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Modesto (Spanish for "modest"), officially the City of Modesto, is the county seat and largest city of Stanislaus County, California, United States. With a population of approximately 201,165 at the 2010 census, it is the 18th largest city in the state of California and forms part of the Modesto–Merced combined Statistical Area. The Modesto Census County Division, which includes the cities of Ceres and Riverbank, had a population of 312,842 as of 2010.
Modesto is located in the Central Valley, 90 miles (140 km) north of Fresno, 40 miles (64 km) north of Merced, California, 92 miles (148 km) east of San Francisco, 68 miles (109 km) south of the state capital of Sacramento, 66 miles (106 km) west of Yosemite National Park, and 24 miles (39 km) south of Stockton. Modesto has been honored as a Tree City USA numerous times. It is surrounded by rich farmland; Stanislaus County ranks sixth among California counties in farm production. Led by milk, almonds, chickens, walnuts, and corn silage, the county grossed nearly $3.1 billion in agricultural production in 2011. The farm-to-table movement plays a central role in Modesto living as in the Central Valley.
Filmmaker George Lucas, who was born in Modesto, graduated from Thomas Downey High School in 1962 and attended Modesto Junior College, immortalized the city in his award-winning 1973 film American Graffiti. Although it was not actually shot in Modesto, the film portrayed the spirit of cruising and friendship on Modesto's 10th and 11th Streets in 1962, and inspired a revival of interest in 1950s pop culture, including the TV show Happy Days and its spin-offs.
The city's annual Architectural Festival honors Modesto's history as a testing ground for mid-century modern architecture during the 1940s and '50s. Modesto's mid-century buildings have been featured four times in Museum of Modern Art publications.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index for 2011, which interviews 1,000 participants about their jobs, finances, physical health, emotional state of mind and communities, ranked Modesto 126 out of the 190 cities surveyed. In December 2009, Forbes ranked Modesto 48th out of 100 among "Best Bang-for-the-Buck Cities". In this ranking, Modesto ranked 8th in housing affordability and travel time but also ranked 86th in job forecast growth and 99th in foreclosures.
Modesto is the home of Gallo Family Winery, the largest privately owned winery in the world. The winery was ranked #14 on Glassdoor's 2018 Best Places to Work.
The City of Modesto was originally a stop on the railroad connecting Sacramento to Los Angeles. When Modesto was founded in 1870, it was to be named Ralston after financier William C. Ralston. Ralston's modesty prompted him to ask that another name be found, and the town was named Modesto in recognition of his modesty.
Modesto's population was over 1,000 residents in 1884. With fields of grain, a nearby Tuolumne River for grain barges, and railroad traffic, the town grew. Irrigation water came from dams installed in the foothills, and irrigated fields of vegetables and fruit and nut trees flourished. By 1900, Modesto's population was over 4,500. During World War II, the area provided canned goods, powdered milk, and eggs for the US armed forces and Allied forces. For the next few decades, Modesto's population grew about two percent per year to over 100,000 in 1980, and over 200,000 in 2001.
The city's official motto, "Water Wealth Contentment Health," is emblazoned on the downtown Modesto Arch, which is featured in local photographs and postcards. The motto was selected in a contest held in 1911, where the winner won $3 as his prize. (The original winner, "Nobody's got Modesto's goat", was later declined by town officials.) Modesto's motto is sometimes spoofed as "The land gets the water, the bankers get the wealth, the cows get contentment, and the farmers get the health."
Modesto is known for the following tourist attractions and historical sites.
The 1973 film American Graffiti, starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams, was set in 1962 Modesto; however, the scenes of weekend cruising were actually filmed in Petaluma, California.
Modesto is served by one of the busiest rail corridors in the country. The Amtrak San Joaquin makes eight daily stops on the route between Oakland and Bakersfield, and four stops daily on the route between Sacramento and Bakersfield.
Modesto is served by the Modesto City-County Airport that lies east of California State Route 99 within the city limits. SkyWest Airlines (operating as United Express) provided air service to San Francisco International Airport, however commercial service stopped in June 2014. The airport is used for manufacturing and the shipping industries throughout California and the United States.
Interstate 5 and California State Route 99 provide major highway access to Modesto. California State Route 132 links the city to Interstate 580, providing commuter access to highways into the Bay Area. California State Route 108 connects to Oakdale, California and east to the foothills. The city has added many roundabouts in an effort to ease traffic congestion within the town with varying degrees of success.
Three public transit systems serve Modesto: Modesto Area Express (MAX), StaRT, and the San Joaquin Regional Transit District along the northern edge of the city on McHenry Avenue. MAX is the local system with additional connections to the Altamont Corridor Express train station in Lathrop and the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station. MAX also provides a paratransit "dial-a-ride" service which specifically caters to seniors and the disabled. It is open to the general public only during certain times. StaRT connects Modesto to the county's other populated centers. Modesto also will be served by the future California High Speed Rail.
The large industrial region south and east of the city is served by the Modesto and Empire Traction Company, a 5-mile (8.0 km) short line railroad, with a web of industry tracks and many customers.
At one time, Modesto was the operational center of the Tidewater Southern Railway, which had its main line down the center of Ninth Street, a major north-south street. A city ordinance passed by the city council kept electric power lines over this section of street activated long after the railroad had converted to steam power. In 2000, the last trains ran down Ninth Street. Now the railroad (owned by the Union Pacific Railroad since 1983) no longer passes through Modesto.
Modesto has a semi-arid climate (BSk in the Köppen climate classification) It has mild winters with moderate rainfall and long, hot, dry summers. Average January temperatures range from 56 °F (13 °C) in the day to 40 °F (4 °C) at night. Most of the rainfall occurs during the winter and the annual total is 13.2 inches (335 mm). The city does not have a full storm sewer system, many streets flood during winter rain storms.
Average July temperatures range from 95 °F (35 °C) in the day to 63 °F (17 °C) at night. During the summer months there can be multiple days in a row with high temperatures exceeding 100 °F (~38 °C). This can pose health risks for people with weak constitutions or who ignore the dangers of heat stroke. Onshore breezes (locally known as the "delta breeze") moderate these high temperatures somewhat, with cooler air coming in after 8 or 9 PM on summer nights.
Although the city is located on the Tuolumne River and near the Stanislaus River, it has no operating port for oceangoing ships due to the shallow depths of these rivers, and also due to a small dam on the Tuolumne River near Highway 99. In Modesto there is also a small creek aptly named Dry Creek, which although badly polluted by agricultural runoff, is adjacent to several parks in Modesto. Most of the rivers and streams are otherwise not accessible to public use or view due to fences and private property rights. There are no public boat ramps or docks within the city limits. Although summertime brings high temperatures, swimming is prohibited by local ordinance in rivers, creeks, and the many irrigation canals. Rivers and lakes near Waterford are wide enough to be accessible for a kayak, or small motorboat, and there are several points of public access. This access was given as part of a government plan when hydroelectric power dams were installed upstream for valuable flood control, irrigation, and electric power generation. The nearest large open seaport is the Port of Stockton, used for oceangoing ships that transport goods, particularly cement, fertilizer, and agricultural products, from California to overseas.
Modesto has a large agricultural industry which is based on the fertile farmland surrounding the city. Modesto is home to the largest winery in the world: E & J Gallo Winery. The Gallo Glass Company, a company of Gallo Winery, is the largest wine bottle manufacturing company in the world. The company provides thousands of office and manufacturing jobs to Stanislaus County residents. Other major privately owned companies based in Modesto include Foster Farms Dairy, Royal Robbins, international award winner Fiscalini Cheese, Sciabica Olive Oil, Acme Construction, Aderholt Specialty, and 511 Tactical (formerly a part of Royal Robbins, a United States brand of clothing consisting of uniforms and tactical equipment for military). A cannery downtown produces food which is usually shipped to Sacramento and Fresno for transfer to rail or ship. Ceres has a few cereal and snack factories in the area. There are several small steelworking companies in Modesto. In mid-2008, a number of road projects were being constructed, repaved or repaired, with an estimated total cost of nearly $120,000,000.
Rates of both violent crimes and property crimes are higher in Modesto than the state average. Of particular note is that Modesto ranks among the top car theft cities in the US. As of 2012 Modesto ranked number 1 for car theft rate per 100,000 people, although they dropped to number 3 in 2013, behind Bakersfield and Fresno Modesto is also home to many street gangs. The Stanislaus County Gang Intelligence Task Force estimates there to be 5,000 to 10,000 gang members.
Amtrak intercity rail is provided by San Joaquin services directly at Modesto station on the east side of the city.
A separate Altamont Corridor Express commuter rail station is planned to be constructed for service in 2023.
In the late 1980s Modesto embarked on an update to the city's general plan pursuant to requirements of the State of California. The result was a comprehensive evaluation of alternative population and land use projections along with associated environmental impact analysis. Some of the environmental factors technically assessed were air quality, water quality, environmental noise, soil contamination and visual impacts.
Much of the soils in Modesto are classified as part of the Hanford series: (HbpA) fine sandy loam, moderately deep over silt. These soils are well-drained, moderately coarse-textured soils derived from alluvium from granitic rock. The Hanford soils are important for the production of a wide variety of irrigated orchard, field, and truck crops.
Vicinity watercourses include the Stanislaus River, the Tuolumne River and Dry Creek empties into the Tuolumne River. Area groundwater, which is the principal source of water supply in the city, has been historically impaired in a fashion that is spatially variable. Water from the nearby Modesto Resovoir is now used to augment city water. In various parts of the city and its perimeter the following water pollutants have occurred from time to time: nitrates, dibromochloromethane, volatile organics, salinity, total dissolved solids and other pesticides. Each of these contaminants is not present citywide.
The EPA rates air quality in Modesto as a 23 on a scale to 100 (higher is better), making Modesto an unhealthy place to live for those with breathing difficulties. This is based on ozone alert days and number of pollutants in the air. In May 2010, Forbes magazine, in association with the American Lung Association, indicated that Modesto was one of the top 25 most polluted cities in the U.S.
As of the 2000s, downtown Modesto (DOMO) has been thoroughly modernized, including new attractions such as Gallo Center for the Arts and the new Downtown Plaza adjacent to Modesto Centre Plaza. Downtown Modesto has lost some of its old-time flavor with the loss of the Hotel Covell, the incredible art deco Strand Theatre, and the Sears building, but it has improved traffic flow considerably.
The historic streets of 10th and 11th streets that were the original locations of the cruising featured in American Graffiti have been designated by the City of Modesto as the Historic Cruise Route. This is now a tourist walk with information about Modesto's music, car and Graffiti culture.
In 2014, the Walk of Fame was launched on the Historic Cruise Route with markers celebrating classic legends like George Lucas, Gene Winfield Bart Bartoni and others. This is both an attraction for tourists and locals alike. (Many of these have been made into Pokestops in the popular real-time game Pokemon Go.)
Classic Community Murals was launched by local Modesto magazine ModestoView and the Peer Recovery Art Center to create a series of large scale murals celebrating the Modesto Classic Graffiti heritage. Many of these are on the Cruise Route.
New business incentives have been created to enhance facades, signage, and permitting. A promenade is being designed to create a special entertainment zone along the corridor between the Modesto Centre Plaza and the Gallo Center for the Arts and the adjacent core streets of 10th, 11th and J Streets. There is now free wi-fi in the 10th Street Plaza courtesy of Fire2Wire.
The Modesto Nuts Minor League Baseball Club of the class A California League is the main attraction for locals between Easter and Labor Day. The Nuts are the Single A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners and play 70 home games each season.
For 67 years, Modesto was a hotbed for track and field competition as host of the Modesto Relays each May, sponsored most of the years by local produce company S&W Foods. The creation and lifetime project of meet director Tom Moore, 30 word records were set at the meet held at Modesto Junior College.
In the past 10 years, Modesto has hosted many music festivals such as SummerFest, the Downtown summer concert series, featuring Chris Isaak, Hootie & the Blowfish, The Doobie Brothers and Styx.
X-Fest, deriving from its real name Xclamation Festival, is a 21 and over music festival in downtown Modesto. Starting in 2000, X-Fest has evolved into a large outdoor event stretching 15 blocks and featuring the world's largest disco which covers four blocks on its own. In 2008 X-Fest featured 50 bands and a crowd of 15,000 people. Much of the profits end up in local non-profit charities. Some business owners and citizens of Modesto complain of rowdy and often drunk Mardi Gras atmosphere exhibited at X-fest. Events like these may have helped propel Modesto to be ranked, in Feb. 2010 by Men's Health magazine, as the 12th drunkest city in America, based on alcohol-related deaths, DUI and other arrests. The last X-fest occurred in Modesto in 2015.
Summers in Modesto are also marked by the revival of American Graffiti, the 1973 film written and directed by Modesto native George Lucas. Lucas' film paid homage to teenage life in 1962 based on his own experiences growing up in the city of Modesto. The city council refused to let the film be shot in Modesto, so he was forced to make the film elsewhere. The city has since realized the importance of its connection to the award-winning film, and the city is preparing new tourist attractions and events to welcome Graffiti tourists. The Modesto Convention and Visitors bureau report that the leading request for information is American Graffiti-related. The annual festival, Graffiti Summer, celebrates this event and lasts the entire month of June, attracting thousands of visitors and car enthusiasts along with hundreds of classic and antique cars.
Located in downtown Modesto is the locally iconic State Theater, one of the many hot spots for music acts and independent films.
Downtown Modesto hosts a monthly Art Walk, with local artists displaying art for sale, artist demos, local gallery shows, in a multi-venue map self-guided tour. Downtown Modesto Third Thursday Art Walk venues include local galleries, nonprofits, restaurants and other local businesses; each featuring local artists 5 to 9 PM. Some stops include musicians from Modesto's vibrant music scene. Maps can be picked up at local businesses, and Downtown Improvement District office.
Downtown Modesto is also home of the Modesto Historic Cruise Route on 10th and 11th St, the Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, and the Classic Community Mural series of large scale art celebrating the American Graffiti history.
The Modesto Symphony Orchestra, which finds its home at the Gallo Center, held their first performance when Modesto had a population of 17,000 in 1931 and continues to be a staple in the community. Not to be outdone by the Symphony, MoBand (Modesto Band of Stanislaus County), established in 1919, is one of the oldest, continuously performing bands in the U.S. The group performs a free 6-week summer concert-in-the-park series with its 130 volunteer musicians.
Modesto is also home to Townsend Opera, founded in 1983 by the late Modesto-born opera singer Buck Townsend, and Modesto Performing Arts, as well as the Gallo Center for the Arts. Modesto is also home to the area's leading professional ballet company, Central West Ballet.
The 2010 United States Census reported that Modesto had a population of 201,165. The population density was 5,423.4 people per square mile (2,094.0/km²). The racial makeup of Modesto was 130,833 (65.0%) White, 8,396 (4.2%) African American, 2,494 (1.2%) Native American, 13,557 (6.7%) Asian (1.5% Filipino, 1.3% Asian Indian, 1.2% Cambodian, 0.7% Chinese, 0.6% Vietnamese, 0.5% Laotian, 0.2% Japanese, 0.2% Korean, 0.1% Hmong, 0.1% Pakistani), 1,924 (1.0%) Pacific Islander, 31,244 (15.5%) from other races, and 12,717 (6.3%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 71,381 persons (35.5%): 30.8% Mexican, 0.7% Puerto Rican, 0.6% Salvadoran, 0.5% Spaniard, 0.4% Spanish, 0.3% Nicaraguan, and 0.2% Guatemalan. Non-Hispanic Whites were 49.4% of the population in 2010, down from 83.1% in 1980.
The Census reported that 198,210 people (98.5% of the population) lived in households, 1,189 (0.6%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 1,766 (0.9%) were institutionalized.
There were 69,107 households, out of which 27,152 (39.3%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 33,230 (48.1%) were married couples living together, 10,774 (15.6%) had a female householder with no husband present, 4,904 (7.1%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 5,177 (7.5%) unmarried. 15,887 households (23.0%) were made up of individuals and 6,221 (9.0%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.87. There were 48,908 families (70.8% of all households); the average family size was 3.38.
The population was spread out with 54,012 people (26.8%) under the age of 18, 20,838 people (10.4%) aged 18 to 24, 53,116 people (26.4%) aged 25 to 44, 49,691 people (24.7%) aged 45 to 64, and 23,508 people (11.7%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34.2 years. For every 100 females, there were 95.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.5 males.
There were 75,044 housing units at an average density of 2,023.2 per square mile (781.2/km²), of which 39,422 (57.0%) were owner-occupied, and 29,685 (43.0%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 2.8%; the rental vacancy rate was 9.1%. 112,065 people (55.7% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 86,145 people (42.8%) lived in rental housing units.
According to the 2011 American Community Survey 5-Year estimate, the median income for a household in the city was $49,852, and the median income for a family was $56,629. Males had a median income of $47,473 versus $37,629 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,886. About 14.9% of families and 18.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.3% of those under age 18 and 9.5% of those age 65 or over.
In September 2010, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research released a study indicating that 32% of the population was obese vs. a statewide average obesity rate of 22.7%. Poverty was one of the factors listed as contributing to the high obesity rates.
As of the census of 2000, there were 188,856 people, 64,959 households, and 46,640 families residing in the city. The population density was 5,277.3 people per square mile (2,037.4/km²). There were 67,179 housing units at an average density of 1,877.2 per square mile (724.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.6% White, 25.6% Hispanic or Latino, 4.0% African American, 1.2% Native American, 6.0% Asian, 0.5% Pacific Islander.
There were 64,959 households out of which 38.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.5% were married couples living together, 14.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.2% were non-families. 22.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.86 and the average family size was 3.36.
In the city, the population was spread out with 30.1% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 28.9% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 11.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.7 males.
Modesto is governed under a council-manager system. The Mayor is elected by the entire city. The six members of the city council are elected from districts by the voters within the respective district.
According to the city's most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the city's various funds had $325.7 million in Revenues, $268.0 million in expenditures, $1,126.9 million in total assets, $322.0 million in total liabilities, and $343.0 million in cash and investments.
The structure of the management and coordination of city services is:
Residents of Modesto also participate in the Government of Stanislaus County and elections for Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors district 1 as well as the Sheriff-Coroner, District Attorney, Assessor, Auditor-Controller, Treasurer-Tax Collector, and Clerk-Recorder. As of January 2013 these were represented by Supervisor William O'Brien, Sheriff-Coroner Adam Christianson, District Attorney Birgit Fladager, Assessor David Cogdill Sr., Auditor-Controller Lauren Klein, Treasurer-Tax Collector Gordon Ford, and Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan.
In the California State Senate, Modesto is split between the 5th Senate District, represented by Democrat Cathleen Galgiani, and the 12th Senate District, represented by Republican Anthony Cannella. In the California State Assembly, Modesto is split between the 12th Assembly District, represented by Republican Heath Flora, and the 21st Assembly District, represented by Democrat Adam Gray.
In the United States House of Representatives, Modesto is in California's 10th congressional district, represented by Republican Jeff Denham.
Modesto City Schools was established for students in the community in 1871. The current enrollment is approximately 32,000 students. The district operates 23 elementary schools (K-6), four junior high schools (7–8), seven comprehensive high schools (9–12), and an alternative education program that includes an opportunity and continuation school, independent study and adult evening high school. The seventh comprehensive high school, Joseph Gregori High School, was recently completed. Modesto's oldest high school, Modesto High School, also offers an International Baccalaureate program, and is the only high school in Stanislaus County accredited for this program. There are other elementary school districts within and adjacent to the limits of Modesto City Schools that feed into the high schools. They include Sylvan Union (serving the eastern portion of Modesto), Stanislaus Union and Hart-Ransom.
As part of the Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto television market, Modesto is primarily served by stations that are based mainly in Sacramento. They are listed below, with the city of license in bold:
Modesto has six sister cities:
These programs are run by Modesto Sister Cities International, a non-profit, community based, volunteer organization promoting international understanding, friendship, and peace between nations.
The first season of ABC's Drama American Crime is set in Modesto.
In the 2013 movie The Internship, John Goodman calls Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson and says, "I've stumbled onto King Solomon's mine my friends. Two words, motorized scooters. Head down to Modesto. Start checking out the old age homes." Later in the film, it shows Vaughn riding a motorized scooter into a retirement community named 'Modesto Colony'.
In the 2017 Macklemore music video, Glorious featuring Skylar Grey, Macklemore and his grandmother are seen going to different sites throughout Modesto for her birthday.
In the pilot of the CW show Supernatural, the characters mention Modesto in passing.
In the animated feature Monsters vs. Aliens, the protagonist Susan Murphy hails from Modesto. Scenes of Modesto. In the short film Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space, Susan says, "Modesto? Why is it always Modesto!?"
Inspector Keller (played by Michael Douglas) reveals he is from Modesto in season 3 of The Streets of San Francisco.
In The Glee Project, Lindsay Pearce is a contestant and runner-up from Modesto, won 2 episode arcs in Glee Season 3.
In the video game series Wipeout, "Modesto Heights" is one of the race tracks in Wipeout Pure and Wipeout HD.
Brooklyn-based indie rockers The Hold Steady refer to the city in the song "Modesto Is Not That Sweet."
The 1973 film American Graffiti is set in Modesto.
"Modesto" is the name of a song by Beck, from his Stereopathetic Soulmanure album.
"St. Modesto" is a song by Chris Walla from his Field Manual album.
The 2017 film The Danger Element is set and was filmed in Modesto.
The 2009 film Janky Promoters is set in Modesto.
In the 1992 film Kuffs Christian Slater's character mentions that he grew up in Modesto and went to (the fictional) Fremont High School.
The Moshe Kasher comedy album Everyone You Know is Going To Die, Then You Are features a track entitled "An Open Letter to Modesto, California".
The 2004 video game, Counter-Strike: Condition Zero Deleted Scenes The tenth mission "Turn of the Crank" takes place in the Highway Village in Modesto.
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