Stockton has filed for Chapter 9 protection, making it the largest American city ever to declare bankruptcy.
City Manager Bob Deis says officials sought the status Thursday in federal bankruptcy court in Sacramento, as expected.
The move came after officials were unable to reach a deal with the city's creditors to restructure hundreds of millions of dollars of debt under a new state law designed to help municipalities avoid bankruptcy.
The river port city of 290,000 in Central California has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the nation. Its property taxes and other revenues have declined, while expensive investments and generous retiree benefits drained city coffers.
The City Council on Tuesday approved a bankruptcy budget to plug next year's anticipated $26 million deficit.