the violence addressed meaning the Stockton Police Department engaged?

Benita: We're not Stockton Police Department, we're Sheriff's Department. I live in the county. And then we call 9-1-1 we have to be dispatched. If we use cell phones it has to go to the highway patrol and from the highway patrol they will decide where it goes, and the wait is long.

George: Anything else?

Benita: Oh gee, there's a lot. Yeah.

George: Those are your important issues

Benita: Yes, ah uh, yeah. Those are the big issues that I am, I'm after right now. Education and the way they treat all these parents.  They think that they're stupid. They are not stupid, just because they have a language barrier does not make them stupid at all. I mean we can smell a fish a long way from everywhere, you know, and as a Native American, I don't trust. Laughter.......

George: Understandable well all right, thank you very much. I really appreciate your Insight.

Benita: Okay, you got it.

Episode Outro: That’s, it for this episode of voices of the community. You have been listening to Benita Ortez, community activist and grandmother who shared both her and her grandkids experience living in South Stockton as well as her efforts to secure more resources and in turn provide a safer community for kids and families.

Series Outro: Voices of the community as a labor of love. This documentary series on the City of Stockton's reinvention is a tribute to my mother Josephine Koster Wiley 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 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  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.