After the past 10 years, many have high hopes for 2010-19

As the first decade of the 21st century draws to an end, many Northern San Joaquin Valley residents say: Good riddance.

This decade has been so economically brutal that most can't wait for it to be over. With time, however, we may look back on these 10 years a bit more fondly.

Some really good things actually did happen. Progress was made. People did prosper, for a while at least.

A university opened, and so did a major new hospital. One grand performing arts center was built, and several others expanded and renovated. New high schools popped up in many cities, as did some beautiful churches.

And lots and lots of homes were built, which greatly expanded and improved our region's housing stock. In Stanislaus County alone, about 25,000 homes and apartments were constructed, which swelled the housing supply about 16 percent.

BATs — "Bay Area transplants" — swooped in to buy those homes. Those newcomers inspired commercial developers to erect shopping centers throughout the region, bringing chain stores and retail jobs to new neighborhoods.

Hundreds of acres of agricultural land got paved over, but Stanislaus' resourceful farmers and ranchers found ways to more than double the value of their production.

The region's population also grew, and its ethnic make-up steadily shifted.

Stanislaus started the decade with a 57 percent majority of white non-Hispanic residents. By last year, whites made up 49 percent of the population. Hispanics, meanwhile, expanded from 31 percent in 2000 to 39 percent in 2008.

There were athletic and political shifts, too.

The Modesto A's became the Nuts and switched its affiliation to the Colorado Rockies. The Modesto Relays track meet — an early May fixture for 67 years — faded away this year. The Amgen Tour of California cycling race was welcomed to Modesto twice and will be back again next spring.

Gerrymandering of political boundaries this decade divided Stanislaus into two congressional districts, two state Senate districts and three state Assembly districts. Modesto, meanwhile, carved itself into six City Council districts.

Politics and crime became entangled during the decade. Rep. Gary Condit lost his once-secure House seat amid negative attention surrounding the Washington, D.C., slaying of Bureau of Prisons intern Chandra Levy, with whom he had an affair.

Scott Peterson was convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child. He is on death row now with Cary Stayner, who was convicted this decade of killing Yosemite naturalist Joie Armstrong as well as park sight- seers Carole and Julie Sund and Silvina Pelosso.

Those slayings — Sund, Pelosso, Levy and Peterson — snowballed into a media blizzard of bad publicity that spread internationally, tarnishing Modesto's reputation despite the fact only one of those women died in the city.

Eleven-year-old Alberto Sepulveda was killed in Modesto, but police officers were to blame. The city paid the boy's family $2.55 million for that mistake during an early morning raid in 2000.

A summer killer heat wave claimed the lives of 23 Stanislaus residents in 2006, and it caused nearly $100 million in damages to local dairies and agribusiness.

But that was small compared to what the region lost when Tri Valley Growers filed for bankruptcy protection in 2000. At the time, it had 11,500 seasonal and full-time employees and $388 million in debts it couldn't pay. The co-opt's collapse caused a ripple effect that hurt hundreds of local businesses, closed canneries and cost its 500 grower-owners millions.

That was the worst economic blow in the region's history, but it didn't hold that dubious distinction for long.

When the inflated housing bubble burst in 2006, the Northern San Joaquin Valley's entire economy imploded. Since then, more than 51,000 homes in Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties have been lost to foreclosure, costing lenders more than $19 billion in unpaid mortgages.

About one in eight homes in the region have been repossessed, the worst foreclosure rate in the nation.

We're also worst when it comes to home value declines. From the price peak in December 2005 to this spring's bottom of the market, homes lost about two-thirds of their value. Because of that, more than 81 percent of the region's homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth.

And unemployment during 2009 has been more than double what it was at the start of the decade. Stanislaus' rate in November 2000 was just 7.7 percent, but it reached 17.2 percent last month.

A decade ago, people's biggest fear was Y2K. Let's hope something so trivial will dominate the news in the decade to come.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.

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