It's not easy to be a Stocktonian these days. Unemployment is over 15 percent and the home foreclosure rate is the highest in the nation. But don't bother arguing about it with long-time resident Phyllis Henrietta:
HENRIETTA: "I don't go along with all this bad scuttlebutt. We enjoy Stockton. A lot of bad things are said about Stockton that just aren't true."
Henrietta stopped to chat on her way to a hair appointment -- just steps from where a man was recently killed in a drive-by shooting outside an upscale restaurant. It's in the city's historic shopping district known as the "Miracle Mile." Stockton Police Detective Joe Silva grew up in the city:
SILVA: "These last few years, seeing the rise in violence here, it is alarming as an officer and as a citizen that lives here in this community."
Last year Stockton had a record 58 homicides....up from 25 four years ago. Some of those are a result of gang shoot-outs in the middle of the afternoon. Silva says criminals know the police force is down more than 100 officers. That leaves about 320. But 16-year old Destiny Gordon says that's not enough. The single mom is working on her high school diploma while raising her 14-month old son Trenton. She's taking him on a walk near the city's inland sea port - and says she doesn't go out at night:
GORDON: "Yeah, the gangs and the drugs and you know, you can't really take your kids to a park downtown because it's so filled with drugs and stuff."
Across the street, a group of first-graders is enjoying recess at a city park. Larissa Poree is there with her daughter Shay. Like many others during the city's housing boom, she moved to Stockton from the San Francisco Bay Area:
POREE: "I don't feel any less safe living in Stockton than I did when I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco."
JOHNSTON: "I'm Ann Johnston, Mayor of Stockton, California."
Johnston's had to chop tens of millions of dollars from the budget. Police, fire, libraries, parks, you name it. But, she says, there's still a more than 20 million dollar deficit. Johnston says during the boom, city leaders spent money as if it would keep pouring in:
JOHNSTON "We became mortgaged into the future, much like the average homeowner who's upsid:e down in their home, (the city of Stockton is upside-down.")
Johnston's not just the Mayor. She's also owned a balloon and party supply shop for 31 years. She says business has been down about 30 percent for the past three years - but things are starting to look up:
JOHNSTON: "We're beginning to see a rise in sales, we're beginning to see more activity, so I'm hopeful that this is a sign that slowly but surely this economy is going to turn around here."
Last year when Forbes magazine named the city the most miserable in America again, residents put on a "Stockton is Magnificent" festival. Local photographer Arnold Chin took a giant picture of hundreds of happy locals and shipped it off to Forbes.
CHIN: "We're not going to sit back and say we're miserable, that's fine. No, we're going to say this is not acceptable and how dare you call us that because we are so much more."
CHIN: "We've been burglarized. My car has been broken into. We've been the victim of graffiti and so on. So it's not like we've really been assaulted, compared to some other people in this town but for us, that's not the quality of life that we want."
TOCCOLI: "This is a great town to live in - the core."
Alex Toccoli's family has been in the construction business for 70 years. The industry in Stockton was devastated by the housing bust - so Toccoli has branched out, taking on jobs in San Diego and Nevada. But he says Stockton is someplace special:
TOCCOLI: "We have San Francisco an hour-and-a-half away, the mountains - you know, you can ski and surf in the same day. We have Yosemite 2 ½ hours away, 3 hours away. We've got 1,000 miles of waterways. It's a great place to be."
But moments after praising his hometown, Toccoli says he is also looking to move. Why? Too many burglaries in his neighborhood.