Hesperia's construction crash is the deepest in the city's recorded history, and started years before the national economic downturn, but the city's chief financial manager sees reasons to believe the city may be turning the corner early next year.


Although the national economic downturn only began to be talked about in 2008, Hesperia's real estate decline predates it by several years. Building permits of all types -- including single family residential, multi-family residential, commercial and industrial -- reached their peak during the city's fiscal year 2005-2006, with 1,874 permits issued. (The city's fiscal year begins on July 1.) The next year, permits plummeted to 717, and kept on sliding, down to 251 in 2007-2008 and 32 in 2008-2009.


"In this city, single-family residential permits, one year back in the 1990s, got down to 150, but they were typically in the 150 to 220 range," said Hesperia Director of Management Services Brian Johnson, "And that trend continued until it almost reached 300 by 2001, but then the next year, we went up to 500, and then it went booming up."


All categories of permits issued were down, with single family and commercial leading the way. In 2005-2006, 1,645 single family housing building permits were issued, along with 183 commercial building permits. By 2008-2009, those numbers had dropped to 11 and 16, respectively.


"Hands down, it is the lowest it's ever been since anyone's been doing the numbers," said Johnson. "This isn't the 1990s. This is clearly worse."


Hesperia's has had a boom and bust real estate cycle dating back at least to the days of M. Penn Phillips, but last year's 11 total single family building permits marks a record low.


But things may turn around in early 2010, Johnson said.


"We have some rays of hope."


Property is being sold, even if there is little new construction. According to a report prepared by the auditing firm of Hdl Coren & Cone, more parcels of land were sold in Hesperia in 2008 than in 2007: 1,454 parcels compared to 1,112. And it was a buyer's market in 2008, as the total value of those 1,454 parcels was $95 million less than the 1,112 parcels sold the year before: $269,435,262 worth of property changed hands in 2008, compared to $346,642,772 in 2007.


"What it says to me is that the [housing] inventory being sold," Johnson said. "They pay me to walk around with a cloud over my head, but at the same time, yeah, I'm starting to see ... no new housing starts, and this inventory cleaning out. ... This is sort of what we've got to go through."


More than just applications for building permits dried up when Southern California's real estate market dried up: Around the region, there are ghost housing tracts, where a handful of completed houses are surrounded by empty lots that were meant to be a subdivision. As the back housing inventory begins to get bought up, there may be signs of those ghost tracts returning from the grave.


The city's department of "Building and Safety, they're having people inquire about tracts," Johnson said. "Banks are asking about what it takes to revive them. It's just anecdotal; we don't have anything firm, but it's a good sign."


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.