The year they started talking about opening a 6-mile stretch of the Sacramento River levee in the Pocket, the Kings franchise was splitting its home games between Kansas City, Mo., and Omaha, Neb. Sacramento had 200,000 fewer residents than it does today. And the tallest building in town was the state Capitol.
It was 1975.
“After 40 years, it’s time to see some movement,” Rick Jennings said.
Jennings is the latest person at City Hall to carry this burden. He’s represented the Pocket and Greenhaven on the City Council for less than a year, but he’s already fully involved in a debate pitting those who want access to the river against a few dozen homeowners.
A public parkway that has been the vision of city leaders since the 1970s to link downtown with the Pocket has never come true. That’s because some riverfront homeowners in the Pocket possess property rights to the land that stretches from their backyards to the river, including the top of the levee, where a trail would be built. In some places, chain-link fences block access to areas where the land is private.
Homeowners have long resisted handing over control of their levee rights to the city. Many are afraid that building a public parkway – like the one along the American River – will invite crime into their yards. They tell stories of intruders coming through their patio doors or throwing rocks at their pets. They’ve also come to enjoy a pastoral and scenic existence; lots of these homeowners have docks or picnic areas facing the river.
The vision for a parkway got a boost last year when Jennings’ predecessor, Darrell Fong, helped secure millions of dollars in state grants. But the plan relied upon homeowners being willing to sell their levee rights for $55,000 apiece. So far, just two of the 71 homeowners in the Pocket and Greenhaven have agreed.
The plan appears to be inching forward again now.
The City Council approved $324,000 in the current year budget to pay for design work and environmental studies to extend the trail about a quarter-mile. That stretch begins at Garcia Bend Park and heads up-river to a massive sump station that empties storm water from the neighborhood. From there, the river trail would connect to the greenbelt that runs through the middle of the neighborhood.
After that work is done, Jennings said he is hopeful that reluctant homeowners will start to buy into the parkway vision. His next planned phase would extend the trail another 2.5 miles – to a public access point off Arabella Way – and would require nine homeowners to sell their riverfront rights.
Jennings appears sympathetic to the worries of those whose homes border the river. He’s critical of people who go up on the levee and confront homeowners. He organized a community meeting last week to urge residents to stop trespassing on the privately owned sections of the path. He insists opening the levee to the public – and dedicating cops and park rangers to the trail – would improve the safety of the area.
“I can’t justify opening this thing up and putting people in danger,” Jennings said. But, he added, “I don’t want fear to rule us.”
Jennings said he is willing to be patient, to a point. He’ll probably wait another two years before exploring eminent domain – taking the river easements by legal force. But at this point, that seems like where this is headed.
“This is too beautiful an amenity to not let everyone enjoy it,” Jennings said.