Gov. Jerry Brown wants the state of California to get out of real-estate development in downtown Sacramento. Frankly, he’s right about that. State government should not be in the real-estate development business. But selling off dozens of state-owned blocks in midtown Sacramento can’t be done in the haphazard way the governor proposes without creating havoc for fragile neighborhoods. And it can’t be done without risking displacement of many current low-income elderly residents or freezing out new moderate- and low-income residents in the future.
The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday night unanimously endorsed a better alternative, a transition plan crafted by the Capitol Area Development Authority. Under that plan, the state would withdraw from the CADA joint powers authority and be replaced by a nonprofit entity. State government would sell its residential properties to the new JPA at a discounted price that recognizes CADA’s ongoing bond repayment obligations, continued requirement to provide affordable housing, good management practices and continued investment in the Capitol-area neighborhood. The governor, a former CADA renter himself, should follow the city’s lead on this one.
Working jointly with the state and the city of Sacramento, Brown helped create CADA more than 30 years ago to manage 42 blocks of mostly residential properties south of the Capitol. The state acquired the land in the 1960s, intending to raze the housing and erect office buildings. Fortunately, state government did not grow as quickly as anticipated back then.
So, CADA was tasked with refurbishing hundreds of units of rapidly deteriorating state-owned housing and keeping the area surrounding the Capitol from turning into a slum. It succeeded.
Under CADA’s leadership, Capitol-area neighborhoods have been revitalized, old houses and apartment buildings refurbished and dozens of new ones built. Rents are affordable to a robust mix of income levels. CADA took on stewardship for the entire neighborhood, not just its own properties. As CADA residents who testified before the City Council this week noted, downtown’s Fremont Park, once a 24-hour haven for miscreants, has been revitalized with a farmers market and annual “Chalk It Up” events. From new housing and retail to the community garden at Fremont Mews to the hip new streetscape along the R Street corridor, CADA has been instrumental in energizing the residential boom downtown.
The governor understands that better than almost anyone else or, at least, he should. In his first stint as governor in the 1970s, Brown lived downtown in a CADA-managed flat across from Capitol Park. He still lives downtown today. The difference between then and now is palpable – more people, more businesses, more vibrancy and an urban space that is safe, walkable and fun.
If the governor sells off state residential properties at the rate of five parcels a year, as he has proposed, there will be no regulatory system in place to make sure a quarter of the units remain affordable as state law requires now with CADA. Moreover, with the loss of rents, CADA has no way to subsidize low-income residents or pay off the authority’s $42 million in debt or its pension obligations or any money to reinvest with its private partners into continued improvements in Capitol-area neighborhoods.
Gov. Brown, you should consider taking a walk around your neighborhood. Think back to 1978 or to the 1960s when your dad occupied the old Governor’s Mansion. Sacramento’s urban core is so much better today. Don’t squander that progress.