Hop on a bike at Discovery Park just north of downtown Sacramento, and it’s clear riding along the scenic banks of the American River all the way to Folsom.
Heading south along the Sacramento River? You’d better bring a map.
But after years of debates and delays, Sacramento city officials said Tuesday they have finally identified 110 pieces of private land they need to acquire in the Pocket, Greenhaven and Little Pocket neighborhoods to create a riverfront trail stretching from downtown to the city’s southern border. The city also has an estimate for how much that property acquisition and construction of the path would cost: $14.5 million.
“I believe in public access,” said Councilman Darrell Fong, who represents the Pocket and has worked to develop the riverfront plan for three years. “You can’t tell me having access on the rivers all the way to Folsom wouldn’t be an attribute for people who live here.”
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This is a debate that has raged in the city’s riverfront neighborhoods for decades. The discussion was resurrected at City Hall every few years, only to be shelved when the attention turned toward the controversial task of purchasing easements along the river levee from property owners who have staked claims to the waterfront.
Even today, many homeowners are defiant of the plan, saying they would rather move than sell a part of their backyards for a riverfront trail. City officials said they may use eminent domain to acquire land from the holdouts.
“No one is selling,” said Rosie Walker, who has lived in a home backing up to the Sacramento River in the Pocket for 50 years. “I don’t want to live here with people looking down into my kitchen windows or living room. Who wants people looking into their home?”
Other neighborhood residents support the concept.
“It’s a beautiful walk along the river and then you hit those gates,” said Greenhaven resident Chris Thoma. “I realize there were a lot of reasons things were set up the way they were, but it’s odd.”
More than a dozen supporters of the plan attended a City Council hearing Tuesday night, describing a neighborhood that is eager to reclaim access to a natural amenity.
“We’re concerned that the progress has been painfully slow,” former Mayor and Councilwoman Anne Rudin told the council.
Mary de Beauvieres, a principal planner with the city’s parks department, said the city will begin contacting homeowners along the river over the next two months to determine how many are willing to sell.
For now, public riverfront access in south Sacramento is broken into clusters of fenced-off stretches and unpaved levee trails. A paved bike path runs from downtown to the Westin Sacramento on Riverside Boulevard, where it suddenly ends.
From there, cyclists, joggers and walkers are forced to maneuver into the quiet Little Pocket neighborhood or travel along Riverside Boulevard for nearly a mile before a paved riverfront trail starts up again. But that path ends again after a short stretch in Greenhaven, blocked to the public by gates and chain-link fences.
Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the Little Pocket, said public safety is the chief concern of his constituents who live along the river. Hansen said one longtime resident was attacked on the levee behind his home.
As a result, Hansen said he wants the riverfront trail to bypass Little Pocket and instead has proposed creating a two-lane protected bike path along Riverside Boulevard from the Westin to Greenhaven.
“I know some people feel righteous about wanting this, but it has to meet the reality of the facts on the ground,” Hansen said in an interview. “We need to investigate whether there’s an alternate route that’s a better use of public resources. If we really wanted this, we should have long ago purchased those properties.”
Fong said the city would try to ease public safety concerns. He said the park would be closed at night and that the city would explore increasing patrols by park rangers.
In the meantime, city officials are confident they’ll succeed in coming up with the funding for the trail.
De Beauvieres, the city parks planner, said the California State Lands Commission administers grants for local governments building access to waterways. That money can be used only to buy property from willing sellers.
Fong said he expects many residents will not want to sell and that eminent domain – in which the city goes to court to wrestle control of land – will be explored.
“Eminent domain is for public use and ownership,” he said. “I don’t know what fits that criteria more than this.”
Still, Fong is preaching a patient approach.
“We’d rather work with people than fight with people,” he said. “I understand some of the concerns, but I have to look at the greater good.”
A path along the southern shore of the American River – across the river from the American River Bike Trail – is also incomplete, but city officials offered an optimistic view of its future on Tuesday.
The city has been awarded more than $3 million in grants to complete a paved trail to connect Sutter’s Landing Park in midtown with the California State University, Sacramento, campus.
Before construction can begin, the city must gain approval from Union Pacific to run the trail under a railway trestle near the Capital City Freeway. Aaron Hunt, a Union Pacific spokesman, said Tuesday the railroad has “exchanged some initial information with the city,” but that “it is premature to speculate about any potential real estate transactions.”