In the face of overwhelming distrust and anger from neighbors and public housing tenants, the Sacramento City Council on Tuesday night unanimously rejected a premature proposal to approve a master developer to revitalize the Alder Grove and Marina Vista public housing complexes.
It was the correct decision. However, fundamental questions remain that affect not just the residents, but the city as a whole.
The sprawling complexes, known popularly as Seavey Circle and New Helvetia, were built during and just after World War II. They consist of 751 handsome red brick units arrayed across 68 acres of green lawn, dotted with mature trees. They sit south of Broadway and west of the upscale Land Park neighborhood.
The apartments have sheltered tens of thousands of Sacramento's poor for more than three generations. There have been some rough patches, but strict tenant screening and good management in recent years have made public housing at Alder Grove and Marina Vista among the best in the state.
As one former resident who testified before the council suggested, before moving to remake this community, the council needs to explain what's broken here? What's not working?
The units have been well-maintained and upgraded over the years. But city housing officials note that the 70-year-old structures have deficiencies. They don't meet modern earthquake or building standards.
Electrical services don't comply with current codes. Units lack sufficient outlets, leading to frequent overloading. Existing wall heaters are inefficient. Water pipes and sewer lines are approaching the end of their useful life span and leak frequently.
But complaints before the council focused less on the need to upgrade the housing and more about the lack of openness in the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency's planning process. Such concerns should not be dismissed.
SHRA's recommendation to the council on a master developer to remake this community surprised and alarmed the people who live in public housing and their Land Park neighbors. That alone was reason for the council to postpone its decision.
Some council members also expressed a sensible desire to widen the focus beyond the footprint of the public housing areas. A new development is planned a few blocks away at an old wood processing plant. There needs to be coordination with that project, with ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway business corridor and with other potential development in the area.
There also needs to be some concrete planning for what happens to public housing tenants while their homes are being rebuilt. Where will they go? Will they be able to return to this neighborhood?
Some 2,500 people live in Marina Vista and Alder Grove. SHRA Executive Director LaShelle Dozier says redevelopment is about more than just "tearing down physical buildings and then figuring out how to rebuild them."
The goal, ultimately, should be to revitalize the community, to provide residents with housing, plus jobs and educational opportunities, and to integrate them better with the surrounding neighborhood. SHRA wants tenants to have a shot at construction jobs that will be created as the housing is torn down and rebuilt, and at property management jobs after it's reoccupied, a chance to better their circumstances.
It sounds good in theory. But there must be a wider focus and meaningful input from residents, neighbors and businesses directly affected. Otherwise, all the good wishes and happy thoughts will remain just that.