The Village(s) Project(s)…..Sacramento’s War of the Infills..

  The Village(s) Project(s)…..Sacramento’s War of the Infills..

The Sacramento Valley is just now finally showing signs of the recovery from the overinflated mortgage bubble that caused the country to go into economic upheaval. One sign of this are the new housing projects breaking ground I various parts of the city. Two of these  Mc Kinley Village touted as “low income” housing and Curtis Park Villages share a surname but both have serious flaws.

One can be addressed before it is too late to create an appealing, sustaining, good neighbor, and perhaps model program geared towards the future, while the other, unfortunately seems to be being built with very shaky foundations that can only spell disaster.

  McKinley Village, touted as low income housing, are breaking ground behind C street along the levees which line the American River, just past the Sacramento State University Parkway along the 30’s and early 40’s in terms of city street references. At starting prices of $300,000 and going up to $530,000, low income does not come to mind.

  The average home in the McKinley Park East Sacramento area where this development is located  are sell for around the median price of  $563,000. In relation to this neighborhood figure a low income moniker is applicable but with a citywide median housing price of $263,000 the low end is not adequately represented within this low income development.

   Neighbors have staged protests and are dead set against the idea of such a low income project in their midst, although the project is fairly isolated with the freeway and thoroughfares creating a distinct hard to reach pocket.  The main thoroughfare in and out would actually be located on the midtown side of the freeway on 28 th Street leading up to the skatepark , old land fill sites, and Sutter’s landing river access. These are located just beyond the levees.

The protests have come in the form of town hall meetings, bake sales, yard sign postings and disgruntled confrontations. Fresh in the minds of the residents are the images of transients loaded down with purloined shopping carts full of their belongings migrating to the Mecca just past Alhambra known as East Sacramento. Home to deserted governors mansions, the exterior to the popular late seventies sitcom Eight is Enough and the beautiful Olmstead designed Park bearing the former president’s name.   

Sacramento’s Tent City


Tent City Resident


City Ordinance , citation of the Camping Ban.


 Years ago a tent city was located where the development is breaking ground. The tent city garnered media attention as both an example of the mortgage crisis collapse and foreclosures resulting in a trickle down effect on housing. This pushed many into homelessness. The The Oprah Winfrey Show sent their roving reporter Lisa  Ling to cover the Tent City for the show. Embarrassed by the attention, not seeing the value and organization, thought, and empowerment the Tent City called Safeground  had been nationally lauded for the city and Sheriff’s deputies started bulldozing the site. They moved locations several times but each time they were bulldozed once again.


Candidate Kevin Johnson, Govenor Arnold Swarzenegger, at The former site of the Tent City

 Most of the tent city residents were filtered into the shelter system here in Sacramento, or moved along with the remnants of the tent city. Many found places along the river and remain homeless to this day. The residents and the issue became the darling of the election that year. From the hope presidential candidate Barack Obama ran on, to our own Mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson, who despite being a Republican rode Obama’s coat tails that electionand his platform each pandered to the new classes of economically insecure and the new homeless voter. 


Regeistering Homeless voters at a Volunteers of America Homeless Voters Event

 Nowhere was this more evident than at an afternoon for The Get Out The Homeless Vote that was sponsored by Volunteers of America at their Bannon Street Shelter. The afternoon consisted of a BBQ lunch, homeless voter registration and speeches by local candidates. It was here Mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson lauded was the organizers of the tent city with promises to rescind the camping ban, a Homeless Council headed by Sister Libby, 

  a local Catholic Nun dedicated to serving the areas homeless population, and even promised to make a low income housing project where the homeless camp had been. 


The entrance to Quinn Cottages

 Whether or not Mc Kinley Village is his answer to this promise little has been done since his first and now into his second term on the homeless issue. One has yet to see the projects that political legends The Serna’s implemented like Quinn Cottages and Serna Village. One  sees private development with a skew towards low income, already needed by federal law in such building projects. one doubts whether any resident of Safeground will be rushing to qualify for their mortgage on a new unit in Mc Kinley Village.

  After the media went away and the campaigns were over nothing happened with the exception of Safeground. They became a non profit geared towards homeless issues here in Sacramento County. One can see that their empowerment in the tent city project whether put forth by he media as a campaign issue, pandered to by politicians, or just pooh poohed away by theological establishement, was truly a force that could become the juggernaut for the homeless here in the Valley.  

I am writing this blog to replace the blog I accidentally deleted a couple of days ago. This morning is garbage day, I went out with my plastic bin, I allow myself one plastic bin of garbage 2 1/2 ft by ft and a half 14″ high per week. I feel that is about all the refuse one should generate that cannot be recycled, composted, or otherwise used. It’s a very generous amount and much in it such as cans from food items and papers that have not been recycled out. I save the others for a neighbor who collects bottles and cans. Anyways I caught a woman checking herself out in the reflection of a car in the back parking area of the alley where the dumpster is. I assumed she was on the streets and she asked me if I needed any help with the dumpster lid. I replied no 

I then asked her if she had lived in the tent city, again her reply was no. She was not a familiar face for me here in Sacramento and I have knowledge on most of the homeless who are in my neighborhood. She looked like a new person. I asked her if she had heard of Safeground? She wriggled her nose a bit and emphatically said no after asking her if she was on the streets to which she replied yes,  I explained to her that Safeground was founded by the homeless that ran the tent city and that they were in touch with needs of the homeless in a way that a bureaucrat or agency was not. She smiled and went on her way. 

To those just arriving in Sacramento the message that Safeground is an agency that was founded by and run by empowered homeless who garnered national attention for their organizational skills, effectively addressing the needs of their population, making sure everyone in that camp had a clear agreement as to what they were about, kids went to school who lived in Safeground, refuse was non exixtant, sanitation and cleanliness were major priorities and Safeground effectively managed all of theses things and more before they were bulldozed out  is not getting to their potential clients. For these clients trusting anyone is a huge issue, so when agencies want to help them or offer them programs they are often looked on with suspicion. Especially with the advent of for profit ventures that we now see in the social services communities in Sacramento. Is this the legacy the tent city and that election is to leave?


looks like another graduation at Women’s Empowerment!

 Just before this camp sprang up I had priveledge while working at a homeless shelter cooking to see many of these residents graduate from a program called Women’s Empowerment. I was there to cheer on graduates of a program I had been in called Open Arms, not to mention women who I cooked for at another program I worked for. I even today recognize many of these women that I saw at this graduation. My friend and I were wishing for a men’s empowerment which I see today is offered.

The environment on which Mc Kinley  Villages is to be built is not safe ground, so to speak. It is located along one of the levees on the American River Parkway. In the event of a levee break or flood the river would go the way it has always gone in past despite being diverted by the army core of engineers. This could cut off the only viable way out of the development on 28 th street. 

In the event of an earthquake, or even a strong quake in the Bay Area, the soil that this development is built on is river silt, this type of soil amplifies earthquake waves more than any type and is generally where most areas of damage are located. Adjacent to the site is landfill sites that are still venting methane gas and also prone to settling, providing the other damage prone geological condition that one sees damage during a major quake. This coupled with the venting methane could easily provide fire rich conditions that could burn the development or engulf areas around it in flame.

Quick rains and El Niño conditions often bring brush along these landfill areas that quickly burn in the Sacramento heat, being surrounded on three sides by this type of land with the propensity for such fires set by transients in camps along the river which one sees yearly, the development would be perpetually at risk for wildfires. This brush is seen along the railroad tracks, built on the levees and along the freeway which is the border on one side. Across the freeway are vast expanses of such landfill that with a delta breeze could bring fire to the development with burning embers blowing across the freeway.

  The flood plains on the opposite side of the river along discovery parkway add fuel in such years as well. Since the development is below the actual river level in the event of a widespread levee breech like seen in New Orleans and predicted for the Sacramento region at some point this development could easily flood. If the Folsom dam was to fail this would be the first major flood plain before the Natomas region which has always been designed to hold the major waters from such a floods.

With only one major way out on C Street, many could be bottle necked up and caught by either fire or flood before safely exiting the area. Or not even able to exit via this way I the event of fire, flood or earthquake. One only need to to look at The Loma Prieta 1989 earthquake to see where damage was concentrated. 

The quake whose epicenter was miles away from Santa Cruz caused widespread damage and death along the San Lorenzo Riverbed. Not much of a river then but the Pacific Garden Mall along its silty soils suffered complete devastation. Over 100 miles north in San Francisco the Marina district built on landfill suffered liquefaction and fires, although the nearly 2 hours away from the epicenter by car. Across the bay built along silty river soil and tidal flats the Cypress Structure collapse killed and flattened commuters. These sites were hours away from the moderate quakes epicenter. 

  With a major quake such as one seen in 1906 striking San Francisco or the East Bay which experts say we were overdue for, and the developments proximity and building in all of these damage prone conditions not even as far away as San Francisco was to the epicenter of the Loma Prieta quake, this development   and parts of downtown Sacramento could catastrophic damages. Damages were seen here after the 1906 quake in areas with similar soils.


Trestle Fire Sacramento


Many of us remember eight years ago, when a small fire set by transients caught the train trestle that just borders this housing project on fire.  The small trestle made of wooden pickings soaked in creosote started in the mid afternoon, filling the sky with toxic black smoke.  The creosote provided fire with so much fuel that it burned deep into the night with firefighters having a hell of time battling both toxic smoke and a fire that would not quit.

Such another fire on the rebuilt trestle could choke this development with fire  

Tretle Fire 24 hrs +

 fighters, it would be difficult  to stage such an area to fight a fire  like this one. If this were to happen again and the wind were to shift the entire development could engulf the development with this toxic smoke for hours making evacuation problematic and potentially deadly. Any  form of  disaster requiring a quick and orderly move out of the area would prove difficult.

Another interesting opportunity has to come to light with the recent developments in drone technology. The application of a new technology called lidar to the smal, area would be advantageous before building begins rather than after. Lidar is a type of technology that combines radar, infrared and other technologies to literally see what is underage in the layers of silt or earth. It’s application is especially helpful to archaeologists in the field on where cities or buildings long buried are located. 


Lidar Technology duscovery of a Mayan City

 This area was a major part of the large migration during the mid nineteenth century gold rush. One only need to envision the last point on the river where deeper water ships could reach. It was here. Many people, goods, supplies, and most everything needed for the gold rush were off loaded here after being transferred at pints such as San Francisco or the East Bay.

One can imagine this terminus hustling with folks loading all of this equipment onto wagons, rails, and other modes of transportation to get to the foothills. Crates of items rushing up to get to the hills. People themselves deciding which mode of transportation would take them to a claims or family member already there. Having to stay in this area  or nearby was probably not unheardof, at least for a night or two until further transport was secured and ready. The area must yield rich archaeological potential of this migration. 


Sacramento 1850, Sutter’s Fort at the Rear Right.

 Prior to this many of the tribes of indigenous peoples used this site for meeting and trading as well. Northern California was rich with many native tribes relying on these rivers and rich soil for their subsistence and using the conflux of them as trading areas.The application of Lidar now, while the area is undeveloped would be advantageous prior to its development. While not much may be revealed if there were finds they could be more easily excavated after being evaluated by archaeologists for their potential value in the archaeological record of the area.

One only need to look at the original planning of the city to see why things were located where they are now. Names like Lavendar Heights and Poverty Heights show where the floods did not hit. Garbage dumps and landfills were located away from population centers for a reason. The undeveloped areas near them also undeveloped for a reason. These are Mc Kinley Village’s potentially fatal flaw on so many fronts. 


Curtis Park Villages Advertisement Photo

 Moving south down The Cap City Freeway to highway 99, after exiting off Sutterville Rd. one is near the Curtis Park Villages Development. This development is a multi developer site with a wide range in housing options. The Blackpine Developer has test marketed and charmingly named their three phases as follows, The Estates, The Cottages, and The Brownstones  . One can see them starting to spring up towards the rear of the infill parcel located across the railroad tracks from Sacramento City College.


Pedestrian Bridge connecting Sac City College and Light Rail Station to Curtis Park Villages.

 There is a pedestrian bridge under construction which will connect the development to both Sac City College and City College Light Rail Station. One of the developers strategies to make public transportation readily accessible to residents. 

The other “draw” is a Safeway Store and a 16 pump fueling station ( gas station). What a strange idea. With the obvious toll that our dependence upon fossil fuels have cost us, environmentally, loss of human lives in Persian Gulf Conflicts, and the huge amounts of tax payer funds that have gone towards our unfettered access and price control of such fuels, as well as the knowledge these are finite resources that cause more damage than good, we ought to be demanding a different more forward thinking use of these retail areas.


William Land Park

 One need only look across the tracks at The City College and across Freeport to William Land Park for some major re-thinks in what a planned urban community could look like and accomplish. By establishing a partnership with Sac City College and Los Rios Community College District an amazing forward thinking experiment in community, sustainability, and neighborhood cooperation could have the potential to set the example for what other communities could become.


Sacarmento City College’s 5 story Parking Structure, the small sliver of green on the right upper area is the slated housing area.

 The five story parking structure at Sac City College is often vacant on weekends and after 4 PM on any given weekday. With the site already built and just sitting vacant when most of the Curtis Park Village residents are returning home from work a huge opportunity exists. If the developer, or resident could get tax incentives for a one car household, meaning only one car allowed per household in the participating households, a special off hours parking permit could be sold for a portion of these incentives by the College filling the garage that sits empty and providing extra revenue for the college district. Discount transit passes in lieu of a parking permit could be offered to those who only own one car. The pedestrian bridge being constructed is reps away from both of them.

This relationship between the college and the development could be further developed into a multi-dimensional mutually beneficial partnership. The development is slated to have apartment style units as well as single family homes. Many of these apartment style units are slated for seniors. Why not have one of the buildings be dedicated to students. This would not be a dormitory style housing  so the liability and staffing as well as food service would not come into play. Rather the district could purchase the building as an investment to their long term portfolio, an investment in local land and real estate would give the district much needed local investments in the community. 

With the building the district could through their property management and real estate education programs administer it in the form of internships for students. Rentals to students attending the school at discount market rates could be administered through state and federal financial aid programs. For example a student receiving the $6,600 financial aid package of pell  grants, would have a portion of these funds applied to the already discounted rental cost for subsidized rent. By eliminating the need for transportation to and from school congestion in the area would be lessened.

In lieu of this and the already discounted rent students who lived in the development could and would be expected to participate in joint projects.  A small satellite study center could be opened in the complex that would provide  off hours access to study rooms and function as a satellite learning resource center. Adjacent to the center could be a community garden in the style of the Edible Schoolyard that many elementary schools across the state are implementing with much success. 

The gardens and center could be staffed by students living in the apartments for just a few hours a week for each of them. Produce and flowers grown in the garden could be sold at a weekly farm table at the satellite center for a reduced rate to residents of the development. Computers at the satellite center could also be accessed by residents when not used by students. Meeting rooms and a center room could be used by residents when not utilized by students for study purposes for community meetings, gatherings or even community  celebrations.

This is the development side of the equation. The college side of the equation offers even more potential. With the recent remodeling of the gymnasium facilities and students supervising for internships within open class hours for fitness courses the feel at the gym is like that of a fitness club. Why not expand the hours and sell discount passes to residents of the development as gym memberships. 

The nearest fitness centers such as 24 hour fitness, or California family Fitness are miles away and by having the same type of club just across the bridge at a discount rate manned by students in the field of study the benefits to both student and resident would be tremendous. While the programs would not be a huge money maker they would pay for themselves for the students that currently get paid a small stipend for already manning the gyms.

By setting up a resident booster club for the performing arts and sports programs at the college, where the residents receive promotional items such as tee shirts, or hats, as well as reserved seating to sporting events and or performances for a fee both the resident and the college win. Seats are filled with neighbors encouraging the students and teams. 

Such promotional materials could be purchased for a small cost and any other revenue could be used for uniforms, transportation costs, or sets, obtaining the rights to scripts, music and costumes or instruments. These costs can send programs like these out of reach of some student participants or offset the college districts investment I the,. The programs could also be marketed to family and friends of the participants. Once a season or during the run of a performance a special tail,gate party or backstage event could give further incentive and provide extra revenue for the food service contracts in the form of  caterings. 

By publicizing the services offered to residents specifically at the discount rates the services are currently offered at . The cosmetology schools and dental hygiene schools would also benefit tremendously. For seniors one or two of the rooms I the community satllite center could be utilized for a day or two during the week for such services bringing the low cost services such as manicures, and pedicures, hair styling and coloring to the complex itself. 

Students would ultimately benefit with extra clients and hours available to them that would not normally be a part of the City College Community.