Stockton’s Path to Bankruptcy and the Secretive $1 Million Neil Diamond Show

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UPDATE: The notorious $1 million Neil Diamond show continues to haunt the City of Stockton, as shown in this April 8, 2013 Stockton Record article It Started in a Hush-Hush Meeting: Quiet Gathering Over Tax Leads to Public Snipefest:

Sgt. Kathryn Nance, president of the Stockton Police Officers’ Association…also fears pressure the tax may put on Stockton’s fragile general fund, impacting the city’s bankruptcy fight. On the flip side, a general tax could fall into unsafe hands a decade from now under the next generation of leaders, she said.

“We could be paying Neil Diamond to play again,” Nance said. “Who knows? We can’t have that.”


In a March 12, 2006 Los Angeles Times article “Barry, Going the Distance,” Barry Manilow described his career:

“I’m good, not great,” he said as the plane streaked toward the state line. “I know the difference. Sinatra is great. Judy [Garland] is great. Tony Bennett is great. I’m pretty good. But you can go far on pretty good if you work hard and pay attention.”

Manilow’s description of his own work (which does NOT include composing “I Write the Songs” – a member of the Beach Boys wrote it) could be applied to the songwriting of Neil Diamond. “Solitary Man” and “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” were good enough to be better cover songs for other performers. But by the time I was old enough to pay attention to popular music, schlock such as “America” and “Heartlight” played on my parents’ AM radios.

Stockton - nine exits on Highway 99 going south.

Stockton – nine exits on Highway 99 going south.

Nevertheless, Stockton city officials proudly announced on December 2, 2005 that Neil Diamond would be the featured performer when the city inaugurated its brand new arena on January 15, 2006.

Stockton had been planning its ballyhooed new arena for four years. (See a City of Stockton PowerPoint presentation based on a February 19, 2004 consultant’s report analyzing the proposal and financing of the arena – the report itself is not available on the city’s web site.) I’ve found reported costs of $60 million, $64 million, $65 million, and $68 million for this project.

Rumors still circulate in Stockton about the motivations for this selection. I was puzzled about it and a little embarrassed for Stockton, as I had not heard about Neil Diamond since UB40 remade his song “Red Red Wine” in 1988.

The selection of Neil Diamond in a city with a white non-Hispanic population of under 25% was also mystifying. Apparently other people besides me weren’t excited about paying a lot of money to hear a “song she brang to me” and other lyrics from Neil Diamond identified in Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs as some of the worst of all time. Comments from Stockton residents in the December 2, 2005 Stockton Record article announcing Neil Diamond’s visit hinted at the trouble to come: “she’s not a fan and most likely won’t go to the concert” and “It would be nice if they had something to appeal to all age groups.”

A December 20, 2005 Stockton Record article (Neil Diamond Fans Paying a Higher Price to See Him in Stockton) was another ominous warning that ticket sales that had started on December 17 might not be going well. Yet all official reports continued to proclaim an expected sell-out for the concert.

By the beginning of January 2006, it became clear to the public that something was going horribly wrong. A January 4, 2006 Stockton Record article Stockton Secretive Over Cost of Show revealed that the city did not intend to comply with the newspaper’s request under the authority of the California Public Records Act to obtain the contract cost for Neil Diamond’s appearance.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association was also on the city’s case about the concert. It was preparing to sue the City of Stockton because it was using city utility fees to fund the construction of the arena and an adjacent baseball park, in violation of Proposition 218. (The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association won the case [Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association et al. v. City of Stockton], but the city’s bankruptcy in 2012 may prevent city taxpayers from getting back the inappropriately obtained $31.5 million.)

Stockton City Hall

Stockton City Hall

At its January 10, 2006 meeting, the city council – apparently in closed session – determined that the cost had to be provided to the public. And on January 11, the Stockton Record reported on the $1 Million Man: Stockton Taxpayers Pay Premium for Neil Diamond Concert. (I’ve been unable to obtain the actual contract, so it’s unclear how the city revealed the cost.)

All that the public heard at the January 10, 2006 Stockton City Council meeting was a comment from Vice Mayor Gary Giovanetti celebrating Stockton for now being able to attract performers such as Neil Diamond:

During that week, some tickets were discounted. Vice Mayor Giovanetti said after the concert that “he could imagine that some concertgoers who had paid the original price might be angry over the two-tiered ticket pricing.” Giovanetti’s support for the Neil Diamond concert rightfully became a major issue in his 2008 campaign for San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors, as shown by this union campaign mailer. He came in fourth out of five candidates.

Stockton Arena - Site of $1 Million Neil Diamond Concert in 2006

Stockton Arena – Site of $1 Million Neil Diamond Concert in 2006

The concert on January 15, 2006 went off without a hitch, except for the $396,000 estimated loss. See the Stockton Record article “It’s Show Time – Neil Diamond Breaks in the Stage at Stockton Arena.”

The January 18, 2006 Stockton Record article City Manager Fired reported the next step, an immediate termination of the city manager:

The City Council, in an unexpected closed meeting, voted 6-1 to oust the manager, finding his spending money without council approval and his contentious relationship with the media, among other things, were unbearable, Mayor Ed Chavez said. Vice Mayor Gary Giovanetti dissented…

Council members – a majority of whom supported the manager publicly until recently – routinely granted Lewis widespread discretion to spend money. But they distanced themselves from him after forcing him to disclose how much the city paid singer Neil Diamond to perform Stockton Arena’s first concert Sunday. City Hall, after initially pledging the show would make money, acknowledged late last week that the concert likely would cost taxpayers $396,650 and make nothing for the Stockton Parks and Recreation Foundation, the charity billed as the beneficiary of the event.

A common theme in this whole matter was a lack of openness and transparency from city council members and staff about decisions and costs. And the city remained consistent in this behavior in its subsequent management of the new arena.

From the beginning, the arena lost money for the City of Stockton. (You know that a publicly-owned entertainment facility is a money loser when the local newspaper has to obtain financial records through a request under the California Public Records Request.) The Stockton Record reported the losses in its February 16, 2007 article Stockton Arena Experiencing Growing Pains:

The arena lost $2.1 million in 2007, about $600,000 less than in 2006, according to documents provided by the city in response to a California Public Records Act request.

The loss was greater than the City Council once anticipated – even in its first year, the arena was expected to lose no more than about $1.7 million – but was less than the city resigned itself to lose after the facility posted a $2.7 million loss in 2006. The city had expected to lose $2.3 million last year.

Financial losses continued annually and reached a total of $7 million by the end of 2009, as reported in the February 16, 2010 Stockton Record article Still Seeing Red: Stockton Arena Posts $2 Million Loss for 2009. In January 2011, the City of Stockton paid $1.2 million to get out of its arena management contract and adopt a new contract. Losses continued and became one of many factors leading to the city’s bankruptcy.

Poster on vacant building in Downtown Stockton.

Poster on vacant building in Downtown Stockton.

Meanwhile, a lot of people were incredulous when Neil Diamond claimed in 2007 that his song “Sweet Caroline” was about Caroline Kennedy, who was four years old when the song was written. (In August 2012, “Sweet Caroline” was taken off Penn State’s song playlist at Beaver Stadium because of the lyric “touching me, touching you.”)


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2 comments

  1. Richard Markuson says:

    Fascinating story but anyone who can weave Dave Barry, Neil Diamond, an incredibly incompetent (criminally?) city council, Caroline Kennedy, Penn State and Beaver stadium into one coherent story may deserve a pulitzer! On my list of horrible songs is “Afternoon Delight” that will be forever a classic Afternoon Delight” after the sixth episode of season two and 28th episode overall of the TV comedy series Arrested Development. In this episode Michael Bluth and his niece Maeby sing a karaoke “AD” before realizing just how inappropriate it is for an Uncle to sing with his teenage niece. But that has nothing to do with Stockton. Or Neil Diamond.

    • Kevin Dayton says:

      Yes, “Afternoon Delight” (by Starland Vocal Band, from Washington D.C.) is horribly cheesy, especially the sound effects after “sky rockets in flight; afternoon delight.” Almost as bad as the muskrat chirping in Captain & Tennille’s “Muskrat Love.” Both of these songs earn recognition from Dave Barry for badness.