Imagine strolling on a trail along the Sacramento River, taking in the magic of a summer afternoon.
An egret floats majestically above the water. The cottonwood trees bend softly in the breeze. A boat skips across the river.
And there’s Darlene Jeffery, sitting in her living room, watching TV.
As easily as you can take in the river’s beauty, you can peer right into Jeffery’s home. Same goes for Wendy Murray’s yard or Harriet McKinnis’ pool. And that’s because the trail runs right behind their homes.
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Just a few miles from downtown, there are 110 riverfront homes in the Pocket, Greenhaven and Little Pocket neighborhoods that are sanctuaries. Some have docks and beaches.
“It’s a vacation home without being on vacation,” said McKinnis, who’s lived there since 1978.
But the city is seeking to change that life by constructing a public pathway on top of the levee that runs along the river. Homeowners hold the rights to the levee tops, along with the land that stretches from their yards to the river. The area is blocked to the public by fences.
The argument supporting a public trail is simple: the rivers are this city’s most treasured natural resources and everyone should have access to their shores. The city’s been trying for 40 years to run a trail through the Pocket, but it’s always been a tough sell to those who hold their private river access dearly.
The movement has momentum again. City officials think the trail could be built for $14.5 million and they’re offering Pocket residents $55,000 apiece for their levee rights. In Little Pocket, where the lots are bigger, the offer’s $77,000.
The city sent letters to homeowners asking if they’d be willing to sell. So far, just six have said they would.
Most will refuse. They argue that there’s already a lovely greenbelt running through the Pocket. Mostly, they’re worried about security. Rocks have been tossed into backyard pools. Patio doors have been shattered. One neighbor had the lemons stolen from her tree.
“You should be able to let your kids play in the backyard without being watched,” Murray said.
Others see it as a matter of fairness. Some of these people have lived there for 50 years. They’ve worked hard for this privilege.
Still, the riverfront residents think the trail is inevitable. They’re up against a strong public interest argument.
Set that aside for a moment and put yourself in Jeffery’s yard. It’s maybe 15 feet from the levee and there’s an unobstructed view into it from the path.
“Our world’s getting crazy,” she said, “but right now, this is safe.”
It was sunny and calm as she and her neighbors gathered to defend their unpopular stance. In other words, it was just the kind of day anyone would want to spend on the river.