McNerney hears Valley's woes

STOCKTON -- At the top of the list of San Joaquín County's issues: high unemployment, the housing collapse, worsening public safety concerns and low education attainment.

San Joaquín County, especially Stockton, needs more resources to deal with these problems, according to local Latino leaders who met with Congressman Jerry McNerney in a roundtable discussion last Monday.

"I get the message there is a great need. It's going to take a concerted effort," said McNerney, who announced in late July his bid of the newly-drawn 9th Congressional District, which is made up of northern San Joaquín County.

Ideas on where to place resources flowed from the group of about a dozen.

John Solís, executive director of employment development at San Joaquín County WorkNet, said that at the root of Stockton's issues is the lack of education achievement.

"A lot of people struggle to graduate (high school)," Solís said. "Some of them graduate and they're somewhat functionally illiterate."

And great portion of graduates, he said, don't move on to higher education, contributing to a cycle of drop outs and poverty.

Solís would like to see more funding routed to primary education to establish a culture of learning early on. He also said the county needs a state university, and more money placed in youth summer employment.

"Your support would be appreciated," he said to McNerney.

Public safety was a major concern brought forward by Stockton city councilwoman Susan Eggman and San Joaquín County supervisor Carlos Villapudua.

Recently, Stockton has had to reduce its police force and work with concessions in response to budget shortfalls.

"We need federal help to be able to have enough police on the streets," Eggman said. "Our schools aren't safe and our neighborhoods aren't safe."

And Stockton's crime problems are affecting the city's ability to attract job development, she said.

"It's been devastating," Villapudua added.

Luis Sánchez, manager of NeighborWorks Homeownership Center, asked for McNerney to support foreclosure relief improvements proposed in Congress.

Stockton became the foreclosure capital at the peak of the housing collapse.

"We're still not out of the woods," Sánchez said, adding that lenders are not willing to work with homeowners who are in trouble.

McNerney -- who currently lives in the more affluent City of Pleasanton -- said it's going to take more focus to deal with San Joaquín County's issues.

He is looking at homes in Lodi with plans to move into the county he currently represents, and hopes to continue representing after elections.

"The problems here are more severe," McNerney said. "I feel I can make a real difference out here."

McNerney said the feedback he received during Monday's meeting will help him narrow down areas to address, and possibly develop a 5-year action plan in collaboration with the Latino leaders.

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