The 2000s, the aughts, whatever we decide to call the decade just ending, was mostly memorably miserable.
Utahns felt the tremors from earthshaking national events: the two elections of George W. Bush, the horrific 9/11 attack on New York City's Twin Towers by Islamic terrorists, two wars, the Great Recession, debates over global warming and illegal immigration. Utahns fought and died in Iraq and Afghanistan and they lost jobs, wages and homes during the worst recession in 60 years. Along the way, technology changed how we communicate: Facebook, Twitter, Google and blogs put information about the world and one another on display and let everyone become a reporter.
Here are our picks for top local events in random order:
Show in the snow : The world's top athletes converged on Utah venues for the 2002 Winter Olympics, shining an unprecedented spotlight on the state, its mountains, its people and all their eccentricities. The Games also brought federal funding for a rebuild of I-15 in Salt Lake County and the first light-rail TRAX line between Salt Lake City and Sandy. Downtown became a hive of cultural activity. The month of February changed forever the image of Salt Lake City.
Plaza polemic: In 1999, Salt Lake City sold the portion of Main Street between South Temple and North Temple to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for $8.1 million. The church, city and residents argued over the following five years over a pedestrian easement across the property and the church's right to control behavior on it. In the end, Mayor Rocky Anderson gave up the easement in exchange for church real estate and cash and $5 million from other donors to expand the Sorenson Multicultural Center. The City Council ratified this deal and, in 2004, a federal court upheld it.
Getting around: Although the first TRAX line opened in 1999, this has been a decade of transit expansion. Heavy-rail FrontRunner trains were launched between northern Weber County and Salt Lake City in May 2008. Under construction now are the West Valley City, Mid-Jordan, Draper and Airport TRAX extensions and a high-speed FrontRunner commuter rail line to Provo. Air pollution is still awful at times, but it would have been worse without the trains.
Power shifts: Utah voters embraced George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, and Utah's LDS faithful were stalwart supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the "savior" of the 2002 Olympics, in his unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid. Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt went to Washington, first as Environmental Protection Agency administrator in '03 and then as secretary of Health and Human Services. Former Lt. Gov. Olene Walker became Utah's first woman governor on Leavitt's departure. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman resigned to become ambassador to China.
Water, land, climate, energy: A seven-year drought dragged on well into the decade. Land-use issues, including wilderness, road ownership and energy production were argued, often in court. Tim DeChristopher, a university student, is facing felony charges for trying in 2008 to stop the rampant "drill, baby, drill" mantra of the Bush BLM by bidding on drilling permits he never intended to buy. Utah legislators and Gov. Gary Herbert still doubt the validity of human-caused climate change, while the U.S. Congress, federal government and world leaders debated how to deal with its impacts and former Gov. Huntsman joined other Western governors in mapping a regional strategy. Meanwhile, the Milford Flats fire burned 363,000 acres, Lake Powell shrank and summers got hotter.
Growth, from inside and out: The nation's highest birth rate and an influx of immigrants kept the Beehive State's population growing at a brisk rate of around 3 percent a year. Schools became more crowded as around 10,000 new students arrived each fall. The Legislature cracked down on illegal immigration in 2008 with a controversial law, Senate Bill 81, that limits services for the undocumented and allows local police to act as immigration officers, although most law enforcement agencies declined to do so.
Our schools: Lawmakers finally passed a bill in 2007 to allow public money to flow to private schools through vouchers. But a voter referendum promptly killed the law.
Economic seesaw: A global recession hit Utah in September 2008, turning the state's best-in-the-nation 4.5 percent job growth rate at mid-decade into 6 percent unemployment. While Utah fared better than many parts of the country (national unemployment hit 10.2 percent), state revenue plummeted from surpluses reaching $1.7 billion in 2006 to a shortfall of nearly $1 billion as the decade ends. Local governments and businesses imposed layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs. Today, 3 percent of Utah mortgages are in foreclosure and 8 percent are at least 30 days past due.
Bricks and mortar: In February 2003, the soaring, glass-enclosed heights of the new Salt Lake City Library awed Utahns. Rio Tinto Stadium, the home of Real Salt Lake, was built amid a debate over its public funding and location. But it opened in Sandy in October 2008, and the next year the team did the unthinkable, bringing home the Major League Soccer title. The LDS Church kept thousands employed building its $2 billion downtown mall, City Creek Center, scheduled to open in 2012 with its controversial sky bridge over Main Street intact.
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