This is an exciting and dynamic time for Sacramento. But as we celebrate and envision the future of our downtown, Capitol Towers – a historic neighborhood and urban oasis – is fighting for its life.
On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council is to decide whether most of the neighborhood, which has been a model for mid-20th-century mixed-use living, will be demolished in favor of a proposed project, Sacramento Commons.
Capitol Towers is not an empty lot. Located between Fifth and Seventh and N and P streets, it is an established community of children with single parents, people with disabilities and senior citizens. It also is home to a vital urban tree canopy, which cleans the air and helps counterbalance the heat island effect downtown. It has been a highly successful example of a livable, walkable, densely populated and public transit-oriented downtown district for more than 50 years.
It also is a historic district under federal and state law. It has been formally determined eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is on the California Register of Historical Resources. The city of Sacramento’s preservation director and commission determined it should be a landmark. Local and national experts have unanimously voted in favor of its historical importance.
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Historic districts offer a sense of place and are the cultural heart of our city. They make our cityscape vibrant and interesting as it grows and evolves. It’s the walk through time, the architectural diversity, the mix of the old with the new. Look no further than what is happening along R Street.
The City Council has the discretion to ask for stronger measures to protect this historic neighborhood. There are creative and innovative ways to increase housing on the site without destroying Capitol Towers. Workable alternatives have been proposed that achieve a balance of the historic district’s core, tree canopy and new housing.
Yet to date, efforts by the community to negotiate these alternatives have been refused by the proponents of Sacramento Commons, who have remained steadfast in their “all-or-nothing” stance.
This is a design problem that needs a design solution. With creativity and motivation, there are ways to add further housing in a manner that meets the mutual goals of the owner, the city and the community.
This is Sacramento’s chance to show true leadership and innovation – to choose what is genuinely the greatest public benefit for our city and its people. Density is our city’s destiny, but how we get there really matters.
The City Council has the power to end the vicious cycle of total destruction and displacement. A vote in favor of the historic district makes it possible for current and future owners to make use of historic rehabilitation tax credits. A decision not to cut up the district into tiny parcels and to explore viable alternatives can be a “win-win” for all.
We can and we should add housing in a way that doesn’t completely destroy a beautiful established neighborhood where people live, work and relax. The City Council should encourage the developers and the community to go to the drawing board together. Let’s add more housing the right way.
Gretchen Steinberg is president of Sacramento Modern, a nonprofit that advocates for preserving modern architecture and art.