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Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee file
Mark Bosley of Orland appears in character as part of the 2nd California Cavalry Company F Sacramento Rangers outside River City Saloon during Gold Rush Days in 2013. Organizers canceled this year’s event because of drought concerns – and drew criticism for the action.
G422NRNM4.8Staff Photographer
Randall Benton/
Participants stand in Old Sacramento surrounded by gunsmoke during the Gold Rush Days event in 2012. Organizers said performers could not be assured of safety without the traditional layer of dirt on the streets.

Old Sacramento business owners aren’t the only people upset with the cancellation of the annual Gold Rush Days festival.

Mayor Kevin Johnson and some members of the City Council had sharp words for City Manager John Shirey on Tuesday night about the city’s decision to cancel the festival over drought concerns.

The streets of Old Sacramento are covered in dirt every Labor Day weekend to create an 1850s feel for Gold Rush Days. That effort requires 3,000 gallons of water a day to keep the dust in place, plus another 100,000 gallons of water at the end of the event to wash away the dirt.

The mayor and City Council were not notified in advance of the decision to cancel the event, which draws more than 100,000 visitors to Old Sacramento and is a major economic boost to the businesses in the historic district.

Jose Luis Villegas/
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s latest proposal for a strong-mayor system of government has met with opposition from the League of Women Voters.

It’s more than three months until the November election. But clearly, the looming political campaign over whether Sacramento should transform its style of governance is on the minds of some groups.

The Sacramento chapter of the League of Women Voters has sent a letter to Mayor Kevin Johnson and the City Council expressing its opposition to Johnson’s “strong mayor” measure that will appear on the November ballot. The League has also offered to write the opposition ballot argument against the measure, dubbed the Checks and Balances Act of 2014.

The City Council voted 5-4 in November to place Johnson’s proposal on the ballot.

Under the plan, many of the day-to-day responsibilities currently held by the unelected city manager would transition to the mayor, including the authority to propose the city budget. The mayor would also be able to appoint the city manager – pending City Council approval – and could remove the city manager unilaterally.

Ryan Lillis

The battles in Sacramento aren’t always about arenas or condo towers. Sometimes, they’re over something as simple as a house in an alley.

Erica and Nathan Cunningham are learning that lesson again as they try to build a home facing an alley behind D Street in midtown.

The problem? The two-story home would be 8 feet taller than a cottage in the adjacent yard. Neighbors also don’t like that the Cunninghams want to build something modern. Most of the other houses on D Street are pretty old and small.

And so it was that the city Planning Commission – a powerful bunch that can make or break massive developments – spent 75 minutes on Thursday discussing a home in an alley.


Bay Area retailer Sports Basement has revived its interest in opening a downtown Sacramento store just as city officials are attempting to buy a building the company eyed as recently as last year.

The city is in negotiations to purchase a property at 730 I St. from Sacramento County, city officials said Tuesday. The county has owned the 70,000-square-foot building since 1996 and reached a deal in 2011 to sell the property to Sports Basement.

That deal fell through last year.

Ariel Parrish, a Sports Basement spokeswoman, would not say which property the company is interested in purchasing. However, she said, “Sports Basement is actively pursuing options to buy a building in the downtown corridor and open a store in 2015.”

Ryan Lillis

David Williams is a grown man now. But when he was just a kid, he’d run up and down 24th Street in Meadowview with his friends all the time, unafraid of what the street could do to him.

If a neighbor saw him, they’d call his mom, just to make sure everything was cool. People looked out for one another back then.

Now Williams has three kids of his own – two girls and a little boy. He’s raising them in Elk Grove. It may as well be another world.

“I don’t bring them over here at all,” he said this week.

Hector Amezcua/
Dave Kelley of Sacramento removes a shopping cart away from an illegal dump before removing the waste on Lindley Drive in Sacramento.

Hercules Johnson has watched the same cycle over and over again for the 26 years he’s lived in North Sacramento.

Piles of garbage show up on the street or behind the corner store. And before the city can do anything about it, the piles keep growing.

“Once someone puts something there, someone else adds to it more and more,” Johnson said Wednesday morning, sitting in his front yard on Ponderosa Lane. “If they see a pile, they add to it. And when you come home, you have to look at all that trash.”

City officials are attempting to tackle that scourge, especially in North Sacramento, where more than a quarter of the roughly 130 illegal dumping cases opened by code enforcement officers this year have occurred.

Ryan Lillis/
Mercury Cleaners, the family-owned dry cleaner on 16th Street in Sacramento, will move into a new location across the street. Lawyers worked for free to negotiate a new lease for the shop after the state ordered the current store to be closed due to environmental concerns.

Mercury Cleaners, the midtown dry cleaner with a long list of loyal customers, has been rescued.

The family-owned shop with the recognizable sign on 16th Street was in trouble this spring after state officials found contaminated soil and groundwater at the site. Helen and Tom Kang, the couple who have owned the store for 20 years, were told they had just weeks to close.

After reading about the Kangs’ ordeal in The Sacramento Bee, a group of lawyers and environmental consultants represented the family for free and helped negotiate a lease in a new shop across the street from Mercury’s current location.

State officials have also helped. The Capitol Area Development Authority, which overseas many properties on that stretch of 16th Street, gave the family a break on their rent at the current site. The development agency has also offered to restore the Mercury Cleaners sign and move it to the new shop across 16th Street, in the newly built Legado de Ravel complex.

Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson

Mayor Kevin Johnson on Tuesday appointed a committee of Sacramento City Council members to explore what changes would need to be made to the city government should voters pass a “strong mayor” ballot measure in November.

The Checks and Balances Act of 2014 would transfer many of the daily operations now handled by the city manager to the mayor’s office. Johnson has attempted for more than five years to pass similar measures.

Johnson appointed Council members Angelique Ashby, Allen Warren and Jay Schenirer to a “transition planning ad hoc committee.” Johnson will also serve on the board, which will report to the City Council with its findings beginning next month.

GG02GND83.3Staff Photographer
Randall Benton/
Bird house on a utility pole in Sacramento on Friday, June 20, 2014. Someone has placed bird houses on public utility poles in the midtown area. Utility officials are required to remove them, but those with birds living in them will have to be dealt with some other way.
Ryan Lillis

The package arrived on my desk from an unknown sender. The return address was listed simply as 3rd and O streets.

The box wasn’t ticking, so I opened it up. And there it was, right before my eyes: a big, glorious birdhouse.

“enjoyed the article,” a typed note inside the box read. “no harm no fowl.”

Police officers and sergeants in the city of Sacramento will begin paying into their pensions after an arbitrator’s ruling last month, officials said Thursday. Those officers were the only city employees who did not pay anything into their retirement accounts.

The ruling ends months of disagreements between the city and the union representing police in Sacramento.

As a result of the June 16 ruling, police officers and sergeants will pay the full employee share of their pension contributions, which amounts to 9 percent of their salaries. Police will also pay an additional 3 percent of their salaries to cover part of a city-funded employer share.

In exchange, police officers will receive 3 percent annual salary increases in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Sergeants will get 2.33 percent raises in those years.

Basketball hall of famer Michael Jordan will be the featured guest at Sunday’s annual banquet for St. Hope, the nonprofit organization founded by Mayor Kevin Johnson.

The sold-out event will be held at the Sacramento Convention Center. Jordan is scheduled to speak from 7:40 p.m. to 7:55 p.m.

Johnson founded St. Hope in 1989. The organization focues on education efforts, development and the arts in Oak Park, where Johnson grew up.

Ryan Lillis

Some people play golf on the weekends or go wine tasting. I have a buddy who fixes up old Studebakers.

Carrie Holler? Her hobby is taking care of a gang of feral cats that lives in some bushes near the Sacramento River.

“I’m totally not a crazy cat lady,” she said.

She certainly doesn’t seem like one. Holler is a state worker who drives a nice little Volkswagen. She rides her bike on the weekends and has lots of friends.

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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