Apparently, a book detailing life and livability of a few hundred US cities has ranked Modesto last. The Modesto Bee article focuses on local reactions to the news, and of course Modestans interviewed by the Bee didn't see anything so terrible. Even the author of the book seemed to tell the Bee that the situation was not all that dire.
And really, if you take away the disgusting hot summer, the pollution, low level of educational achievement, minimal cultural scene, lack of good jobs, lack of affordable housing, poor urban planning, poor health care, high crime rate, lousy traffic, and the fact that despite all this thousands of people commute 2.5 hours each way to good jobs in the San Francisco Bay area (thus contributing to the pollution and lousy traffic), really, it's not too bad.
If you ask one of those commuters why he or she lives here, I imagine the likely answers are (1) the housing market, as inflated as it is, is more affordable than the Bay Area, and (2) it's a safer, more wholesome environment in which to raise kids. The latter of these rationales is easily understood, because it's entirely false. People who believe that are, simply, wrong. They do not want to know, and in many cases would flatly reject, the facts. As for the former rationale, it is certainly true that the housing market here has been better lately: a mere $289,000 can get you a 1100 square foot bungalow in some less desirable areas. So people who commute 5+ hours a day in order to buy a house are, clearly, more interested in achieving the American dream (to wit: mortgage) than in health, well-being, and so on.
To set the record straight on at least one point, there is no truth to the rumors that Modesto city planners intend to embark on a major urban renewal project involving razing all structures in the county.