Editorial: A neighborhood tries to fight back

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A

Last Thursday night, one set of neighborhood activists went before Sacramento school board members to plead with them to spare Maple Elementary School from closure. They failed. That same night, another group from the same neighborhood crowded into the Sacramento County Planning Commission meeting to ask commissioners to reject a proposal to build a halfway house for federal probationers just blocks away from Maple Elementary. This time the neighborhood prevailed.

It's understandable that residents of Lemon Hill or the Avenues or North Franklin – as the beleaguered south Sacramento community is variously known – feel like they are under siege. The challenges are unrelenting. A tiny quarter-square-mile of their neighborhood, the subject of a recent investigation by The Bee, experiences more assaults with firearms and more shootings into dwellings than any other similarly sized neighborhood in Sacramento County. A few months ago, business leaders fended off plans to build a homeless shelter at Fruitridge and Franklin in the heart of the area's commercial district. Last September, the largest employer in the vicinity, Campbell Soup, announced it was pulling out. It closes down for good in July, taking 760 jobs along with it.

So, what's next for this neighborhood? How does it pull itself out of its downward spiral?

A newly invigorated North Franklin Business Improvement District is one hopeful sign. Composed of some 600 businesses stretching along Franklin Boulevard between Broadway on the north to just above Florin Road in the south, the district is working on its own economic development plan. Executive Director Marti Brown says the first step is a thorough assessment of such things as education, unemployment, accumulation of wealth, access to capital, and health care, all indicators of community well-being. From that assessment, Brown says, the district will create its own economic plan.

She reminds those who ask that the neighborhood has assets that are often overlooked, including a large number of independent small businesses, two dozen or so of which have been in place more than 50 years. A significant cluster of Latino businesses, in particular, gives the area a distinct flavor. In the 1950s and '60s, old-timers remember, the area around Fruitridge and Franklin was called "El Barrio Alegre," the happy neighborhood.

Even what appears to be a deficit, the closure of Campbell Soup, can become an asset. The 125-acre Campbell site has its own co-generation plant, huge refrigeration capacity, warehouse space and sewer and power hook-ups already in place. A rail line runs through it. It has easy access to freeways. Why can't it be a center of the farm-to-table economy that so many in the region talk about?

If there is one thing that works against renewing the area, it's the fact that a big swath of its most troubled parts lie within a finger-like shaft of Sacramento County, just a few blocks wide, surrounded on all sides by the city of Sacramento. Straddling city and county lines as they do, property owners and residents are often confused about where accountability lies, which planning agency to appeal to, what zoning rules and building fees apply and which elected officials to hold accountable for problems.

Annexing the troubled neighborhood into the city sometime in the future makes sense. But until that happens, local elected officials, especially Supervisor Jimmy Yee, who represents the bulk of the area, need to pay much closer attention. As recent events have shown, the residents and business owners have been awakened. They are tired of being dumped on. They are energized, eager to chart their own future and looking to their elected officials for assistance. They deserve that much and more.

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