History of RSSC and the South Stockton Promise Zone

The Story of South Stockton

In a sense, the South Stockton Promise Zone was created by history. Like many urban centers in the U.S., the history of the city of Stockton has been a tale of two cities; the original city that was founded, and the city that was built to escape that foundation. Before the current time of great opportunity for Stockton stood a century of troubles which journeys through struggles against institutional discrimination, disinvestment, and the dismantling of families and communities.

The Disinvestment of a City

The transformation of Stockton into a city of stark contrast and disparate outcomes was largely initiated in the 1930ies by the creation of the Federal Housing Authority under The New Deal, a federal initiative to reinvest in the property and infrastructure of the U.S. To guide investments in home loans, the Federal Housing Authority created maps of every major city indicating which neighborhoods were best suited for investment using a color coding system. Through this process, many migrant communities were highlighted as red areas, or areas in which investments would not be made by banks. As home loans were systematically denied to immigrants and communities of color, the areas became devalued. Wealth, founded on ownership of property for many, could not be built for members of these communities.

As areas like South Stockton and Downtown slowly fell to neglect caused by the FHA and the housing market, suburban developers inspired by developments like Levittown seized the opportunity to use their power to influence city development towards property they had purchased for the development of segregated housing. City planning and leadership became a means to increase the profits of developers at the cost of equality.

The Dismantling of a Community

As these discriminatory policies began to wane throughout the Nineteen-Sixties and Seventies, the War on Drugs began to shape policy and government institutions. Communities that had been robbed of opportunity and investment for generations now transitioned to being stripped of their fathers and family stability as policing policies, mass incarceration, and the privatization of prisons created an industry from confining the impoverished and people of color. The destabilization of family and the violence perpetuated by the War on Drugs affected these communities on a profound stratum. Destabilization bred trauma and exacerbated poverty, which in turn increased disparities in health, education, and opportunities for jobs.

Bankruptcy and the Housing Crisis

Shortly before the Great Recession of 2008 and accompanying housing crisis, the city of Stockton had become bloated with new developments of upscale housing, built by developers with the hopes of capturing the lucrative Bay Area commuter market. Those ambitions fell with home values. Media reports at the time referred to Stockton as “Ground Zero” of the housing crisis, and in 2012 the city became the largest metro area in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy at the time. Ironically, it can be said that the bankruptcy of Stockton allowed for the new era of change and reconciliation that Stockton now moves towards. The failure of those who held power created a power vacuum which was soon filled by a younger rising generation of leadership.

A New Generation of Leaders

One at the forefront of this new generation of leadership was Stockton’s youngest city council member and later first African American Mayor, Michael Tubbs. Raised in South Stockton, one of the areas hit the hardest by institutionally assured instability, Tubbs returned to Stockton after his graduation from Stanford University to run for office when his cousin was the victim of a shooting. Throughout his tenure, he worked with local community leaders to form the genesis of a coalition consisting of nonprofits, government agencies, and community members that would endeavor to designate South Stockton as a Promise Zone. This coalition would eventually become the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition, a collective impact model created to break down the silos of the nonprofit, business, and government sectors, align their work to have a greater impact, and increase investment and opportunity into South Stockton.

The Beginning of Collective Progress in the South Stockton Promise Zone

The Creation of RSSC

The Reinvent South Stockton Coalition (RSSC) was born out of an effort in the early 2010s to designate South Stockton as a Promise Zone, a HUD grant initiative created during the Obama administration to revitalize urban communities that had historically been disinvested. Led by former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs (then City Council Member), the Coalition began as a grassroots movement to genuinely and sincerely pursue the will of the people and empower it with political will and support from community organizations. The coalition first rallied around an issue of public safety prioritized by the community, closing a corner market that had become the epicenter for dangerous and illicit activities within the neighborhood. By advocating for the community and partnering with police, code enforcement, and local organizations the coalition was successful in changing policy and closing down the market. This victory led the coalition realizing that through a collective effort, effective and enduring change could be made.

In 2015 the Stockton City Council partnered with PolicyLink to guide the coalition in their efforts to create a data driven, community-informed strategy by using the Results-Based Accountability framework, which had proven effective in other collective impact models in Baltimore, San Antonio, and other large urban areas. When he was elected Mayor of Stockton in 2016, Mayor Tubbs outlined a thirty-year plan to bring equity to Stockton by aligning the work of Coalition through a collective impact model governed by a distributive leadership model. At the core of this plan was a data-driven, community led collective impact approach.


In its five-year existence, the residents, community leaders, and partner organizations that make up RSSC have secured many victories for the South Stockton Promise Zone. Highlights of the successes for each of RSSC’s three community goals can be found in the links below, including community events, beautification efforts, community-building, advocacy, policy change, securing funding, and more. 
  • Create awareness and advocate for the strengths and needs of South Stockton
  • Align long term strategies and resources to improve South Stockton into a coordinated plan with empowered residents at the center
  • Develop civic engagement structures that will provide South Stockton residents a voice in decision-making, no matter who is in power