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Lathrop made sure there is a morning after housing debacle
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What a difference four years make.

Back in 2008, a drive through neighborhoods in Mossdale Landing west of Interstate 5 in Lathrop was borderline depressing. Foreclosures and short sales on many streets constituted the majority of homes. Dead grass was standard.

A step inside some of those homes revealed another cancerous strain: The systematic looting of fixtures sinks to toilets, the theft of air conditioning units, and the wanton wholesale destruction of property through vandalism often done by the departing former homeowner. It was no different than what was going on elsewhere in the region save for the fact it is the only place on record where they actually ripped out a garage door and took it from a foreclosed property.

What made it seem worse is that Mossdale Landing consisted of entirely new neighborhoods. There is no mixture of old and new. It was all new. And the concentration of foreclosures was stunning.

Add to the fact Mossdale Landing was a slight departure from the traditional sprawl where bigger houses gobble up even bigger swath of land for each home. Some people don’t like the departure from the standard California suburban-style sprawl even though it is minor to say the least. They’d ridicule it noting you could almost jump from roof top to roof top or pass Grey Poupon from one window to the next.

In reality, it represents a lot smarter growth than traditional versions of single family neighborhoods. And the way Mossdale was planned, it encourages walking to various amenities as they are added over the years.

Topping off the foreclosure homes was the modern headquarters of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District that - due to plunging property values - was pushed dangerously close to the brink of being unable to provide basic emergency services within reasonable response times.

Today, the housing market and the fire district have retreated from the ledge’s edge. New homes are being built. Foreclosures are dropping. Lawns are more green than brown. And while many years of financial challenges lay ahead, the fire district didn’t go on life support.

Mossdale Landing today has a vitality that is more marked than it was back in what we all thought were the glory days of the housing boom.

Lathrop High is now established as a community hub. Mossdale Community Park bustles with people including those who will frolic in the whimsical interactive water play feature as the mercury climbs. Even the levees are alive with walkers, joggers, and bicyclists.

The toxins injected into the economy by funny money mortgages and liar loans still exist although their levels are dropping with each passing day. The City of Lathrop, just like everyone else, isn’t entirely out of the woods.

But here’s the good thing: Lathrop hasn’t positioned itself to return to the same ways that led to the economy’s downfall. Government has become leaner and meaner while at the same time more responsive to the needs of citizens. Consider the teen center breaking ground next year. It was essentially designed by the community and will be run by the community. That means there is no second guessing on what the community wants.

On the western skyline crane can be seen working on the bridge to Lathrop’s future - the 10,800 homes of the River Islands planned community.

Snicker if you must about Lathrop but let the record show this is the community that worked in partnership with Cambay Group to not just set the stage to bring true smart growth to the valley but to also successfully address flooding issues related to levees that the state and federal government are impotent when it comes to resolving. And - if they are allowed to proceed - Cambay Group will do what environmental groups and public access advocates have never been able to accomplish - restoration of portion of the banks along the San Joaquin River with universal access.

Lathrop refused to roll over and die.

At the same time, they avoided plunging into a pity party. They kept their eye on the future.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.