If there is a worse stretch in downtown Sacramento than the 1000 block of J Street, it’s hard to imagine it. In the area between 10th and 11th streets, neglect flourishes and wretchedness thrives. It’s like a slice of Detroit-style urban blight right in the heart of the capital of California.
Most of the buildings on either side of the street have been shuttered for at least a decade. They have been vandalized and scavenged more times than anyone can count. From the street, you can see shattered windows where squatters apparently have entered the empty edifices to take refuge. Underneath the street is a once-sealed tunnel that has been breached and used for human habitation and drug use, according to downtown business leaders.
The 1000 block of J Street sits in stark contrast to the nearby Citizen Hotel, a jewel of downtown and one of the triumphs of Sacramento’s recent urban renewal. The block also is adjacent to Cesar Chavez Plaza, the struggling park across the street from City Hall that’s often overrun by homeless people and recent parolees of the Main Jail.
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City officials concede there’s a connection between the entropy of the 1000 block of J Street and Cesar Chavez Plaza. They acknowledge frustration that guests at the Citizen Hotel are confronted with decades-old decay. The stretch is not simply an eyesore. It’s a hazard.
“We’ve had to have city firefighters go into condemned buildings, which to me is the height of irresponsibility,” said City Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the area. “We need to figure out what we are going to do on this street because we can’t wait another decade.”
It has been 10 years since the street was zoned for high-rise development, Hansen said. The entitlements meant to clear the path for construction have been in place for years and extended repeatedly to give property owners more time to execute projects that would enliven the current dead zone. The Bee archives are full of stories alluding to exciting development that seemed just around the corner. But year after year, nothing good has ever happened.
The entitlements expire this year, and Hansen feels strongly that if there is no movement to build, then the city should allow them to expire. “We need to figure out a way to motivate (property owners),” Hansen said. “This is the worst block of downtown.”
It wouldn’t be surprising if the property owners presiding over this mess were classic real-estate speculators who lived far from Sacramento. But that’s not the case. On the side of the street where Copenhagen Scandinavian Interiors operated decades ago, the owners include Steve Eggert and Peter Geremia, development partners until they split professionally in 2015. They still share ownership in several properties in California, including those on the 1000 J Street block.
Both Eggert and Geremia are longtime Sacramento residents, business leaders and arts supporters. Eggert’s reputation is such that he is partnering with Facebook to open a massive $120 million apartment complex on 10 acres of land in Menlo Park.
On the other side of the street, where years ago the Broiler steakhouse would draw politicos, the string of blighted parcels is owned by the Saca family. Again, the Sacas are stalwarts in Sacramento. John Saca is best known around town for trying and failing to construct two 53-story skyscrapers on Capitol Mall.
When that project ran out of money in 2007, I stuck up for Saca in this column, praising him for attempting such audacious project in a city bereft of a distinctive skyline. To me, he seemed like a good guy who simply got clobbered by the recession. Since then, Saca has made news in other cities. Last year, the Wall Street Journal carried a story about Saca’s 15,000-square-foot “modernist” Beverly Hills mansion listed with a sale price of $48 million. “The Picasso in the gallery is negotiable,” the Journal wrote.
Saca reportedly bought the home, once owned by actor James Woods, for $8.5 million. It has a 22-seat theater, a 1,000-bottle wine cellar, three fully stocked bars and an entertainment pavilion with “not one but two fire pits,” wrote the Los Angeles Real Estate News.
Saca didn’t return my phone calls or emails. For years now, he hasn’t responded to interview requests from The Bee. People in Sacramento who know him say he’s focused on living and working in Southern California. Meanwhile, Eggert and Geremia remain fixtures in Sacramento.
Saca’s properties on J Street currently aren’t for sale. Meanwhile, Eggert and Geremia have had the buildings on the other side of the street listed for some time. There has been a feeling they are overpriced, Hansen said.
However, Greg Levi, a broker who represents the properties, said he is close to selling the parcels to another developer. The deal is not done, and Levi wouldn’t name the potential buyer, but he said the agreement could be “a couple of weeks” from being consummated.
“We have an accepted offer,” Levi said, adding that it has taken time to attract interest on the 1000 block of J Street because Sacramento’s high construction costs and low rents relative to the Bay Area have prevented developers from finding projects that pencil out.
It’s too early to tell what, if anything, this tentative deal will do for the block. Hansen said that even though the stretch is zoned for skyscrapers, he thinks midrise buildings offering mixed-affordability housing make more sense. “To do an apartment complex that is 80 percent market rate and 20 percent affordable, banks are eager to finance that,” he said.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of examples of successful construction in Sacramento, a place that badly needs apartments to ease a housing shortage in its urban core. The MAY Building opened in 2016 at 11th and K streets with higher-end apartments. Built without subsidies, it has been a success in every way except for the frequent complaints from its tenants about trespassers on the rooftops of buildings on the nearby 1000 block of J Street, Hansen said.
“Until the owners do something, we need to hold them accountable for the blight and social problems,” Hansen said.
He’s right. If change doesn’t come to the block soon, the city needs to act. This mess has dragged on long enough.