Drive any direction in Merced and you'll find a half-built subdivision. New houses are next to brown, weed-covered lots with electrical wires sprouting out of the ground - monuments to an economic engine that exploded.
Could Merced have avoided the dramatic rise and fall of its housing market? To be sure, it's a crash that extends coast-to-coast. But remember, this small agricultural city few had heard of now leads almost all of the bad lists.
Will Merced guard itself against future busts? Will better policies be adopted to hold developers accountable for their promises? Will Merced find ways to grow in a more sustainable way that doesn't pave over prime ag land or drain the water table?
In this lull, Off the 99 brought together Merced Mayor and real estate agent Ellie Wooten, city Development Services Director David Gonzalves and county Planning Commissioner and farmer Cindy Lashbrook.