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Mayor Michael Tubbs

Wednesday, February 13, 2019
7:30pm Pacific Time
KQED Broadcast: 03/17/2019, 03/19/2019, 03/20/2019

This event appeared in the series
Cultural Studies

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Michael Tubbs is the first African American Mayor of Stockton, California, and the youngest mayor in American history of a city of more than 100,000 people. Born and raised in Stockton, Tubbs was raised by his mother, with an incarcerated father and without financial security. He earned a scholarship to attend Stanford University, and, following internships at Google and in the Obama White House, Tubbs returned to Stockton to work as a City Council member in the district where he was raised. Since being elected Mayor in 2016, Tubbs has worked to reinvent Stockton from a city that filed for bankruptcy in 2012 to a community of opportunity for everyone. Tubbs’ mayoralty focuses on violent crime, economic development, collective impact strategies, and improved education. This fall, Stockton will be the first city in America to implement a universal basic income pilot program.

Dan Pfeiffer is President Barack Obama’s former communications director and current co-host of the popular political podcast, Pod Save America. He is the author of Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump.

Books Referenced


City Arts & Lectures presents Mayor Michael Tubbs on Guaranteed Basic Income. With Dan Pfeiffer. Feb 13, 2019. 415-392-4400. cityarts.netDan Pfeiffer: Thanks everyone, for coming out in what is seemingly ideal weather here in San Francisco for this very special City Arts & Lectures program. 

So I’m Dan Pfeiffer. I’m the co-host of Pod Save America. And those of you who listen to the podcast know that we often have guests on and when we do tours, we sort of–people get to pick which guest they would like. And so last December we were coming to Sacramento to do an event. We had this guest, and I wanted to interview–and I picked, I said, I want to interview this guest. 

And one of the other co-hosts said they also wanted to interview this guest. And because we are Democrats, we flipped a coin to see who would get to interview the guests. And I lost. But lucky for me, I got a second chance. 

And so our guest tonight is the answer to a question that Democrats ask me all the time: who is a rising star in the Democratic party? Who is the next one? Who is–who has it? That is our guest tonight. 

He is someone who graduated from Stanford University. He had a documentary made about him. He was elected to the city council. He was elected the Mayor. He impressed Oprah Winfrey. He got endorsed by Barack Obama. And he doesn’t turn 30 until later this year. Please welcome Stockton Mayor, Michael Tubbs.  

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Thank you. Quick correction, I turn 30 next year. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Is it 2019? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah, I’m 29 in August, but I’m planning a big 30th birthday. In 2020, yeah yeah. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Ok, next year. I got 2020 on the brain. So, I can’t believe you just were upset I said you were twenty-nine.

Mayor Michael Tubbs: I’m not upset, I just want you to come to my 30th birthday.

Dan Pfeiffer: Okay. Alright. I’ll be there. I’ll come to your twenty-ninth too if I get an invite. 

Thank you for joining us. Thank you for being here. Let’s start by  talking about your story. About how it is that you ended up in politics. What is it that led you to choose politics? Because you were honors graduate of Stanford. You could have done anything in the world you wanted to do, and you’re in politics.

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well, I think it starts even before Stanford or anything. It really starts kind of with Stockton and with my family. So born and raised in Stockton. 

Yeah. Some of the commuters stayed instead of commuting three hours to go back home after work. I’m born and raised in Stockton, in a lot of neighborhoods that we’re now doing all the work we’re doing in. I can’t see anyone, but I know my mom and my grandmother are here, and I think the story really starts with them and my aunt.

My mom was single. She had me when she was in high school. So the issues in poverty and things were lived experiences before I even studied them at Stanford. 

My father’s been incarcerated my entire life. So growing up I just realized that a lot of things I saw–at first I thought it was because everyone was making bad choices. That the poverty in the neighborhood, that the folks weren’t able to pay their bills, that the people being in and out of the prison system–were because they didn’t work hard enough. So I was obsessive in high school about just doing everything perfectly. Doing everything right. Kind of extreme agency, and I was lucky enough to go to Stanford.

But then at Stanford my eyes are really awakened to this idea of policy, and to this idea of structures. That true, people make decisions, but those decisions are oftentimes shaped by policy choices that people make. I remember my freshman year, I was organizing around racial bias in policing, and sitting in the rooms with the then-police chief of Palo Alto and the city manager of Palo Alto, and realizing that these people had all this power to make decisions that impacted like my life, but they weren’t no smarter or no different than me, they were still humans. 

So then I thought that policy would be a world I wanted to play in. To make a longer story short, I was able to intern in the White House in 2010 in intergovernmental affairs, and my job was to work with mayors and councils.  I actually hated it, I didn’t enjoy Googling mayors and council members, but I saw what folks were doing and it was amazing, and I was like wow. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Do you think there’s some intern at the White House Googling you right now? Maybe not this White House.

Mayor Michael Tubbs: It’s probably one of those folks tweeting me that I have to…Anyway, so  while in the White House, I was trying to figure out my place, being from Stockton, from South Stockton, now in the White House, at Stanford, before that I interned at Google, and feeling really uncomfortable with the privilege I had. I had a real sense of survivor’s guilt. 

And then around the same time, on October 31st, my cousin was a victim of a homicide in Stockton. And unfortunately, especially for folks who live in communities like Stockton, a premature death of a young man of color is not an abnormal incident. For a lot of folks in cities like Stockton, San Francisco, etcetera, it’s almost a rite of passage. But when that happened I really sat, and as a spiritual person, prayed, and I thought that maybe all the privileges I had been blessed to receive were from more than just for me to be individually successful. Because that was the goal. To get out of Stockton, make a lot of money, be successful, be from Stockton.

So after the murder of my cousin, I decided to go back and run for city council. Admittedly I didn’t think we were going to win, but I just felt like I had to run. I had to at least get this out of my system and then I wouldn’t feel guilty if I did something else. And that was seven years ago. 

Dan Pfeiffer: And so you make the decision to run. You are basically just–you’re incredibly young, you were like moments ago an intern Googling things. And how was that first campaign? Like you’re knocking on people’s doors and you say I’m Michael Tubbs, I’m running for City Council, and like what was the reaction? Like, how old are you? Like… 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: It was, like Drake says, God’s plan. It literally had to be, because I was 21 years old. I had no beard. I looked like I was 21 years old, if not younger. I had to quit my student jobs. I was a student at the time. I’m still in school. So I had like two very shabby ill-fitting suits. It just wasn’t–I look at those people like, oh wow. Like one pair of dress shoes.

And then knocking on doors was actually very scary. And I think part of it was also at the time, it was a time where the city had a record number of homicides. So folks weren’t like opening their doors, much less for young black guys. Like that wasn’t just what was happening. But I learned so much from that campaign, I’m so thankful for the people of Stockton. 

I remember the first door I ever knocked on, it was a guy named Eric. He comes out. He lived across the street from the community center where we had that kickoff. And he was telling me how he had all these hopes and aspirations and dreams for his daughter. And that when he saw me as a young person from Stanford coming back, he wanted that for his daughter, and if I can help make that happen I had his support. I remember he also told me that he spent half the year in Alaska like crab fishing. I said, why Alaska? And he talked about the lack of economic opportunity and jobs and… 

Dan Pfeiffer: So he’d have to go to Alaska just to make enough money. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Just to make enough money to make ends meet. And then he took me around to all his neighbors and people were confusing council with congressman and everything else. Like, that’s the congressman. That’s–I was like no, I’m running to be a councilman. I’m… 

But stories like that. There was another lady, Ms. Ortiz. I remember knocking on her door. She lived on a street in my former council district called Spring Street. And it took her a while to open her door. She opens it, we have this amazing conversation. While we’re talking, her son’s peeking out the window. I’m like, is he okay? And she said well, he’s never seen me like talk on the porch, because the neighborhood was pretty unsafe at that time. And then she told me how he sometimes had to sleep on the floor because of the gun violence, how he had asthma literally because of gunsmoke, not because of any inherent biological condition, but because of the environment he was in. And he had stomach ulcers. And then she ended it with saying, “but he’s on honor roll.”

And that story is powerful for me, because I think especially, particularly at that time, that’s what was so attractive about going back to Stockton. That was a city that was struggling, a city that was fighting, and a city where kids have all these barriers stacked against them and are still making honor roll.

So that first campaign was incredibly humbling because we didn’t know what we were doing. Like my first month of precinct walking–you’re gonna laugh at this–I didn’t know, I needed to knock on doors and talk to people, so we knocked on every door and talked to everyone. We didn’t know if they were voters or not. And we didn’t even have their names. 

Dan Pfeiffer: That’s probably the right thing to do. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No, I learned so much, but we literally had spiral notebooks and were writing down people’s names and their addresses. Like they said that they were going to support us, let’s follow up. 

But I’m thankful for that, because I think that really grounded me in a couple things. In that, number one, that folks have lost trust in government, but for good reason, it’s hard to trust government when the light on my street’s been out for three years. And true, I may not know that I should call this number or call this person in the office, this person that works in constituent affairs, but all I know that the government in my life isn’t working. 

So that kind of helps ground the work we’re doing even now as mayor, but it really started from being chased by a Chihuahua, walking with Air Jordan shoes on with suits, and getting to know the city on a very very individual micro level. 

Dan Pfeiffer: And when you, so you, the election happens, you win. Like what, like my reaction to that situation would be, oh shit, like, how do I? Like did you, like, were you nervous about doing the job? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Still am nervous. Absolutely. Especially I was 21, when we won the Primary, 22 by the time we won the general. There’s this documentary crew following us around everywhere. Oprah had written the check, so the expectation. 

Dan Pfeiffer: I got some questions about that. We’ll come to that. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: And the expectations were sky-high. The need was sky-high. I’m a part-time councilman / teacher. Like I’m not a magician. Like, how are we going to solve intractable issues of poverty, violence, economic development. So I felt a little queasy actually. 

And I remember my first council meeting. Because you know, I’m 22. So I’m the councilman, I was top voted, but I’m still like the youngest person up there. These folks had been doing this for a while. So I remember being very nervous and saying a quick prayer, and then someone said something crazy and I just jumped in, and then since then it’s been smooth sailing. Now I feel like I…  

Dan Pfeiffer: So. How? I imagine that Oprah doesn’t give a lot of donations to city council candidates. How did that happen for you? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: What did Drake–no. So, I’ll try to make it short, it’s a long story. So essentially…

Dan Pfeiffer: We got plenty of time for Oprah. Always. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: So essentially I had studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa the year before. And she was coming to Stanford with a couple of girls from her Leadership Academy who were interested in coming to Stanford. And at the time they were looking for students who, number one, had some knowledge of like South Africa, and number two just wouldn’t like embarrass the university. So luckily I had a reputation for not being embarrassing, at least to some folks at the University. 

So we’re at lunch and we’re there, and it’s hilarious because I’m again, like you mentioned my age, I knew Oprah was a big deal, but I didn’t know she was Oprah. Like I knew she was rich, but I know she was like, Ohhh-prah, like the world would care.

So we’re at this lunch, and everyone was impressing Oprah, but I was like, there’s no way I could do anything that’s going to impress Oprah. So I sat and talked to the girls. So I spent all lunch talking to the girls, asking them about–because we’re at the lunch presumably for the girls. So I was telling them about Stanford, answering questions, and I see her looking. I was like, am I saying–I’m not trying to hit on them. I’m trying to get them to Stanford, do my job. 

And then we do introductions, and I was faced with this quandary, because she’s like everybody, introduce yourself. And I’m like, I don’t want her to think I’m like some slick politician trying to get her support. So I didn’t mention I was running for City Council. I said hey, I’m Michael Tubbs. I’m from Stockton, California. I’m a Truman scholar. I’m a senior. I’m NAACP president. Just all school stuff. 

And then the dean of admissions was like, “and he’s running for city council.” And she was like, “who?” And I was like, “me.” She said, “really?” And then she like, 10 minutes, like campaign strategized. Like “who supports you? Who doesn’t? How big is the city? Why Stockton? How much did you raise? Are you from there?” I’m vibing, I’m vibing, I’m vibing. I’m like, it’s gonna be a cool story. 

And then she was like, “you know I got Barack Obama elected.” And I was like, I… I said, “I’ve read similar.” And she said, “I’ve also helped Cory Booker.” So yeah, I love Cory Booker. And then that was the extent of the conversation. And then she said, “well, how do I write a check? Like, how do I support?” And then like the whole room’s like, what? And I’m like “umm,” And then the political science chair was there and she said, “do you normally get involved in campaigns?” 

And she said– and this is like a month after I announced. This is like before like people in Stockton were like, this is our guy. And she was like,  “heavens no. I met Barack Obama and knew he was the one. And I went to a rally in Newark, for Cory, it made me cry.” And then she was like, “and Michael Tubbs from Stockton, California would be my third.” And then it was like mic drop. Everyone’s like, what’s happening?

But what was interesting is that afterwards, again being a dumb 21 year old, like okay, how do I follow up? I didn’t know how to follow up. So I was like, I’m not gonna say anything. Like she said she liked me, that’s enough. The people in the room heard it. But then she was walking through campus, and was like “Councilman Tubbs!”  Like she was like walking really, “Councilman Tubbs,” it was really exciting. 

And then fast forward a month later. I don’t know if she has a cell phone, I don’t know. But no conversation. No follow up, I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to reach her. It’s fine though. I had lunch with Oprah. Hey. And then there was a time when we were organizing like a walk and no one showed up. I was broke. Campaign funds were low. Just like, it was the low moment. I was really literally about to quit.

I was like, I’m done. Like why am I doing this? No one else believes in this vision. No one showed up to walk. Like even, no offense, my family didn’t show up that day to walk. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Now they’ll drive to San Francisco for you. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: But they did a lot of work on the campaign, but that day in particular, everybody was like no. And I was so sad. So I remember going to the mailbox and there was an envelope that said OWM. And I didn’t know what OWM was, thought that was like a bill. I’m broke at this point, so I’m like, OWM. So I throw it on the table. 

I’m like, I’m just not going to run anymore. I’m missing senior nights. I’m missing like, is it worth it? Maybe I have this crazy dream that I was supposed to run, but maybe that’s not what I’m supposed to do. Maybe this is a vanity project, right? And then I was leaving, and like the envelope was like you need to open this. And I was like, I’m not opening this OWN, it’s a bill. I don’t need any bad news today. And I open it and it said check from Oprah Winfrey Management for $10,000.

So I started crying, right, I’m like crying and I’m like God, I’m never doubting, I’m sorry. Like you told me to just–it’s like the ultimate shut up. Like I’m sorry. Like I promise I, we’re going to do this. Like even if we lose, like this is a sign that something is going right, and since then it’s been–that was a real game changer.

But again, I didn’t realize–at first I was excited for like the money. Like that’s a lot of money for the campaign to talk to voters. But I didn’t realize what like, the culture, like the world cared so much, like people were like, “Oprah donated, I can support you.” And I was like, you don’t even know, Oprah, like what are you? 

So it was a huge blessing. I’m so thankful for her contribution in 2012, again before the primary, I had just announced a month earlier, so there was no…Like some kid in Jordans with his suit at lunch. So I’m very thankful for that. 

Dan Pfeiffer: I think it’s pretty funny that Oprah said that she got Barack Obama elected. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: You probably did too, right? 

Dan Pfeiffer: Not like Oprah. But I would bet that Barack Obama, who loves Oprah, might disagree with that. But he’s probably wrong, so.

Mayor Michael Tubbs: It was tongue-in-cheek, but she was saying, like I’m Oprah. She was letting me know.

Dan Pfeiffer: It was a big–Barack Obama was the first candidate that Oprah came out for. And she did an event in Iowa and people–it was a big deal. I’ll say that. So Oprah’s a big deal, that’s amazing.  

So then a few years later–well let me ask you this. How did the other council members treat you? Were they welcoming? Did they think you were like this young whippersnapper who like shouldn’t be doing this? I mean, they must be 20, 30 years older than you at that time. Maybe more. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: 50, some. But it’s like it–those are my folks. Like those are my, like my friend group, it’s like very eclectic. And some of them are like older council members. When I was first elected, I think they saw the way I campaigned. I think because I definitely came in and did a lot of listening until someone said something I disagreed with, but most of the time I would listen and ask questions and do my homework and wasn’t afraid to take tough votes, or wasn’t afraid to speak what I thought the truth was. 

So everyone was very welcoming. It was almost weird how quickly we are gelled and said, you know, the challenge before us is so great, maybe we need a little intergenerational sort of leadership to kind of move this city forward. So they were incredibly welcoming and incredibly–and would listen. Like I deferred to the council member. So it was–there was no hazing which I really appreciated.

Dan Pfeiffer: Oh that’s great. They didn’t make you carry their bags or anything? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No, but, so my Vice-Mayor, he’s 71, so he would always say “I have shoes older to you.” That was his thing, like “alright we gotta do this.” Like “all right, but I have shoes older than you.”

Dan Pfeiffer: So when you decided to run for Mayor, was there–like what went into that decision? Because Councilman is a hard job, but Mayor is the hardest job. And so what did you bring to that decision making process? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well, it was funny, so as a council member it’s part-time and you get like, you have one staff member you share between the six. So it’s structurally, it’s not designed for you to actually advocate for your District. But was really creative and in public-private partnerships, created a collective impact approach, created a C3, and we’re getting stuff done listening to neighbors. 

One group of grandmothers from an  organization called Stand told me my first meeting after I was elected that they didn’t care about Stanford. They didn’t care about Oprah. What they did care about was if we could close this liquor store that’s been a problem for 30 years. So we spent two and a half years and we shut it down. We were able to bring a credit union in. We were able to open up a health claim that it’d been vacant for 10 years. 

This is all–so in about 2015 when I was deciding I’m gonna run for County Supervisor actually, people would come to Council meetings and berate me and say “Councilman Tubbs only cares about South Stockton.” Like my district.

So at first I was like a little bit annoyed. I was like “well, in what world do you get penalized for doing your job too well?” Like that’s like… But then I listened deeply, and I was like no, they’re saying the entire city probably needs that same level of leadership and activism and creativity. Because I was like, there’s no way they’ll vote for a 25 year old black kid from South Stockton to be Mayor.

So maybe when I’m 30, maybe when I’m 34, but right now that might be too soon. But then folks like business leaders, folks who I had no idea were supportive would say, “I would really appreciate it if you considered running for Mayor. I’d really appreciate if you’d consider running for Mayor.” And then in Stockton at the time, you had to run citywide anyway to get on Council.

So we already had like a city-wide base and coalition and just thinking about sort of how a big part of leadership and what I’d learned in the White House is that oftentimes to get resources, people aren’t making like super objective decisions, they’re very subjective. Like, I like this guy. Or, I heard about him. I read about him. There’s something happening there, I want to be a part. 

And I realized that Stockton had been previously left out of a lot of discussions because there wasn’t a leader there that folks could easily connect with, to the city. So I thought selfishly, for me being County Supervisor would’ve probably been better, it’s less stressful. Like, no one knows what–no offense to my, I know Supervisor Haney’s here, love you, former Supervisor Caimen’s here, love them–but at least in  Stockton, a lot of people don’t know what supervisors do, even though the work is incredibly important. So I thought okay, I could do that, it’s stress-free, make more money, focus on the district.

But I think over the past three years that the decision to run for Mayor was right because it’s been good for the city as a whole. So I’m really happy about it. 

Dan Pfeiffer: What are the biggest challenges that Stockton has been facing in your time as Mayor? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: I think the biggest challenge that Stockton has faced is analogous to what I would argue is the biggest challenge in this country. It’s the intersection of structural violence, defined by Dr. Paul Farmer as the avoidable impairment of basic human needs, and poverty. I think we have communities that with between…percent of poverty. It’s no surprise that those communities also have high rates of violence. Low rates of educational attainment, high rates of unemployment. It’s not surprising given the poverty. And especially the way city government is structured, I don’t have a lot of services at my disposal. 

My biggest service providers are cops. And traditionally–not just in Stockton, but in most cities–cops have been seen as the answer to poverty. This neighborhood has a lot of crime, also high poverty. Let’s put a bunch of cops there. These folks are unemployed and jobless, let’s arrest them. These folks are homeless, let’s arrest them. And that has proven time and time again to be a flawed model. So thinking about, as a mayor with finite time and finite resources, how do we attack the root of our problem with poverty, has been challenging. So that’s part of it. 

I think the second part and more–not nefarious but more, it’s kind of hard, it’s not as concrete–is just image and perception. Right, so even as a council good things were happening. We had exited bankruptcy. We, today we’re now the second most physically healthy city in the nation according to truthinaccounting dot org. 

Which, a lot of these good things, all these good things were happening, but you couldn’t–the culture or the mood in terms of people’s perception from the outside of the city, but also inside, hadn’t changed. 

So that was also just to get people to believe that no, our future is way brighter than our past. That we matter as a city. And then making the case to our residents and also making the case to the rest of the state and the nation, like no, Stockton matters. We’re 300 thousand plus people, we’re a big city, we’re a city with history, we’re a city with diversity, we’re a city that matters for the future of the state and the country. So kind of marshaling and doing the narrative work around the city was also another challenge. 

Dan Pfeiffer: And so you were telling me before the event how Stockton’s population has grown significantly in recent years as people have moved toward Stockton, people from San Francisco, people from Oakland, people are maybe commuting here. 

You know that often in cities can be, you know, a good thing, but it also puts the city in a lot of transition and as like new and old are bumping into each other. How have you–how’s that happening in Stockton, how have you sort of managed that change in your city? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well we’re still managing it. It’s a huge challenge, especially in terms of its impact on housing affordability. Because our median household income is about 15 to 20,000 less than the median household income in the Bay Area and in the rest of the state. Meaning that houses in Stockton look really affordable to people who make 80, 90K a year, but for folks in Stockton, many of whom make 40, 50k a year as a household, those folks with 80, 90k coming down are causing everyone’s house prices to go up.

So for the last year, we’ve had the fastest rising written market in the country. So we’re spending a lot of time this year talking about, let’s not be like xenophobic. We’re not saying we don’t want no new people in. But we’re saying, let’s make sure we’re not displacing people who’ve been here.

So how do we build affordable–how do we build all types of housing? But particularly, how do we build affordable housing that’s affordable for Stocktonians, whose area median income is $47,000 a year, which is a different product, a different price point than someone who makes 80, $90,000 a year.

So that’s been part of the transition. I think another part of the transition particularly has been, in my former part of my Council District Weston Ranch, there’s a huge influx of our brothers and sisters from Oakland who moved in. And oftentimes in the schools or at the street level that could create some tensions, in terms of like probably being from a different city, but people from the city feeling it’s disrespectful, leading to some conflicts. So we’re working with community groups and others to kind of manage those kind of street-level conflicts that arise.  

Dan Pfeiffer: What’s the best part of your job? Like what’s the most fun? Because Mayor–I alluded to this–but Mayor is often referred to as the hardest job in politics.  And so what’s the best part of your job? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: I think well, you’re going to have to stop me. There’s a lot that I like about the job. First and foremost I really get to wake up every day, check my phone, say a quick prayer, and then my whole job is to figure out like, how do I make Stockton better? That’s like fun, right? Like think about it, like and it’s the city you’re from, you have deep bonds. It’s the only city you’ve really lived in, your mom lives there, your grandmother, everyone’s there. So that’s really fun. 

I think number two, as someone who is interested more in doing than in rhetoric, that the messy hard problems we have to solve every day–with an understanding that no one’s going to come solve them for us–I think that challenge is exciting. 

And I get to see the best of people. I get to see folks who have limited means of their own, who go out and feed the homeless, and go out and give socks. I get to see kids organizing park cleanups. I get to see neighborhoods and grandmothers like the ones I mentioned who are cool community organizers. I get to see like just how smart and resilient and talented people are. 

And number four, like most people will respond to your call, so I get to learn a lot. I could call somebody and say “hey I’m interested in what’s going on with the”–it’s a blessing and a curse, cause you could literally call a meeting on anything and people will show up. It’s just after that’s difficult. But I think that’s really fun to understand that even if we don’t have all the resources, information’s not the issue. I could get all the information on almost every issue I want to, which is, as a nerd, pretty fun.

Dan Pfeiffer: So you have been engaged in a lot of really interesting progressive policy work right, that has been–you’ve been known, and there’s been a lot written about the various things you’ve done to try to take a different approach, an outside the box approach to dealing with the problems of Stockton. And I want to talk about a couple of those programs with you.

I’m going to start with I guess the Stockton Scholars Program? Tell us about that. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well Stockton Scholars–and it’s interesting, a lot of things we work on are things studied, but more importantly, things lived. So there’s a special urgency to them. So Stockton Scholars comes from this  understanding that the difference for me was going to Stanford.

And if one person going to an elite institution could come back and be Mayor, what if we did that scale for every kid in our city? What would that mean for the future of Stockton if every kid had the opportunity to really soar and see the world and then come back? 

So we’re blessed to get a 20 million dollar donation from California Community Foundation, and with that donation we decided to make it so that every kid who graduates from a larger school district for now, which is Stockton Unified, over the next decade is guaranteed either five hundred dollars a year for two years, to go to trade school, five hundred dollars a year for two years, to go to community college, or a thousand dollars a year for four years to go to a four-year school. 

And that’s incredibly important because when you count Pell Grants, Cal grants, etc, according to CSU Chancellor’s office, it’s about a thousand dollars that keep students like the kids from Stockton out. So now for the kids graduating from a larger school district, we can say for 90% of them, CSU is tuition-free. And we can signal to them, the expectation is after you graduate you have to do something, whether it’s trade school, whether it’s Community College, whether it’s four years. 

And again, as some of the first in my family to go to college, who was able to college for free, it’s personal, but I think for the city it’s our best economic development tool. Because, of the top 100 metro areas, we’re number 99 currently in college attainment, and the goal is to triple the number of college graduates in Stockton in the next decade and guilt them into coming back. Because it’s like, you did nothing for this money, but from being from Stockton, your city believes in you, and gave you money. Like, come back.

Dan Pfeiffer: It’s guilt. There’s not some sort of string to it, right?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No string, but lots of guilt. I tweet, I Instagram. 

Dan Pfeiffer: You will stalk them across social media until they come back. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Absolutely. Especially when I think about sort of the changes that are happening in Stockton, a lot of it’s from people who left and came back. And right now it’s like 10, 20, 30, but if we do that at scale, we could have teachers full of–Stockton educated college grads who came back to teach, and it’s–and I’m young so I’ll be alive to see it. So it’s gonna be great, I can’t wait. 

Dan Pfeiffer: How like–obviously cities you know, as you said Stockton was in bankruptcy before you were there, fiscal challenges all across the board in a lot of places.

How do you make sure that you have funding for this over the long term? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. It’s a conversation that we’ve been having with the community. Because we have four school districts in Stockton and right now the initial grant is for a decade for the largest school district. I mean, there’s three others. We were able to get another grant so that for this year every kid in Stockton, no matter what school district, if you go to a UC, you’re guaranteed– 

Dan Pfeiffer: Are these federal grants or state grants? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Philanthropic grants. But we get a lot of flack, like what about our schools, what about our schools, what about our schools? I’m like, that’s a great question and we have to find a revenue source that’s ongoing. So there’s things–there’s new revenue streams potentially coming to the city.

I’ve made no secret of my desire to ensure that some level of cannabis revenue goes to our kids. And it could go to affordable child care, preschool, and scholarships. But for me, I see that as a path to sustainability, but that will have to take a vote of the people to do so. So that’s the conversation we’re beginning to have with the community.

Like hey, you want this in perpetuity? We want this to be what we’re known for, a city that invests in our kids, that we have to pay for it. We’ve been blessed that a foundation gifted us an initial 20 million. As a community, it is incumbent on us to at least match and  exceed it, so that doesn’t go away in a decade. So I continue to have that conversation with the community. 

Dan Pfeiffer: And so the other program that has been very famous, very talked about, is the SEED program. Tell us about that program, how it’s working, what the status is now. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: So SEED is our basic income demonstration. And the idea is that, starting actually this week, a hundred thirty families will be given $500 a month for 18 months. 

And the idea came–I remember freshman year in college reading “Where Do We Go From Here” by Dr. King, and he talks about, I believe–he says, we try to solve poverty by education and housing and healthcare, which is important, and he said, but I’m now convinced that the best way to abolish poverty is the most simple and the most direct. A guaranteed income–more than 500 dollars–he was talking about pegging it to the national median income and keeping up with inflation. And he’s saying that will kind of raise the floor for everyone. 

So I remember reading that and saying well, wow I studied Dr. King, no one has ever mentioned this as part of his legacy, like I wonder what happens to this idea. And I was like, wouldn’t it be cool one day to be part of that policy discussion, whether it works. 

Fast forward to my first year as Mayor. I was again consumed with this idea of poverty being the root of our problem. So I told my staff, find the craziest, most radical thing to abolish poverty. I said, don’t give me anything I’ve heard before. Like I don’t–I know creating a pipeline. I know children’s zone, I know programs, love them. Get me a–how far can we go, like how do you get rid of it? 

And they came back with “give people money.” And I was like, there’s no way. I said, who’s doing that? And then they talked  about the work Give Directly was doing in Kenya, et cetera, some pilots in Canada, Etc.

So I said, oh, I said, well show me how we would pay for it. So they came up with these like models or what we could pay for if we had this money and how many people could help. And I was like, I’m trying to get reelected. So we’re not going to touch this one year one. I don’t know, or ever, but it’s a cool thought exercise, like someone should do this one day. 

And then the next week I was at a meeting in San Francisco about the future of work. And Natalie Foster from the Economic Security Project was there and she says, “oh we’re looking for mayors to test out basic income.” I said, “I know about basic income. I don’t come at it from automation.” Cause I think a lot of people come at it from this idea that technology disruption may happen with displacement from jobs, but kind of my frame the whole time has been like, currently today. 

Like 50 years ago, Milton Friedman, Dr. King, Richard Nixon saw something was structurally wrong. I’m like, 50 years later it’s probably worse. And if we don’t have a good foundation and income floor for people today, then when that disruption comes it’s going to be really really difficult, and our options will be very very limited. So let’s get the foundation sturdy today so we’re able to pivot when disruption happens, versus having a shoddy foundation that would become even shoddier when the disruption happens. 

So we’re talking, she’s like yeah, we’re looking for a mayor to pilot with. And I was like, you know what, we have a whole task force studying this issue. I have a task force of experts looking at…Well, they were experts. No one knew what it was. So they were experts. And we ended up doing the the pilot. 

So it’s been an interesting 18 months. I’ve been in Twitter wars. Terrible, with like Chuck Woolery and Sarah Palin and it’s been…That was the  funniest thing I said all night actually, like Sarah Palin, Chuck Woolery Twitter wars. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Like how did Chuck Woolery end up in that sentence? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Exactly. And I didn’t know who he was. So I was like, this guy with a bunch of followers is tweeting, I should respond. And then my press guy was like, the dude from Love–what is it, Love Boat? Love Doctor? 

Dan Pfeiffer:  The Dating Game?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah, he was like, Chuck Woolery’s…I was like, he’s famous? Alright, I’ma get him. So then we end up having a conversation about the merits of a basic income. 

At least to try the idea and see sort of in the 21st century, in the greatest nation in the world, people are working incredibly hard and can’t afford, like not luxuries not–like people weren’t asking for like tax breaks for like yachts and stuff like that. They wanted to be able to pay bills. They wanted to be able  to afford healthcare. They wanted to be able to pay rent, so. 

Dan Pfeiffer: How are you planning on judging the success or failure of this program? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well, I think for me, the program has already been successful, and I’m going to tell you why. For the last year, the little town of Stockton, California has been central in discussion about the economic floor for folks in this country and that’s huge I think. The past year we’ve really dug in and we’ve challenged some assumptions that I used to hold actually. Until talking to people and doing the work. Ideas about dignity having to be tied to work. 

When I realized that my folks were like migrant workers working in overtime with no protections, or folks were driving Lyft, Uber, and Doordash. Like they–I don’t think there’s anything dignified about working 14 hours a day and being stressed and still not be able to afford a necessity. That’s not dignified, that’s stressful, that’s anxious and that should be antiquated.

I think the conversation we’ve been having about a more inclusive feminist economy, when so much work that woman do in our society isn’t rewarded with paychecks, in terms of caregiving, etcetera, a basic income helps kind of solve for that. So, and we see folks, like Senator Harris has her Lift Every American act, which is $500 a month for families who are working. Governor Newsom’s talking about expanding the earned income tax credit for folks, so, I think we’ve actually been having a–we’ve been creating a new realm of possibility about what– our imagination around kind of what kind of country we want to live in. 

But to answer your question, we have researchers from UPenn and the University of Tennessee, and they’re really measuring three things. The first thing is how the money is spent. The second thing is, what impact does it have on financial volatility? And the third thing is, how does it affect health, but also connection to community? 

Because the idea is that–and Robert Reich talks about this in his book “Common Ground,” that part of this core we may be seeing in our society currently is that we’re losing this idea of the commons, that there’s some things we have in common as Americans, and the idea that as an American, you’re guaranteed not a ceiling, but a floor, so you can actually pull yourself up, is I think a concept that could get bipartisan and wider-ranging support.

Dan Pfeiffer: And I–like I myself have… 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Oh wait, let me say one thing, or my press guy’s gonna kill me. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Okay. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: It’s not using taxpayer dollars. 

Dan Pfeiffer: That an interesting point, because I mean, I was a press guy once and I probably would have said the same thing as your press guy. But ultimately, if this is the right thing to do, it’s something we should use taxpayer dollars for, right?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Absolutely, but I think, and I tell people all the time that charity isn’t justice, but I think philanthropy is very useful in testing and catalyzing, allowing us to study before we use public dollars. So before we use public dollars, let’s see if it works. If it’s works, then it’s a case to be made that maybe we should look at sort of what would this look like for a state, nation, etcetera.

Dan Pfeiffer: It’s really, you know, whenever we have a senator, or governor, or one of the 700 Democrats running for president, on Pod Save America, we always ask them this question about, you know–between globalization and automation and growing income inequality–like what is the big idea? Right, like what is it that we can actually do to actually address this, right? And up until very recently, no one has been willing to say the words Universal Basic Income as an answer, right? 

And there are a couple reasons for that. There’s political fear, right? But there’s also this idea that–and you mentioned this, and I think I’m  gonna dig in on it a little bit, is that like in the…Wrongly, in my view, per se, but in the American imagination, you know, there is, like work is a reason for being. Right, the dignity of work. And like because, like somehow it’s not just the money you make, it’s the experience of working that makes you, fulfills yourself, right? 

That’s the, in the sort of distorted vision of America we’ve had for so long, we’ve thought that. Like, how do you go about making the case for this when you have to go against like what has been core to the story America’s told itself for so long?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: It’s been a self journey too, I challenged a lot of my assumptions. And the first one is that–it’s crazy cause we have a term for it. It’s called the Working Poor. That a lot of poor people are working and working incredibly hard and longer than they’ve had to work before. And that poor folks who don’t work are generally because they’re children, and we have child labor law, because the majority of folks who are in poverty in this country are children. Or number two, they can’t work right? 

And then number three I think, and to your point, we as a country, we should grapple with this notion that either work has value, work has merit, but how do we define work? The stay-at-home mom who’s taking care of kids or watching her mom is–she’s not paid, but is that work?And is that not dignified? Folks who are in school and taking 22, 23 units, and can’t work, is that not dignified, and how is that rewarded in terms of compensation? 

But then number three, I think work can have dignity, but dignity shouldn’t start there. We should start the conversation with, as people, we have inherent dignity, like I don’t. Like we should–easier said than done, but we have to decouple my dignity attached to what I could produce. Or my dignity attached to what I could help someone make money. 

I think we should just start the conversation with dignity. Because I don’t think we’re talking about dignity, we’re talking about purpose. And I don’t have to work 12 hours to have a purpose. My purpose may be watching my kids, or watching the neighbor’s kids. My purpose may be being an artist, being a– there’s a lot of ways… 

So I think we just have to lean in, and I think when you lean in, you realize, a lot of people realize that no, we’re not talking about I need a job to have dignity, we’re saying that as human beings we need to have a sense of purpose, and I absolutely agree with that. I’m just not sure that purpose is tied to what is traditionally considered work. 

Dan Pfeiffer: So the concept of universal basic income sort of has risen up just in this past week, where, in the Green New Deal that was introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Senator Markey, included a massive Public Works project, all of these things, Universal Health Care, it also included a provision to guarantee Economic Security. And in the fact sheet that was released, which is why it’s always important to proof-read the fact sheet, it said, guarantee Economic Security for anyone who is unable or unwilling to work. And the unwilling line created a lot of controversy. 

Do you–like one, how do you think about it in the context of your program, and about the idea that everyone who was willing should work? You know, like there is a question of dignity in work, there’s also this question of, if you can work, right, should you have to do that?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well, I think that–and maybe I just have rose-colored glasses. I think if someone’s not willing to work, there’s usually a reason. Whether it’s a substance abuse disorder, or there’s some other mental health or health issues. Like I haven’t met one person who doesn’t want to work, but again, defining work broadly as contributing in some way. 

But I don’t think like the basic necessities of what it takes to be human–that in my mind, it’s about being a human, humanity. And I’m not sure you need to be willing to do anything to have human rights respected. But again, maybe I just kick it with hard working people, but I don’t know anyone who… I mean, sometimes people are unwilling to work like a day. That’s why you have sick days. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Like your family on that day… 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. Well they had work. That’s why they don’t want to work again for free, right. They were working. So yeah. But I do think we provide an economic floor to all Americans. Now I also would argue if folks had an economic floor, maybe more people would have the resources and tools to get treated if they have mental health disorders, Etc, so that they could actually work.

Dan Pfeiffer: How has the reception within the community been for this? Is there, do you get, who’s pushing…Is there anyone in Stockton pushing back on this idea? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah, but I don’t think that issue in that case is the idea, it’s me. Like we give scholarships to kids. Deep corrupt! He’s giving scholarships. He’s getting paid to give scholarships, what? And stuff like that. So it’s not about the program, it’s about the person. 

I think what I’ve heard from most parts of the community is heartbreaking, just the amount of need. Like people who have good jobs, who again are working, who are teaching, who are baristas, who can’t work, who are sick or taking care of someone who an unexpected, when one or two Americans can afford life emergency–something happens and the amount of emails, text messages, Instagram messages, tweets and phone calls, we get about how do I qualify, how do I get it? How do I get? 

It’s heart breaking. Because it’s not something that’s just for folks who are in extreme poverty. There’s people who on the surface look good, who have massive credit card debt that it’s…The vast majority of people, especially in a community like Stockton, would benefit from something.

So the response has been, let’s see if it works, but I would like you to try if it works on me. Let me try and see the $500, let me see if the $500 work. I’ll take you on that any day, Mayor.  

Dan Pfeiffer: So before we head to audience questions, let me ask you a little about politics. Because all of this policy is very important, but you only get to do it if you get elected to office and you get to stay there, right. And who–do you have a mentor in politics, someone who you model your approach after?  

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Hm. Because everyone’s running, so I’m trying to think if I  want to…

Dan Pfeiffer: It’s ok. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No but… 

Dan Pfeiffer: If it’s in between us and these people it’s fine. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: But no, so, I think mentors and my other work, I’m gonna answer those separately if that’s okay?

Dan Pfeiffer: That’s fine.

Mayor Michael Tubbs: So I think a lot of my mentors actually aren’t politicians in that way. So I think of folks like Ella Baker who was an amazing community organizer in the way she was able to move policy. A living mentor is Marian Wright Elderman from the Children’s Defense Fund. Just a fearless advocate who has mentored me since I was 19 years old and taught me about servant leadership and using policy and using data and marrying that with passion to move policy.

I think of, in terms of my work as mayor, Mayor Steve Benjamin from the US Conference of Mayors. The President has been a big help and mentor. Both Senator Harris and Senator Booker have been calling and giving advice since I was on city council. Do this, do this, don’t do that, don’t do that. 

But I think for me, the people I’m most inspired by in most cases aren’t people in elected office, to your point, because there’s a game where you have to be re-elected. I think that makes people afraid to do what’s right or…

And my office we always talk about–because everyone’s like, you’re so risk-taking, you’re so bold–but we really start every discussion with, okay, this is the status quo. If the status quo is untenable, that’s scary. That’s risky to me if things stay the same. So let’s do something better. And if it’s fine, let’s leave it alone. We don’t have to touch it. That’s good. Let’s move on to something that’s broken. So did that answer your question? 

Dan Pfeiffer: Yeah, it did. Yeah. I was in South Carolina on Thursday night doing an interview with a guy, Jaime Harrison, who was former South Carolina Party Chair and is running against Lindsey Graham. And Senator Harris and Senator Booker had also been calling him a lot too. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No, but this is before, this is when I was on like, 2014, lowly City Councilman. 

Dan Pfeiffer: You know the difference between success and failure for progressive policies and progressive politicians is largely about whether young people turn out. Right, whether they believe that it is worth–it matters to them to have their vote, right. It is why Barack Obama won, and the fact that they didn’t turn out at the same level is why Donald Trump won. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: And Russian hacking.

Dan Pfeiffer: And there are a number of reasons. The Russians contributed to a lot. There was Russian hacking, Jim Comey’s bizarre desire to unburden himself at a weird time. There’s all kinds of things. But we can’t control for those things. But we theoretically can control for, or do some stuff to get young people to turn out. What–as someone who’s been dubbed the Millennial Mayor–what do you think is the key to get people of your generation to believe that politics matters to them?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: It’s funny, because you know all the Pew research talks about like, the millennial generation is very socially minded, they’re involved–they may not be involved in politics, but they’re involved in nonprofits and like to do good and want to work for an organization that has a sense of purpose and community give back. So I…unpopular answer, but I think that I get, I don’t agree, but I can empathize and understand why someone who’s–anyone, but particularly a young person may not think politics is the answer. When you turn on your TV and your president is locking up kids in cages, that doesn’t suggest like, that’s politics? Like I don’t want to take part with that. 

Or if you’re saddled with student– you’re told to go to college. You’re sold this idea of the American Dream. You hear your parents and grandparents talk about the GI Bill and they went to school for free in California. They got to buy a house. And their house, they bought the house for a $10,000 and now it’s worth a million dollars. And you have to go back and live at home after you graduate cause you’re saddled with loan debt, there’s no jobs and you can’t afford housing. 

Like I think it’s difficult to kind of believe in the system. So I think part of it is giving people something to vote for. But I think part of it is also being honest about the vote. Because I tell people all the time, when we make it seem that all you have to do is vote and everything’s going to be better in your life, you’re going to get people to vote for that moment, but that’s going to turn them off for a long time. 

So I try to tell people, vote and. Like the vote’s important, like people died for the right to vote. They were suppressing votes for a reason. It’s important. But it’s necessary, but not sufficient for the change you want to see. You have to vote and organize. You have to vote and hold people accountable. You have to vote and get involved. 

But I think the core of it is really giving people someone to vote for. Or not even someone, cause I think too much emphasis is on the person. Something. Like, what are we voting for? Like can you really speak to the pain people are feeling and can you articulate, maybe not a perfect solution, but a solution that gets people there. If you can get people that, people will, as you saw, people will come out and vote. 

Dan Pfeiffer: Are there issues that you think matter to young people, or even a way of–or problems that aren’t being addressed, that matter to young people that most politicians are not talking about?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah, I think. Well, the quick three or four, like the student loan debt for those who are graduating who went to college. That’s a huge concern, just the cost of public education in general. I think I tweeted something last night that–I personally want to be able to retire and have the Earth still be like Earth.

Dan Pfeiffer: You don’t want to live on a boat? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. I don’t. So I think like, climate change. But I think we have to make it really simple for people. Like literally people just want to live on Earth in 50 years. That’s all. Like Earth. I read something, you know, there’s like polar bears invading a village in Russia yesterday. Like it’s terrifying. Anyway, so climate change. That’s not scary? There’s 50 polar bears in an island–okay. 

Dan Pfeiffer: These people think it’s like–whoever that was that didn’t take you seriously–think it’s like the polar bears from the Coke ad. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No, you should see the pictures, they’re… 

Dan Pfeiffer: I saw it. No, I don’t want polar bears in my village. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: There’s like one where like one with a little Chihuahua trying to protect the house. It’s terrifying. You’re laughing. Anyway, so climate change.

 And then I think number three, just–and particularly from folks from from certain backgrounds like poverty–but I think also young folks. For us it doesn’t make sense that 50 years after King’s death, we’re still having a conversation where we have to convince people that white supremacy is wrong. Like that’s crazy. 

Or, you could do that down the line like, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, it makes no sense if we really believe that people are equal. So I think that’s the, probably the number one organizing force for young people and most good people, well all good people, is like how do we create a country where every human being is treated with respect and dignity and equally valued?

Dan Pfeiffer: Are there…Have you been paying attention to the 2020 Democratic primary yet? Do you have a candidate? I know you’re friends with Kamala and Corey, so maybe you’re neutral or? You going to make news here tonight? We can do that.  

Mayor Michael Tubbs: I would say I’m super excited to–and I might answer your question, I’m debating whether I will. But to get to the answer, I would say it’s incredible despite all the craziness going on that we have a democratic field that includes four women, or five. I don’t know how many now, who… 

Dan Pfeiffer: It might be like seven by the time we get off the stage. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Right, so that you have two credible, competitive African-American candidates, including a black woman, who happens to be my Senator. It’s amazing. So I’ll definitely support whoever the nominee is. 

Dan Pfeiffer: So you decided not to answer my question? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: But I would say, at Kamala Harris’s, Senator Harris’s kickoff, I was moved to tears to see someone who’s smart, accomplished, tough, who also is black and a woman speak so convincingly about the country we need to be, and to do so with such fearlessness. Like she knew the stakes and she looked us in our eyes and she said, this is not who we are and we will do better. And that’s incredibly inspiring. 

Dan Pfeiffer: That’s an answer. I think we got time to take some audience questions. There’ll be people with microphones stalking in the dark here. 

City Arts & Lectures: There’s a question in the front all the way at your right.

Audience Member 1: My sister-in-law taught at Lincoln, and my question to you is, what can you say about some of the heroic teachers in Stockton? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Oh man, we have–thank you for the question. So in Stockton unfortunately, we were the home to the first mass school shooting in the country in 1989 or 1990 at Cleveland School. And this is before there was like–which is also crazy that there’s now protocols. Like there’s like a rule book teachers have for when a shooting happens on their campus, that’s unconscionable. It’s crazy that that’s a thing. But back then it wasn’t. So they talk about how they had to go to school and there were still like blood in the hallways. And they had to go teach for the whole year. 

But these teachers, they created a group called Cleveland School Remembers, where they talk about gun violence. Where they’re very vocal about the need to have common sense gun laws in the greatest country in the world. And I would– they’re my heroes. 

And last year, actually, they came before the council and advocated that we adopt a partnership with the program, to kind of advance peace, that focuses on reducing gun violence by focusing on the less than 1% of the population that contributes an exorbitant amount of gun violence in our country– in our city, excuse me. With things like stipends and travel and coaching. And they were really like the moral conscience. 

And because of their work, and because of the work of our Police Department, Office of Violence Prevention, other community members, we reduced homicides by 40 percent last year and shootings by 30. So they’re my heroes, so thank you for the question. 

City Arts & Lectures: This question’s from the center of the balcony.  

Audience Member 2: Hi, you already touched earlier on tonight on the issues of Stockton facing gentrification in order for the residents there to continue to live and thrive, and you also already touched on some of the programs you’re using to help out the current residents.

I had a question about a specific program I had read about in the tax bill called opportunity zones. And I believe Stockton was designated one of the cities. And for those who don’t know, it’s this idea that these cities of low-income that have been earmarked, and so Stockton, Newark, I believe Oakland as well, startups can come into these cities and invest in these companies tax free, and any growth on the returns will also be tax free as incentives. 

So these residents–ideally these residents would benefit from these new businesses coming in. However, you know gentrification is a real issue, but also I want to talk about, how do you make sure your town and other towns that have been designated as opportunity zones don’t get exploited by businesses?

We’ve seen this with other industries. So the movie making business–a lot of cities or states will do it tax-free. And so when production wants to go and make a movie, they can essentially say, if you don’t meet our terms, we’ll go anywhere else. Everyone wants us. Or even national sports teams. You have cities using tax dollars to build stadiums with the idea of, oh this is going to be great for us, but then they don’t actually see those returns. So how do you prevent being exploited by businesses? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah, great question. So just a couple of corrections in terms of what opportunity zones are. So it’s not just low-income cities, but every city has a part of their city as designated as an opportunity zone. So in Stockton it’s our entire downtown. And the way the tax-incentive works,  it’s capital gains. So if you invest capital gains in opportunity zones for a decade, then you don’t pay money, taxes on that capital gains, or on the returns of said capital gains. But to your point, there are some real kind of pitfalls with that. And unfortunately, it’s a federal law, so I don’t–the way federalism works, that’s the law so. 

But as a mayor, to the point, we’ve been really really clear about creating like an investment perspective around sort of, what are the type of things we want to see in our opportunity zones? In terms of having conversations with community members, looking at sort of what’s best for the city, and putting together a plan that says, if you’re going to invest in Stockton, these are the things we want to see. 

Again because it’s the law, I can’t compel or force anyone to adhere to our investment perspectives, but the conversation we’ve had with opportunity funds and others have been very–they’re that they’re just trying to get their tax breaks. So like, oh this is the 10 things we should invest in? They’re all, we’re all in, let’s do it. 

I do think there’s a wider point to be made around this idea of how like like crony capitalism or runaway capitalism or just laissez-faire capitalism or capitalism with no guard rails can be dangerous. And we see that in kind of the composition changes in San Francisco, Oakland Etc.

So I do think, while it’s–I love business, I tell people all the time I’m pro-development, but I’m very Pro-human development. And I’m very anti displacement. And I do think there’s a nexus where we’re able to develop communities, but develop with communities. Because I think inherent in this idea of gentrification is this idea that the people are the problem. If I kick all these people out then this land becomes valuable. And I find that to be inherently troubling and often false. 

So one of the big challenges of the next several years in Stockton is to disprove that thesis and show that you can make an area more profitable. You can make the area more attractive with the people and not despite them.

City Arts & Lectures: This question is all the way at your left in the front of the orchestra. 

Audience Member 3: Good evening, Mayor Tubbs and to the audience. I just want to say that I’m an exile from the Bay Area who in 2013 moved to Stockton. And the day after election day on 2016 there were two things that I was grateful for. That I lived in the state of California and the city of Stockton.

Dan Pfeiffer: That’s the best kind of question. A compliment. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Thank you.  

City Arts & Lectures: This question is from the first row of the balcony.

Audience Member 4: Yeah, hi. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: I’m sorry. I’ve no idea where you are. 

Audience Member 4: Right over here. Hi. I was wondering if you had ever considered trying to implement a city carbon tax as a great way of synergistically attacking both climate change and poverty using the dividends as a way to fund the UBI?

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. Well. So short answer, no, I’ve never thought of it actually, but I’ll be happy to read more about that. Particularly interested in models from other cities. I do think things like that are probably better more at scale. So that the one city’s not at a disadvantage vis-a-vis other cities in terms of who has a carbon tax and who doesn’t. But if like the state or the nation did that, I get that, but if there’s models of individual cities doing that, I’d be very interested in seeing that and kind of evaluating.

City Arts & Lectures: This question’s in the orchestra towards the back. 

Audience Member 5: The California legislature, as you know, enacted some laws a few years ago allowing people to challenge at large systems and transfer, convert them into district systems. What impact have you seen in Stockton and other midsize cities throughout the valley that this conversion to districts has had on the structure of power and the ability of particularly  Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans to gain power in those communities? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well in Stockton there’s only been two elections since district-wide election, so I think the effects we’ve seen is that it’s not as expensive to get into the race. Like to run citywide you need at least to raise $100,000. But to run in your district you could do it with 10,000, you probably would need a little bit more. 

But that’s created a more diverse field and it diversifies the age and also the life experiences that people bring. That they don’t have to like–which there’s nothing wrong with owning a business and having money, but you don’t have to do that now to be competitive in a district race, so I’m very excited for that change and it’s a good thing.

City Arts & Lectures: This question is in the front and center of the balcony.

Audience Member 6: Hey. I’d like to hear a little about the–when you were researching and learning about Universal Basic Income–some of the things you really liked or didn’t like in some of the proposals and projects that you learned about. Especially Andrew Yang’s freedom dividend. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Well, I love Andrew, but his dividend came after we did our research.

So he may have learned from some of our research, but. I mean, I love Andrew. But I think what I was most impressed with was, it really challenged my notions and it really forced me to reckon with if I truly do believe…Like as any elected official, but particularly as a mayor, like you should believe that your people are smart enough to make the right choices. Like if you don’t, then maybe you shouldn’t be in local government? Or in government at all. 

But what’s fascinating is that people say that, but then it’s like, well do you not trust people with cash to make the best decisions for themselves and their family? So that was the kind of thing I was reading in all these studies, I’m like well, wow, like folks are really doing great things and finances are so personal, that for a hundred people there may be a hundred different ways where five hundred dollars would benefit them and their family. But as someone in 425 North El Dorado Street, I can’t profess to know the best way everyone should spend their money based on their personal finances. 

That was the one, the big thing. And the second thing was, especially looking at some of the outcomes from Give Directly in Kenya, was this–and also a study in Ontario–was this idea that it had a positive impact on families and children. Cause I know for myself, just the income floor would’ve helped the hard work my mom did go even further. And probably would’ve created more peace of mind, less stress, etcetera. And just thinking about the health impacts, also we’re like wow, this is something we should definitely try.

Dan Pfeiffer: Was there anything in your research that gave you pause? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. Well, the biggest thing was that it’s so–it’s been inconclusive right? Like there’s some promising things. There’s like, well this looks good, this looks good. But oftentimes for political reasons, these studies get stopped. So that was part of it, was like, there was nothing conclusive, like there was no crystal ball that said, okay if we do this ABCDE will happen.

But actually Alaska gave me a lot of pause. I had no idea that the Socialist governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was giving folks money. And they liked it. Everybody was happy. And everyone did good things. And she increased it actually. She said you did so good, let’s do double. And I was like, wow.  And socialists like Richard Nixon was like yo, let’s look at this. 

I was really impressed with the ideological diversity, although I’m not saying a basic income or income floor should be a replacement for the existing social safety net. I think the existing social safety net does a lot of good things, and I think anything should be additive.  

City Arts & Lectures: This question is at the back of the orchestra in the center. 

Audience Member 7: Hi, thank you so much for this conversation. One of the things that’s really wonderful about it is it really feels like you’re sharing what you genuinely think, which is so refreshing in a politician. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: It’s been trouble, I’m telling you. 

Audience Member 7: In that spirit, I would love to hear what is the most important thing that you feel like you’ve learned since you’ve entered politics. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. It’s funny, so Stockton, and especially now–this is what I love about the city, it’s so ideologically diverse. I chair a council that has three Republicans and three Democrats. And we’re doing all this stuff, right. And I realize it’s the centrality of relationships and spending the time just to get to know people as people. Because even if something makes people uncomfortable or they’re not quite sure, if they trust you they’re more willing to be like, ok, let’s see, let’s try. 

So just how people –it sounds so basic, but it’s really just a people game, like just how important people are to this process. And people are incredibly messy. They’re frustrating. They’re–sometimes they don’t make sense. But it’s part of the game that we’re in, just how… But also it gives me hope. 

So I’ve been–I remember one time I was in a meeting about opening the health clinic. And we were opening the health clinic, we’re all jazzed, and then as a gift, the guy gave me an O’Reilly Factor Lifetime Member pen. And that was a little bit triggering. I was like, wait how did you get this? Like what? He was like, I’m a lifetime member, here’s a pen. And I was like–but then I laughed, I said, you know what, we’re going to do a lot of progressive things with this O’Reilly Factor pen, and you’re going to help, right. 

And that’s just been so–and because it’s Valentine’s Day, you didn’t ask me a question about my wife, and I told you she’s–so it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and my wife is here as well, and I love my wife. And I always come home and tell my wife stories of like unlikely allies and unlikely people who are really helping push on things that some people may say are progressive.  

City Arts & Lectures: This question’s from the back of the orchestra on your right.  

Audience Member 8: Michael Tubbs, Mayor Michael Tubbs, pardon me. Thank you for being mayor and your public service. You’re a smart guy and you’re doing good work. Thank you for changing people’s thoughts about work. And what it is and what it can be. It doesn’t have to be a 9 to 5, I appreciate you talking about that. 

My question is, as Mayor we’ve heard about great stuff that you’ve been doing. What is your red herring? Like what something you really want to get done but are having a hard time getting done? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Hmm. I try to be good at my job, so most things we want to get done, we find…No, I think this is definitely a red herring, but I’ve learned so much from this experience. So being on city council, I remember my first budget hearing and we were like closing libraries and stuff, but our subsidy for golf like just kept increasing. So I would ask questions as Councilmember, I would say well, how is this, what? Like we laid off cops. Like how, where, like where’s the money coming from to increase the subsidy? The city subsidizes a lot of things for sure, but that just seemed like, wow like, we are closing libraries, the golf subsidy, etcetera. 

So then when I was Mayor, the subsidy just kept increasing, and I did some research, I’m like well wow, there’s a bunch of golf courses in the city, like maybe we should… So we spent the last year engaged in a very–I’ve learned so much about the game actually–we spent the last year talking about golf and whether the best use of the city’s resources, limited resources, is to subsidize golf. 

And it’s been a– it actually became a very divisive issue. Part of it because of misinformation. So people were saying that we wanted to get rid of the golf course and build affordable housing, when we were saying we wanted to stop subsidizing golf so we could create an affordable housing trust to have funds to make affordable housing pencilled off, because everyone complains about homelessness and folks not being housed. 

But it was a red herring, but it taught me a lot to like, sometimes even if something makes fiscal sense, or it makes like dollars and sense, that there’s really deep-held like sentimental values for things in community. So actually taking the time to sit, listen, talk, Etc. And it took a year, but  we’re at the point now where we’re moving towards ending the city subsidies for golf courses, we’re finding a private operator for one golf course to operate it as a golf course without city subsidy. 

And for the other golf course on 200 acres of land in a very impoverished community that doesn’t use said golf course, we now have an opportunity to refigure that land to create something that we subsidize that has wide community benefit, like kids want to do, like soccer and basketball, or like sports that people like play. So I’m really excited about that.

Dan Pfeiffer: When you go to a meeting on the golf subsidy, right and you sit down, like you’re–the anti-golf subsidy people are, the pro-library people are on this side–who’s on the other side? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: I love golfers. I just don’t like golf subsidies. I wanna be very clear. 

Dan Pfeiffer: I understand that. I mean you said it was a sport people didn’t play.

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No. No, some people, I don’t play it.

Dan Pfeiffer: I hear you. But who’s–like who represents Big Golf in this meeting? Like who’s on the other side of the table? You don’t have to name names, just like… 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: No, I think it just got muddled and that’s what…Good press guy, but my good press guy and Obama’s press guy together could’ve got us through this maybe a little bit quicker. But it was really–it was about this idea of green space and nostalgia. Like the nature, because it’s beautiful. So there was some like golfers, like folks who like love golf, which is why we have ten golf courses within a 10 mile radius, there’s plenty of options to golf. Like we clearly love golf. I get that. 

But it was that, but it was also this idea that this was like a gem. Well, there were two golf courses, but the energy was around one–that it was a gem of the community, and they just didn’t want to see anything that would destroy kind of the green space, because we don’t have enough green space as a city. 

And so it was that, and it was also just again, the lobby of people who hate scholarships and basic income and Michael Tubbs. That they were also part of the discussion.  

Dan Pfeiffer: I don’t like those people.

City Arts & Lectures: This question is at the back of the orchestra towards the center.  

Audience Member 9: Hi. As a millennial who would like to live on Earth in 50 years, what steps are you taking and can you take at a city level to address climate change? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: That’s a great question. It’s actually a question I’ve had to ask myself over the past several months to really be consistent with things I say I hold valuable.

 So I’m doing things like LED lights in the city, doing things like looking at sort of buying hybrid cars and cars that use less gas and energy. Doing things like looking at the lighting we have in our community centers, rec centers, Etc, and making sure we’re not wasting energy. Doing things like solar panels at city things. Making symbolic stances, like saying “hey, DC may pull out the Paris Climate Accords,” but as a city, we’re still committed to doing what we can to reduce our carbon footprint. Working with our local Regional Transit District, which is going to be the first bus system in this country to go all electric by 2025.  

And still a lot more to do. And part of it is because it’s not an–it’s an issue I get viscerally, but it’s not one that I’ve spent, like read a bunch of books about it, etc. So also still trying to learn from folks who are more knowledgeable about the topic, about given the role of Mayor, what can we do so.  

City Arts & Lectures: This question’s at the back of the orchestra towards your right.  

Audience Member 10: Hi there. What do you think Stockton’s economic future is? Is it a large suburb? Is it a distribution center, a hub? Or is it a manufacturing community? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think that’s part of our future but there’s also a lot of work we’re doing around healthcare and creating a pipeline of future nurses and health techs, Etc. So I think that’s part of it. I think really leveraging our assets with, to your point, with the poor in our location. I think part of our economic future is also strong entrepreneurship, especially because our city is so–like a 30% of our population is foreign born. And oftentimes people are coming from other countries to Stockton with skills and talents who have opened businesses in their country. And we’re now looking for ways a city government should help support them create their businesses in Stockton, whether it’s in–a lot of in the food preparation and food space, so I see that.

I see especially given the way the Bay Area’s becoming more expensive, that, not for everything, but for a lot of companies it would make sense to locate in a place like Stockton. So I see some sort of startup, tech space, but around kind of AG, Agriculture and transportation. I could see like a little hub in Stockton being a home for those things. And I think as the cannabis industry matures, distribution, manufacturing, and  testing should also be part of how we think about growing our economy in the future.

City Arts & Lectures: This question’s on your right.  

Audience Member 11: Hi. I understand that there’s some work that’s happening with the juvenile justice system to help with repeat offenders. Can you speak to that? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Yeah. We have great partners at the county. So our probation chief Stephanie James and her team have been very progressive in looking at, how do we reduce the number of young adults who are under State supervision? And how do you get them back to community? So part of using Prop 47 dollars in our Community Corrections partnership and giving a lot of that money to our CBOs to do the case management, to be, not probation officers, but kind of fill that role in terms of check in and making sure youth are re-integrating in society. 

In terms of the state facility in the city, a couple weeks ago the governor and I were there for an announcement of a program called The Last Mile, which is going to teach coding education to young people in there. And I think the bigger challenge is how do we make sure we teach coding education before they get in there, so they don’t get in there. But that’s a that’s a longer conversation and one we will have to have. And I think I answered your question so I’m gonna stop there.

Audience Member 12: How do you think about creating a more responsive police force in Stockton? 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Define responsive. No I just wanna make sure I’m answering your question.  

Audience Member 12: Responsive to the community. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Responsive to the community. Yeah. Well lucky for me, and a big other part of why I ran for Mayor, is that Stockton has without a doubt the best police chief in the nation. His name’s Eric Jones. Before like Ferguson, before– we were talking about putting body cams on our officers. He’s part of the National Trust Initiative, so for the past year, he has had like 70 reconciliation meetings where he sits and listens to community groups talk about bad encounters with the police department and makes policy changes based off that. 

He went on a use-of-force listening tour and scheduled meetings with anyone who called the police department who had ever been a victim of force in Stockton. Ever. And he’s only been police chief for five years, and did that for a year. At people’s homes. So in living rooms, hearing stories of pain, and apologizing, and saying this is what we’re doing to do better. 

So the secret–the answer is that our police chief is actually a leader in that. So on this issue, I get to just support him, and let the community know, like, yes, I get institutionally, historically, Stockton police department has had a lot of issues, but currently we’re working to address those issues. It’s not gonna happen overnight, but you have the commitment of the Mayor, but more importantly, you have the committment of the police chief, who stakes his whole tenure as police chief in changing the culture of our Police Department. So we’re really blessed and lucky to have him.

Dan Pfeiffer: Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us tonight. Thank you everyone for being here. This was really a blast. 

Mayor Michael Tubbs: Thank you.