Sacramento votes to use eminent domain on properties for Pocket-area bike trail

Don Murphy and his grandson Johnny Brewer, 5,  walk the levee at his home in Sacramento in 2018. Murphy’s home is along the Sacramento River, and he owns the levee there. The city voted Tuesday to use eminent domain to take control of the levee behind his home and build a paved bike trail.
Don Murphy and his grandson Johnny Brewer, 5, walk the levee at his home in Sacramento in 2018. Murphy’s home is along the Sacramento River, and he owns the levee there. The city voted Tuesday to use eminent domain to take control of the levee behind his home and build a paved bike trail. rbenton@sacbee.com

Six property owners in Sacramento’s Pocket area are faced with giving up portions of their lots to the city after council members voted Tuesday to use eminent domain to clear the way for a paved bike-and-pedestrian trail atop the levee.

Eminent domain, rarely used in Sacramento in recent years, means the city would provide compensation to property owners while permanently acquiring the land needed, ranging between 2,224 and 6,533 square feet at each parcel, for use on the Sacramento River Parkway project.

The city has had plans to develop a continuous Sacramento River Parkway, a multi-use trail spanning the west edge of the Pocket through Freeport, for more than 50 years.

The use of eminent domain in this instance calls for easements at seven properties on Pocket Road, along a 1.85-mile stretch between Arabella Way and Garcia Bend Park. The paved portion of the riverside trail currently runs south of the park to Freeport Boulevard.

The seven lots are owned by a total of six owners.

Before the resolution passed by unanimous vote Tuesday evening, two of the affected property owners and a representative on behalf of a third owner spoke at the meeting to air concerns.

“I have never spoken to a city staff member. I don’t even know what they look like until just now,” resident Donald Murphy told council members at Tuesday’s meeting. “How could they assess the injury to myself, and my neighbors, on the loss of our property to eminent domain? ... How is this analysis done?”

Another resident, Jack Gullans, said Tuesday evening he had concerns about privacy, vandalism and liability, and he says the trail will increase the frequency of issues he is already facing.

“Twice I’ve had to cut down ropes from my trees,” Gullans said. “People are putting out ropes and swinging out over the water. People could drown out there, and (the trees are) my property. I’m not talking about the easement.”

Murphy and others who spoke also referenced homeless issues, pointing to the high density of homeless encampments that have popped up along American River Parkway bike trails.

Supporters of the project say that completion of the project is long overdue and represents public benefits including riverside recreation and cyclist safety. The resolution states the trail will enhance public safety “by creating an off-street bicycle and pedestrian route separate from vehicular travel.”

Currently, cyclists traveling along the Sacramento River must venture onto residential streets when the trail ends — near Scott’s Seafood on the river on the north end of the Pocket, and at Garcia Bend Park in the south.

“I’ve been in the Pocket area since 1986 — 33 years — and I have always supported this project,” Councilman Rick Jennings, who represents the Pocket-Greenhaven area, said Tuesday evening. “It did not make sense that I could go to Garcia Bend and go east and go all the way on the trail, but go west and then not be able to go on the trail. ... I do feel strongly it is time to move forward.”

Jennings’ chief of staff, Dennis Rogers, said on Wednesday that the project dates to 1969, when approval of North Pocket and South Pocket community plans provided for the Sacramento River Parkway.

The project crawled along for decades, through multiple city councils.

In 1975, the city adopted a master plan for the parkway, and in 1977, new design and development standards kept properties from encroaching on the levee space intended for the trail.

The last formal action regarding the trail, Rogers said, came in summer 2017, when a trail improvement project was established in order to acquire easement rights for the Central Pocket Levee Trail Project.

Rogers said that if the Sacramento River Parkway were divvied up into thirds, the existing stretch south of Garcia Bend Park would be the lower third, and the proposed area that’s affected by the easements would be the middle or central third. The upper third, connecting the trail at Arabella Way to the north end of the Pocket, will be the next phase of the project, Rogers said.

Rogers said there were nine lots in the way of the proposed, 1.85-mile “middle third” stretch, but the city reached a voluntary agreement on one lot and is currently finalizing an agreement on another. The next step for the city is to try to sway the remaining six property owners toward voluntary sales to avoid easements on the seven properties, Rogers said.

The resolution calls for more than $850,000 of the funds to be allocated toward the parkway project, much of which would be used toward the easements. About $370,000 of that total comes from Measure U, about $275,000 comes from the city’s general fund and $210,000 comes from a previous settlement agreement with Caltrans.

The resolution stipulates that one of the easements will pay property owners a maximum of $136,000 for 4,388 square feet of land on one parcel. The amounts for the other easements are subject to pending appraisals.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.