City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

City Beat: Is Sacramento overcoming its envy of other cities?

08/11/2014 12:00 AM

08/11/2014 8:53 AM

Studying the innovative things another city does is one thing. Then there’s the decade-long obsession Sacramento has had with Portland, Ore.

A lot of you have probably been to Portland. I just went for the first time last week, when Sacramento was making its pitch for a spot in Major League Soccer at the league’s all-star game.

It’s a great city, with a functional and vibrant downtown. There are eclectic, walkable neighborhoods in every direction. They have so many food trucks that the locals complain the product is getting watered down. There’s terrific craft beer and a couple of sports stadiums near the center of town. Their well-run light-rail system even goes to the airport.

But it’s not nearly as diverse as Sacramento. The weather stinks in the winter. And they don’t even have parklets!

Still, our obsession with that city runs deep. Business groups have been going up there for years on “study missions.” In 2008, three candidates for mayor – including former Mayor Heather Fargo – said Sacramento should try to resemble Portland. (Fargo later said she was mad at herself for not saying Sacramento should emulate itself.)

My trip up there had me wondering: When do we get to the point when Sacramento stops envying other cities? Will we ever reach that point?

I turned to Clay Nutting and Michael Thiemann for their thoughts.

Nutting is one of the guys behind the restaurant LowBrau in midtown. His crew also has organized those concerts on 20th Street during Second Saturdays, like the party they had over the weekend that drew another huge crowd. And they’re putting together TBD Fest, a music festival in West Sac this fall.

He sees this as an important moment for Sacramento. Young people aren’t fleeing for the Bay Area or Portland like they once did. A lot of that has to do with Sacramento’s affordability, but there’s more, he said.

“For every city that we may think we aspire to be, there are hundreds of them that would probably be knocking themselves over to be in the position we’re in right now,” Nutting told me. “We’re coming to the realization that what we have are things that are unique to us.”

Thiemann sees it, too. He’s the chef and owner of another restaurant, Mother. He thinks Sacramento is a blank slate, where a guy can open a vegetarian restaurant on K Street of all places and make it work.

“You can dream up whatever you want and make it happen,” he said. “That era of envy? It’s dead.”

Some might call this cheerleading. They’ll say Sacramento still has a long way to go to earn the cachet of a place like Portland. And they’re right; we fall short in a lot of ways.

But that doesn’t stop any of us from thinking about the day when our envy of another city turns into pity.

About This Blog

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

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at or 916-321-1085. Twitter: @Ryan_Lillis.

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