California 11th District
California is often defined by its cosmopolitan cities, its gorgeous Pacific coastline, and its world-class vineyards, but beyond Beverly Hills and Nob Hill, there is another California that likes to get its hands dirty. This is an old part of the state, settled in the 1840s beginning with the Gold Rush. When the fortune seekers departed, the land was left to a determined population of farmers. Crisscrossed with railroads and canals, the Central Valley became one of the world’s greatest agricultural regions. The San Joaquin River channel was deepened to 37 feet, and Stockton today is the Central Valley’s ocean port. (The city is named after Robert Stockton, the second U.S. military governor of California, who captured Santa Barbara and Los Angeles from Mexico and proclaimed California U.S. territory.) The rich land attracted immigrants from all over: Mexicans came up Route 99 and joined North Dakotans flocking to the town of Lodi. Italian and Yugoslav immigrants brought their Old World crops. Yankees and Okies brought their distinct churches and beliefs. Later, Southeast Asian refugees crowded into the older streets of Stockton.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
More recently, Stockton has positioned itself to take advantage of the region’s economic strength by turning into a warehouse and distribution center for Northern California. This growth came even though the farm economy was threatened by actions to reduce water subsidies, the growing difficulty of attracting migrant workers for harvests, and a devastating drought that began in 2007 and has reduced the acreage of useable land. Many of the valley’s crops, especially fruits and vegetables, are not subject to the vagaries of federal controls, though the area is still a big cotton producer. And the Central Valley has also become a suburban zone. Because of the high cost of living in San Francisco, Bay Area workers with modest incomes are increasingly buying lower-priced houses around Tracy and Stockton and commuting to work on Interstate 580, past the windmills of Altamont. While the Bay Area’s population rose only 1% from 2000 to 2007, the population in Stockton’s San Joaquin County increased 18%. In that period, Hispanics grew from 30% of the population to 36%. Stockton, now a growing urban center, is in the midst of a $125 million waterfront renovation project. The city’s diversity led to its selection as a site for early testing of methods for the 2010 census.
The 11th Congressional District of California includes much of this area plus the Bay Area suburbs of San Ramon Valley in Contra Costa County. The central part of Stockton is in the 18th District, connected by a thin corridor to the valley further south. But the 11th does include northwest Stockton and most of the rest of San Joaquin County—Tracy, Lodi, and the almond center of Manteca. It also takes in the adjacent town of Brentwood in Contra Costa County, the fastest-growing city in the Bay Area in the 1990s and early 2000s. Brentwood nearly doubled in population from 2000 to 2006, but growth slowed considerably after the housing bust in 2007. The farm town of Morgan Hill anchors the far southern edge of the 11th in Santa Clara County. The San Ramon Valley towns—Danville and San Ramon in Contra Costa County, and Dublin and Pleasanton in Alameda County—are much more affluent than the Central Valley parts of the district. The district has moved cautiously toward Republicans on cultural issues and on the strength of farmers’ hostility to environmental restrictions that impede their livelihoods. The San Ramon Valley is the most Republican part of the Bay Area, but that is not very Republican by national standards; it is fairly liberal on cultural issues and conservative on economic issues. This district, whose odd lines were drawn by Republicans in 2001 as their only Bay Area district, voted 54% for President George W. Bush in 2004. But Democrat Barack Obama carried it with 54% in 2008.