But there were signs of growth amid the darkness. Tracy’s newest high school, Kimball, opened with great fanfare in August. Interstate 205, which crosses through the northern part of town, was widened to six lanes, meaning fewer headaches for commuters. And the Tracy High School varsity football team dominated local competition and made a playoff run.
These stories, chosen by Tracy Press staff members, are the top 10 of the year:
1. Sandra Cantu is the first of 5 homicides
In the spring, Tracy was thrust into the national spotlight after 8-year-old Sandra Cantu was reported missing March 27. Her disappearance sparked an 11-day search that ended when her body was found in a suitcase in a drained dairy lagoon north of Tracy.
Melissa Huckaby, a Sunday school teacher who lived in the same mobile home park as Sandra and who admitted to losing a suitcase, was arrested. Huckaby is now involved in a death-penalty case, charged with the kidnapping, rape and murder of the 8-year-old girl.
It was the first of five homicides this year for Tracy, which also saw 58-year-old Cynthia Ramos, 41-year-old Naim Bey, 72-year-old Clayton “Cotton” Riggins and 21-year-old Spencer Sampson killed. Tracy hadn’t had a homicide since 2007.
2. Housing market flatlines
Foreclosures hit the Tracy and Mountain House areas hard, as homeowners saw the value of their homes evaporate. While hundreds lost their houses, others remain trapped in homes that are worth less than what is owed on them.
Commercial property owners also struggled, as vacancies soared and landlords loosened their standards and slashed rent in an effort to sign leases.
3. Gang violence kills 2
Tracy, which police say has traditionally been a Norteño town, suffered a rash of gang-related shootings late in 2009, which resulted in two of the five homicides on the year. In October, someone opened fire on Amore’s Restaurant, killing bystander Naim Bey and injuring several others. A suspected gang member stands accused of homicide and street terrorism, as do several suspected accomplices.
On Dec. 18, Spencer Sampson was shot in Tracy, and he died the next day. There were also a handful of drive-by shootings and a sharp increase in graffiti that police say was the result of gang warfare between Norteños and rival Sureños.
The violence caused intense political pressure on city officials, who have vowed to crack down on gang activity.
4. Schools, cities make cuts
Sinking property values and a constricting economy have caused property- and sales-tax revenues that cities and school districts rely upon to fall off a cliff.
Pretty much every local school district was forced to reduce expenses somehow in 2009 to balance budgets. California withheld a quarter of its payments to each school statewide, leaving the Tracy Unified, Jefferson, Lammersville, New Jerusalem and Banta school districts to scramble to save education for their students. Schools chose to ax summer school and scrutinize purchases while trying to minimize teacher layoffs.
Things will likely get worse in 2010, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announces his budget plans in January.
Meanwhile, the city of Tracy has laid off employees and made other cuts to help close a projected $9 million deficit.
5. Interstate-205 widened
In August, construction was completed on the fifth and sixth lanes of I-205, which links Interstate 5 to Interstate 580. The 11-mile, $92 million interstate widening finished five months ahead of schedule, easing traffic for Bay Area-bound commuters.
6. Sex crimes reported
It was also a notable year for sex crimes in Tracy, as a former softball coach was sent to prison for possessing child pornography, a former plastic surgeon stands accused of molesting many of his patients and a former substitute teacher copped to inappropriately touching some of his young students.
In August, James Spencer Hagelston, who had coached a 10-and-under Tracy girls softball team, was sentenced to 16 months in state prison after police found child pornography on his computer. Peter Chi, who once practiced on Tracy Boulevard, pleaded not guilty in November to charges of sexual abuse of patients. In December, Jessie Llorente III, who had substituted for teachers at Kelly School, received probation for child molestation and child pornography charges.
7. Tracy men killed in line of duty
Two men from Tracy — Oakland police Sgt. Mark Dunakin and U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Hansen — lost their lives in the line of duty in 2009.
Dunakin, 40, was one of four Oakland police officers killed in a March shooting at the hand of a convicted felon. There was a public ceremony for Dunakin and the other three officers at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Hansen, 24, was killed in February while serving in Afghanistan. On Veteran’s Day, the West High alumnus’ name was added to the Tracy War Memorial near the Lolly Hansen Senior Center.
U.S. Army Spc. Kyle A. Coumas, 22, who was born in Tracy but lived in Lockeford, also died in October while fighting in Afghanistan.
8. Bulldogs go undefeated
Led by senior running back Depray Celestine, senior fullback Jordan Strong and junior quarterback Casey Wichman, Tracy High’s varsity football team went 10-0 in the regular season and captured the San Joaquin Athletic Association title.
The Bulldogs lost in the second round of the playoffs, 28-27, to Los Banos, a team they beat by three points in the season opener. Celestine, who ran for 1,123 yards and scored a total of 25 touchdowns on the season, was named the SJAA’s Most Valuable Player.
9. THS gets new buildings
Over Tracy High School’s winter break, the walls were erected for new buildings that will house a cafeteria, a library and several “smart” classrooms. The buildings will have much the same look as other Tracy High structures that were renovated in 2006, though they will be less elaborate. Construction will cost about $26,850,000 and should be finished by December 2010.
10. Kimball High opens
Tracy’s newest high school, off Lammers Road south of 11th Street, opened Aug. 12 with about 950 students. The school is named after Dr. John C. Kimball, 86, a longtime Tracy physician.
Construction is still ongoing at Kimball, which for now houses freshmen and sophomores drawn from the previous Tracy and West high school zones, as well as from Mountain House. Workers broke ground on the $62 million campus in 2008 after the district agreed to build the new high school four years ago.