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News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

Ryan Lillis

There’s a piece of paper in a glass display case behind the counter at Mercury Cleaners – evidence of a family’s 20 years of labor and care. It is Daniel Kang’s acceptance letter into the London School of Economics.

Kang’s parents, Helen and Tom, have built a life for their family by pressing and washing clothes at the midtown dry-cleaning shop with the retro sign. They are proud of Daniel and his Berkeley-educated brother. And they are proud when they think of all the men and women who head to their own important jobs every day, dressed in shirts and suits washed at Mercury Cleaners.

“This is my life,” Helen Kang said.

It is crashing around her.

City of Sacramento
A view of a proposed $36.5 million renovation of the Community Center Theater from L Street in downtown Sacramento.

The city of Sacramento is considering another hefty investment in a downtown destination.

Faced with an aging facility that is falling behind competitors in the region, city officials have drawn up a $36.5-million renovation of the Community Center Theater on L Street. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the plan at its meeting Thursday, less than a month before it is expected to approve contributing $258 million in public money to a new sports arena at Downtown Plaza.

The theater has remained in mostly the same state as it was the day it opened in 1976. It has small restrooms, a cramped lobby, poor stage systems and does not fully comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, according to a city staff report.

Fran Halbakken with the City Manager’s Office said the upgrades being recommended would keep the theater competitive and attractive to performing arts groups for at least eight to 10 years. But others, including Richard Lewis, the executive producer of the California Musical Theatre, said the upgrades would remain useful for much longer.


A plan to replace Sutter Memorial Hospital in east Sacramento with a development of up to 120 homes was met with glowing reviews Tuesday night by the Sacramento City Council, which unanimously approved the project after just 20 minutes of debate.

The Sutter Park project will replace the 20-acre hospital surrounded by quiet, tree-lined streets. Sutter Memorial, which will be moved to Sutter’s expanding midtown campus in the coming months, has been the site of thousands of births over the decades and is affectionately known as Sacramento’s “baby hospital.”

“Sutter Memorial undoubtedly has a legacy in this region,” Sutter Medical Center CEO Carrie Owen Plietz said.

Still, residents don’t appear to be upset that it’s closing. The Sutter Park development was warmly received by neighbors and community associations. After some initial concern about what would replace the heavily used hospital campus, neighbors applauded the development team’s willingness to make changes they wanted.

Randy Pench/
The Broadway Triangle is a $12 million investment in Oak Park’s future. You could argue it’s also a $12 million gamble.
Ryan Lillis

Ed Roehr and Janel Inouye skipped the trendy blocks of midtown and downtown last year when searching for a new home. The founders of the popular Magpie Cafe probably could have afforded those neighborhoods – or just about any other in the city.

They wanted to be part of something different. They landed in Oak Park.

“This is where we want to bring our passion,” Roehr said.

And now, they’re pioneers. Roehr, Inouye, and their 2-year-old son, Julian, just moved into a new brownstone on a block of Broadway that was barren for years. It’s part of the Broadway Triangle, a development under construction that will feature upscale townhomes, shops and restaurants.

GVC21T654.3Staff Photographer
Randall Benton/
The pedestrian tunnel that runs under I-5 to connect Old Sacramento and Downtown Plaza will get new lighting, which business officials say will help the historic district compete with the redevelopment surrounding the planned Kings arena.
GVC21T665.3Staff Photographer
Randall Benton/
Sacramento plans to spend more than $20 million for projects in its historic riverfront district, and the replacement of the wooden boardwalk, above, will be among the first. The city also will add a point of entry Old Sacramento, which is expected to see a surge of traffic when the planned Kings arena opens.

Old Sacramento, where the city has fought back floods and fires for 160 years, is facing new challenges from all sides.

At one end, city officials are moving ahead with a plan to tear out the district’s historic-looking riverfront boardwalk. Disability access issues and rising maintenance costs have prompted city officials to spend $5 million to replace the railroad ties that make up the boardwalk with a more modern, durable surface.

While that work is underway, the city expects to start building a new $448 million NBA arena three blocks east of Old Sacramento.

Business owners, restaurateurs and city officials say they’re confident the arena will be a boon to Old Sac, but they also worry about negative impacts. Some say cars streaming in for arena events could clog the access points for Old Sacramento. A city report predicted some businesses could take a financial hit because of “a real or perceived lack of parking.”

Lezlie Sterling/
Bee file. Mariam Azarchehr,works out at California Family Fitness in Citrus Heights, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2009.

But will there be a pool for the mermaids?

California Family Fitness has announced that it will open a new health club on K Street the week of April 28. The club will stand next to Dive Bar – also known as the “mermaid bar” – along a stretch of restaurants and bars on the 1000 block of K Street.

Randy Karr, president of California Family Fitness, said “this location will be a great addition to the downtown community.”

City officials have sought to attract more amenities to downtown in an attempt to lure residential development.

GUG211379.4Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./
Bonnie Pannell has a rare neurological illness that affects her speech.

Sacramento Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell told her colleagues on Tuesday that she will step down after 16 years in office.

Pannell’s doctor told The Bee on Monday that the councilwoman suffers from primary progressive aphasia, a rare neurological disorder that can hamper speech and communication skills. Pannell said the condition has not hurt her cognitive abilities or mobility.

The veteran councilwoman has spoken less at City Council meetings and public events in recent months.

“I’m not going to tell you my story today,” Pannell told the City Council. “I just want to announce that I will be retiring.”

LPAS Architecture/D&S Development
An eight-story residential tower is planned for the corner of 15th and I streets in downtown Sacramento.

A developer has submitted plans for an eight-story residential tower kitty-corner from Memorial Auditorium in downtown Sacramento.

D&S Development is planning to construct the i15 complex at the corner of 15th and I streets, at the site of a former auto repair shop. The 80-unit building will include a rooftop terrace with views of the downtown skyline and two floors of penthouse-style, multi-level units.

The ground floor of the building is slated to include about 3,400 square feet of retail, said Bay Miry of D&S.

The project is scheduled for review by the city’s Planning and Design Commission on April 24. The development team needs the city’s approval to construct a building taller than 65 feet within the commercial zone where the project is planned. Approval is also needed for the developers “to provide less than 100 square feet of open space per (residential) unit,” according to city development department documents.

Ryan Lillis

Should the construction of an arena at Downtown Plaza unearth a burial ground of the Miwok Indian tribe, those relics will be preserved. Same goes for fossils or artifacts from an early city settlement.

Should the Pre-Flite Lounge – which has the misfortune of sitting directly where the new arena is planned – also be spared?

It’s a relic to its regulars, but it’s just a bar. Or is it also something more?

This drinking spot buried beneath L Street is a remnant of Sacramento before craft brews and farm-to-fork. Here you find $2 beef jerky, a baby grand piano, safe conversation and, yes, cheap drinks. The Pre-Flite is uniquely Sacramento, just as the arena’s designers insist their facility will be.

The Public Eye
The Public Eye

Sacramento city officials say they’ve kept their word about how they would spend money raised by increasing the city’s sales tax.

In the first year that the one-half percent increase in sales tax has been collected, the city added nearly two dozen parks maintenance workers, placed more than 40 new police officers on the streets and identified money to end the controversial cost-cutting measure of closing down fire rigs on a rotating basis.

Still, some critics wonder whether the city could be doing more to properly oversee how the estimated $27 million a year in new tax money is being spent. A committee tasked with examining the expenses was slow to come together, critics charge, and is only now beginning to look at revenue spent last year.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Measure U in 2012, agreeing to raise the city’s sales tax rate to 8.5 percent. The tax increase will expire in March 2019.

Sacramento’s Planning and Design Commission is scheduled to vote on the planned downtown arena project at its April 10 meeting, the city announced today.

Among the issues scheduled for debate by the commission are the arena’s environmental impact report; the project’s design; a development agreement between the Kings and the city; guidelines for the 1.5 million square feet of development the Kings are planning around the arena; various zoning permits; and a plan for the Kings to construct seven electronic billboards around the city.

If the commission approves the project, it will be forwarded to the City Council in late April or early May. In addition to the development plans and environmental report, the council must also approve a proposal to commit $258 million in public money to the $448 million facility.

Nathaniel Levine/
Once the location of a Macy’s men’s and furniture store, this building is slated to be demolished for a proposed basketball arena.

The financial firms that controlled the former Macy’s men’s clothing store have appealed a Sacramento judge’s ruling to grant control of the property to the city of Sacramento and the Kings through eminent domain.

That property, awarded to the city on March 20, takes up much of the footprint for a planned $448 million arena at Downtown Plaza.

An attorney representing the holders of mortgage certificates of the vacant building said in a filing with the 3rd District Court of Appeal on Thursday that the city did not make a proper offer for the building and undervalued the property.

The city assessed the building at roughly $4.35 million, but the mortgage representatives placed the value at $10 million. The Kings will ultimately pay for the building, not the city.

About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at

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Note: The City Beat blog switched blog platforms in September 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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