The first decade of the 21st century was a significant one in the Lodi-Galt area. Not only did we enter a new century, but the city of Lodi turned 100 years old in 2006. Several Lodi churches also celebrated their centennial during the past decade.
Coming up with 10 top stories for the past decade was quite difficult to compile because a top 20 may be more appropriate. Here are our top 10:
1. Wine: Lodi had already emerged as a wine center when Y2K hit, but the industry continued to flourish with the formation of the Lodi Appellation Winemakers Association in 2000. The number of wineries increased from about 15 in 1999 to about 75 within the Lodi Appellation, which extends north to Wilton. Hundreds of labels bear the name Lodi.
Lodi sold 1,700 cases of wine to China in 2007, and Van Ruiten Winery has opened a wine-tasting room and corporate sales office in Shanghai.
2. PCE/TCE Contamination: A decades-long contamination problem far beneath the earth's surface became a monstrous legal battle. It started with the city suing a dozen local businesses, including the Lodi News-Sentinel, to force their insurers to rid the groundwater of cleaning agents, dubbed PCE and TCE.
The lawsuit grew to involve more than 100 parties and millions of dollars. The city took out a high-interest $14 million loan from a Wall Street bank to pay pricey attorneys. The federal judge overseeing the case grew increasingly skeptical of the city's strategy, since he ruled that the city's pipes had contributed to the contamination.
On the eve of trial, with the judge saying in open court that he felt the attorneys were putting their own interests ahead of taxpayers, the City Council considered his words. They fired Michael C. Donovan, their lead outside attorney, along with City Attorney Randy Hays, then began trying to settle the case. The case finally settled and cleanup is ongoing.
3. Highway 12: Safety on the portion of Highway 12 between Lodi's western edge and Suisun City took on paramount importance as drivers and passengers continued to perish on the two-lane road. Residents from San Joaquin, Sacramento and Solano counties clamored for greater safety, causing city, county and state politicians to work together to see what can be done to make the highway safer. Consensus is that improvements haven't come quickly enough.
At least 66 people have died on Highway 12 from Lodi to Fairfield since 2000. Thirty-one of them died from crashes in San Joaquin County. Hundreds more — at least 248 in San Joaquin County alone — have been injured in crashes since 2000.
4. Wal-Mart: Either you love Wal-Mart or you hate it. Lodi has fought over the big-box retailer for the entire decade. Supporters enjoy the low prices, while opponents fear it will ruin mom-and-pop businesses and Lodi's ambiance.
The community already has a Wal-Mart, but the Arkansas-based corporate giant has tried for several years to build a Supercenter with a complete line of groceries.
The Lodi City Council approved the Supercenter, and residents defeated a measure in 2004 to overturn the council's approval. However, legal battles continue.
Wal-Mart proposes a store in Galt as well, but it hasn't drawn the firestorm of controversy as it has in Lodi.
5. Terrorism charges rock Lodi: Hamid Hayat, then 23, and his father Umer Hayat, 47, were arrested in June 2005 in a case that also resulted in two imams being deported to Pakistan and Lodi appearing on the worldwide stage.
Hamid Hayat was convicted of four terrorism charges in April 2006 and sentenced the following year to 24 years in federal prison. His father, who drove an ice cream truck in Lodi, was freed in 2006, when a mistrial was declared. However, Umer Hayat pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of not declaring the full value of money he and his family brought into Pakistan.
Former Imam Mohammad Adil Khan and his son, Mohammad Hassan Adil, were deported to Pakistan, along with former Imam Shabbir Ahmed.
In 2002, representatives of the Christian and Muslim communities in Lodi and the Jewish community in Stockton banded together in a spirit of friendship after the 9/11 attacks. The three faiths signed a "Declaration of Peace" based on the common belief in the patriarch Abraham and his sons, Isaac and Ishmael, among the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Mohammad Adil Khan, who was imam of the Lodi Muslim Mosque, signed the declaration, saying, "We are all the children of one family."
6. Galt growth: Nothing gets people riled up in Galt more than the issue of just how big the former farming community should become. Bitterly-fought City Council elections — some of them getting quite personal — took place every two years between those who want Galt to grow and become a more thriving business community and those who want to keep it small.
Another bitter issue has been Delta Greens, which would add 2,500 to 2,800 homes restricted to middle-age residents and senior citizens on 900 acres off Twin Cities Road west of Highway 99. The issue has led to name-calling and lawsuits.
7. Moral issues: As a deeply religious community, Lodi residents faced some significant moral issues during the past decade. They include:
— Whether Robert Wendland, who for eight years suffered severe brain damage after an auto accident, should be allowed to die. The issue created bitter feelings within his family, with his mother insisting that he should be kept on life support and hooked up to feeding and hydration tubes, while his wife fought to let him die.
The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court, which ruled in 2001 that he must be kept on life support because he was not unconscious or in a persistent vegetative state. He died earlier that year at age 49.
— Whether religious invocations should be allowed at Lodi City Council meetings. That topic drew passionate arguments on both sides and national media coverage in 2009, when atheists in Lodi said they were offended by the consistent Christian messages during prayers issued before each council meeting. The City Council finally agreed to allow prayer before the meeting begins, with non-Christians, including atheists, being invited to participate.
— Whether churches should allow gay pastors, deacons and bishops. Feelings became so bitter that the San Joaquin Diocese, which extends roughly from Lodi to Bakersfield, broke off from the American Episcopal Church in 2008 because it opposed the appointment of a gay bishop in New Hampshire. However, St. John's in Lodi remained with the American church. A second San Joaquin Diocese was formed, this one supportive of gay clergy. A new church was formed in Lodi by the old diocese, called St. Anselm of Canterbury Anglican Church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which includes St. Paul and Emanuel Lutheran churches in Lodi and Shepherd of the Valley in Galt, took on the gay clergy issue in 2009.
8. Preserving rural land: Preserving land surrounding Lodi was a big issue all decade long. A bitter battle on developing a greenbelt separating Lodi and Stockton pitted advocates desiring open space against property owners in the Armstrong Road area who want the right to do what they want with their land. The two sides remain in a stalemate.
And east of Lodi, battle lines were drawn over a proposal by San Joaquin Delta College to build a satellite campus north of Victor Road. Some wanted the area to remain rural, while the college and community battled over whether there was enough bond money to build the campus. Meanwhile, Lodi and Galt students must still commute to the Stockton main campus.
9. War casualties: U.S. Army Spc. Kyle Coumas, 22, of Lockeford, was killed in action on Oct. 21, 2009, while serving in Afghanistan. On April 28, 2005, Nick Beintema of Woodbridge, also a U.S. Army Specialist, was critically wounded in Iraq and had one of his legs amputated.
10. George W. Bush visits Lodi: George W. Bush, then a presidential candidate, drew an estimated 11,000 to Lodi's station on Aug. 10, 2000, during a "whistle-stop" tour. The News-Sentinel responded to the throng by producing an oversized headline reading "Bush rocks Lodi." He was accompanied by such dignitaries as U.S. Sen. John McCain, who challenged Bush in the Republican primary, and Rep. Richard Pombo, who became one of Bush's confidantes after Bush became president.