Mayor Tubbs Wants To Invest In People, Directly

 

As a kid growing up on the south side of Stockton, California, Michael Tubbs always defined success as leaving.

But a stint away showed Tubbs, 28, that maybe success for Stockton’s youth didn’t mean more chances to get out, but rather more opportunities right at home.

Now Tubbs — the youngest mayor ever elected to a major American city when he took office at 26 — is leading a renaissance in Stockton, focused on three core initiatives: a guaranteed basic income, scholarships and opportunity zones. Tubbs hopes these initiatives will show Stockton’s youth that they cannot only be successful in their hometown, but thrive. 

“If cities are nothing more than the people who live in them, the most important investments we could make are in our citizens,” Tubbs said.

It’s a personal crusade for Tubbs, who wants to pay it forward and provide the same opportunities he had — without the struggle — to Stockton’s next generation. Tubbs grew up in extreme poverty. His mother gave birth to him while still in high school, and actually carried him across the stage at graduation. His father was incarcerated and wasn’t around to help her care for Tubbs and his younger brother.

The Stockton of Tubbs’ youth was a rough place. Liquor stores outnumbered grocery stores, and check cashing businesses that charged exorbitant interest outnumbered banks. Fresh produce was a three-or-four -mile drive — if you were lucky enough to own a car. The city had more murders than Chicago or Afghanistan, and more foreclosed homes than any city in America other than Las Vegas. Forbes named Stockton the most miserable city for two years in a row. The city was rife with what Tubbs describes as “bad neighborhoods with great people.”

For young Tubbs, education provided a welcome respite. His mother and grandmother, as well as his church congregation, stressed education as a way out of poverty. 

“When I was a kid, Barnes & Noble was my Disneyland,” Tubbs joked, though the pop-pop-pop sounds outside were gunshots, not fireworks.

Voracious reading helped Tubbs get ahead in school, and he completed the International Baccalaureate program — and got an offer for a full scholarship to Stanford. He completed both an undergraduate and master’s degree, and landed internships at Google and the White House. He had made it out, and Stockton was firmly in the rearview mirror. 

Then on Halloween 2010, everything changed. 

Tubbs’ cousin was murdered at a house party. Tubbs scrambled to gather the money to fly home from Washington, D.C. for the funeral, but was wracked by a sense of survivor’s guilt. 

“I was wondering, ‘How was all this good stuff happening for me helping my family, when they’re still in Stockton and they’re still dealing with the grief and pain, and poverty?’”

Tubbs had spent his time at the White House working with mayors and city councils across the country, and had seen that at the local level, policies and programs were being put into practice and making a huge difference. Some were also able to bring philanthropic investment to their communities. 

“I was like, ‘Wow, what if Stockton had a leader that was able to do that?’”

Tubbs realized that he could be that leader. He returned for his senior year of college and ran for city council to represent South Stockton — and won. He was sworn in at just 22, and served for four years before deciding to run for mayor — and won again. He quickly adopted several initiatives that he hopes will allow Stockton to become a model of how communities can grow and develop without displacing people.

First up is a guaranteed basic income initiative, which would give $500 a month to at least 100 families in neighborhoods at or below the area median income of $46,000, in hopes that they are able to meet their basic needs. 

“This demonstration is not just about today,” Tubbs said. “It’s about tomorrow, and about what the impact could be for a kid who grows up in a family that — with just $500 a month — is able to stabilize. Not be evicted, or afford books, or afford a science camp, or afford Internet, and what changes that makes for him in his life and his or her trajectory going forward.”

Tubbs also plans to triple the number of Stockton students who graduate from college through Stockton Scholars, a $20 million fund that will grant scholarships over the next decade. Pursuing higher education without taking on debt was transformative for Tubbs, and he hopes it can have the same impact on other students in his city.

Stockton, California, has been designated as an Opportunity Zone. NATHAN BALLI

Stockton, California, has been designated as an Opportunity Zone. NATHAN BALLI

Tubbs sees Opportunity Zones, a tax incentive designed to divert capital into communities that have lacked it, as a way to “bring new jobs, businesses and affordable housing” to Stockton. “This is about delivering on the aspirations of our residents and future generations. I’m excited that Opportunity Zones like those in Stockton are being recognized for their equitable-growth potential through national campaigns like the Forbes OZ 20.”

It’s a lot to take on. But Tubbs thinks his past — which he credits with giving him grit — will give him the strength to carry Stockton into the 21st century. He wants to “be a mayor that not only talked about Stockton’s biggest issues, but did something to try to solve them, and … put the city on a vastly different trajectory.”

This article is featured on Forbes here.