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Forbes thinks we are miserable but we beg to differ
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Forbes Magazine, located in New York City, is a popular business publication sold in the United States and around the world that covers social issues, trends, culture, education, politics and the like. Some of Forbes' feature articles each year include such things as "The Worst Cities," "The Most Miserable Cities," "The Most Livable Cities," "The Most Expensive Colleges" and other topics about the worst and best of this country. It is not necessarily a scientific evaluation, but it does cause one to think when the area they live in regularly makes Forbes Magazine's list of places that are the most "miserable."

It is interesting, if not sad, that five of the 10 "Most Miserable Cities" featured in Forbes' recent article are in California. Of those five, four are right here in the Central Valley. Forbes' criterion for ranking cities' level of misery include housing foreclosure rates, crime, the condition of city government services and finances, unemployment and other factors that are relatively subjective. In any event, Modesto, Stockton (also one of the "least literate" cities), Merced and Sacramento have been declared by Forbes' to be among the most miserable places to live. Unfortunately, when a business publication like Forbes Magazine declares a city to be "miserable," it is likely to have an adverse effect on people and businesses that are considering a visit or move to our area.

Indeed, Modesto has its problems and while I am the most proud of my community, Ceres, I also know that we cannot smugly declare we are any "better" than our neighboring Modesto. We share many of the same problems such as a continued high unemployment rate, and almost everywhere you look, there are homeless people, many of whom are mentally ill and the services available to them are woefully inadequate. The state has dumped countless non-rehabilitated criminals into our communities from state prisons, litter and graffiti is a blight that plagues us daily, drug dealing and addicts are a common feature of this area, the roads are in bad shape, the Highway 99 corridor is strewn with litter and the roadway surface has many potholes. If that is not enough, our area is, once again, the "auto theft capital" of the country.

We also continue to deal with air pollution, much of which is smog blown here from the Bay Area. The state of California shows little interest in this area when it comes to allocation of funds and resources to address infrastructure needs like roads and transportation. And after implementing "realignment" (which is just a cover name for the state's program to push its prisoner population into the streets and jails of local communities), Ceres, for example, received just $57,000 to [supposedly] offset the impact all of these prisoners are having on the community. At the same time, the state continuously creates more rules and regulations that create financial burdens for local city governments, businesses and community members. Yes, we have problems for sure.

Nothing stops Forbes Magazine from presenting itself as the self-appointed expert on which cities are the most miserable or livable, but that does not make them right nor legitimate authorities on the subject. I am sure that the publisher is driven, at least in part, by self-interest. Writing an article that labels some communities as being miserable will get readers' attention, which translates to web hits and magazine sales; it can make people feel good about where they live because their community is not as bad as, for example, Modesto or Stockton. Regardless of Forbes' motives, the article's author is either ill-informed or he failed to do adequate research. I suspect it is a combination of both of the aforementioned.

Forbes would have done a legitimate appraisal if they took into account the following features of our area. First, we are the "bread basket" of this nation. The valley floor is made up of some of the best soil imaginable for farming. Our crops are plentiful and the most diverse of any other place in the nation. With the exception of a few hot spells, we have great weather here. Several beautiful rivers run through Stanislaus County that nourish the fields where crops of vegetables, nuts, fruits and other important products are grown. Where else can you find so many places that sell fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables right from the fields where they were grown? In this area we also have precious water resources that Southern California and Bay Area cities are trying to take advantage of, and unlike the big cities that are too large and out of control, the communities we live in are still of a size where social and economic change is still possible.

Living in Stanislaus County, we are within a couple of hours of the ocean, the beautiful Sierras and the foothills that lay below them have breathtaking beauty. We have lakes for boating, kayaking, fishing, scuba diving, swimming, stand-up paddle boarding and even kite boarding. During Spring Break, we have a choice between snowboarding in the mountains and going to the beach, as they are both just a short drive away. We have our own airport; there are numerous places to hike, bike, camp, fish, and hunt and to do other outdoor activities. We are in the midst of wine country with grapes growing in abundance and Modesto is home to the largest winery in the world. I can name more features that keep me where I am, but suffice it to say that Forbes Magazine failed to take all facts into consideration, is dishonest in its assessment of our area and, indirectly, about the people who live here.

We are an area of modest means, but we have much more potential than any of the Forbes' authors can dream of. Maybe they should look at the suffocating environment that they live and work in and then do a more realistic assessment of our environment here in Stanislaus County. What they do not realize, apparently, is that big cities as a whole are in trouble and likely have nowhere to go but downhill. We have a wealth of opportunity ahead of us and many of our local leaders are skilled and committed to improving our communities. Working together, we can make a good thing even better, and having Forbes judge and criticize us may well become a thing of the past. What works in New York does not reflect our priorities and way of life. Forbes would do well to shed its condescending view of other cities and concentrate on publishing positive articles that feature the best of what our nation's cities have to offer businesses.