Crime streak just the latest in Vallejo's hard times

February 8, 2010 6:55:58 PM PST
Many people are pointing to Vallejo's financial problems as hampering its ability to fight its recent crime streak.

A spokesman for the police officers association says officers are leaving Vallejo for better paying jobs elsewhere.

A city patrol officer in Vallejo starts at $78,000 and tops out near $100,000 plus benefits. Police and fire fighters with 30 years can retire at 90 percent of their pay.

Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis says the city knew years ago that it was a recipe for financial trouble.

"You have to go all the way back to 16 years ago, 17 years ago there was a committee put together by the council at that time to look at the revenue projections and the expenditure projections of the city," he said.

That was back when the Mare Island Naval Station was facing the possibility of closing, taking with it 6,600 jobs and a budget of $482 million.

"And that committee told the council at that time that they were on the road to bankruptcy because the rate of growth of their expenditures was at a much more rapid pace than the rate of growth of revenues," Osby said.

The mayor says the council did not listen and kept spending, perhaps because the future looked pretty good. Housing prices were starting to climb, and with them property tax revenue for the city.

At its peak, the median price of a single family home in Vallejo nearly doubled in just two years. Subprime mortgage lenders descended on the mostly blue collar residents. In 2006, so-called "risky loans" amounted to 37 percent of all new mortgages in the city.

When the market turned down home prices in Vallejo fell 57 percent in two years.

The Navy closed its base in 1996, but the housing boom masked much of the financial pain for the city. When the housing bubble burst, Vallejo was hammered.

"As far as I'm concerned, the City Council has let us down," Vallejo resident Jerry DeWan said.

Dewan has lived in Vallejo for 50 years. He says the city never put anything aside for the bad times.

"They just seem to have kept passing it on to the next council," he said.

Out on Mare Island, the city hoped for more homes and more property taxes, but the builder has cut way back.

"You have to recognize that with the change in the economy it has a direct effect on their ability to meet their contracted programs," Osby said.

Larry Wadley has watched Vallejo grow and contract from the time he was a child and his father worked for the Navy on the base.

"There used to be groups of people down here, now you don't get nothing down here; all the stores have closed down, you know it's pretty bad," Vallejo resident Larry Wadley said.