Terry Jeffrey
Were a rational person given the assignment to search this planet to find the best place for human beings to live and build wealth, he might well settle on San Joaquin County, Calif.

That is where Americans built a city called Stockton -- the municipality a federal bankruptcy judge just declared dead.

How did Stockton die? It was cold-blood murder.

San Joaquin County truly enjoys as many natural advantages as any place on Earth. It sits in the broad valley that lies between California's Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada. Two massive navigable river systems -- the Sacramento and the San Joaquin -- descend from the Sierras and converge in an inland delta upon whose eastern edge the city of Stockton stands.

Anciently, these rivers deposited rich soils in the valley. More recently, they have provided the world with access to the agricultural wealth the valley produces. Oceangoing cargo ships can sail the San Joaquin right into the heart of Stockton itself.

Yet, despite being surrounded by fresh water, Stockton basks beneath warm and sunny skies from early in spring until well into fall.

"San Joaquin County has a dry climate, marked by very little rain," says a county planning document. "Its summers are long and dry (with a growing season averaging 292 days around Stockton), and colder, rainy weather is typical between November and April. Average annual rainfall ranges from 8 inches a year in the southern part of the county to 18 inches in the northern part."

The pioneers who arrived there in the 19th century looked at the abundant water, the dark soil and the sunny skies and did the obvious thing: They built incredible farms, planting things that would not grow in other parts of the country or would not grow as well.

Driving down a secondary highway in 20th century San Joaquin County meant driving for miles and miles along unbroken avenues of grape vines and cherry, peach and walnut trees.

Culturally, in the age of the automobile, San Joaquin County had the privilege of being about two hours east of San Francisco and two hours west of the high mountains. It was neither snowbound in winter like the mountains, nor fogbound in summer like the city -- but was within easy driving distance of some of the most desolate places in the country and some of the most cosmopolitan.

So what happened to this place so favored by geology, geography and climate?

On Monday, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Klein allowed Stockton to move forward into Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

The city's biggest bill is for the pensions of government employees -- which are run by a state agency called the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS).

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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