Oak Park progress continues, but challenges persist

Standing near Broadway and 35th Street in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood on a recent afternoon, Sacramento City Councilman Jay Schenirer surveyed a complex of rowhouses, lofts and storefronts rising from what used to be a blighted, empty lot.

Nearby, patrons were eating lunch at the popular Old Soul coffee shop, a crew was working on a supper club-style restaurant and a former beauty salon was being emptied from an 88-year-old building so it could be remade into a brewery and eatery.

“I think this is going to be the coolest corner in the city,” Schenirer said.

By the end of next year, this three-block stretch of Broadway should be home to 29 new housing units, eclectic shops and three new restaurants.

Ron Vrilakas, an architect who is behind the $12 million Broadway Triangle development, said he wants Oak Park to be a citywide destination that’s as walkable as midtown. Three rowhouses already completed have been sold, he said, and the retail tenants expressing interest in storefronts that will line Broadway include artists and a builder of custom bicycles.

“We want people to see things here that they can’t see anywhere else,” said Vrilakas, whose project received $8 million in city redevelopment money.

One block east on Broadway, Tom Karvonen and his business partners are awaiting the city’s approval to open the Oak Park Brewing Company. The restaurant, in a 1925 building that was most recently a beauty salon, will have room for 60 patrons inside and an outside beer garden for 80 more.

“We love what’s going on (in Oak Park) and we want to be part of it,” he said.

But in this neighborhood, where crime has plagued many blocks for generations, problem pockets remain. One apartment building, in particular, is drawing complaints.

Some Oak Park stalwarts – including the former and current heads of the neighborhood association – say they’re frustrated by ongoing criminal activity at an apartment building at Third Avenue and 32nd Street, just three blocks from the Broadway Triangle project. They described the apartment building as a bellwether for the neighborhood’s overall health.

“We’re so close to turning the corner,” said Tom Sumpter, former president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association and a resident of the area for more than 20 years. “But buildings like that one are holding us back.”

Police have been called to the apartment complex more than 60 times since the beginning of 2012, records show. Many of the calls have been for drug activity and violent behavior.

At this point, with the calls for police service continuing, some in the neighborhood want nothing short of the city wrestling the property away from the current landlord. Others want the apartment complex torn down.

“Oak Park is changing rapidly, and this sticks out,” said the neighborhood association’s current president, Michael Boyd.

Schenirer and other city officials said they have made progress in improving conditions at the building. The city attorney’s office hit the complex’s owner, C & M Properties, with $14,500 in fines for allowing public nuisances and criminal activity at the site, according to a citation the city filed in July through its Justice For Neighbors program.

C & M’s owner, Din Wong, settled with the city and agreed to pay a fine of $6,500. Under the agreement, Wong agreed to hire a property-management company to screen new tenants for criminal backgrounds and installed closed-circuit security cameras at the building, documents show.

“The property owner is on notice that if additional criminal activity occurs, additional penalties will be imposed,” said Gustavo Martinez, a supervising deputy city attorney. “We think we’ve done the community policing effort to turn the tide.”

The police are still being called to the apartment regularly – including 17 times since July. But Martinez pointed out that most of the recent police responses have been for nonviolent behavior and just one of the incidents involved drugs.

An attorney for C & M would not comment. Wong could not be reached; the address listed for the company in city documents is a mailbox inside a UPS Store in Land Park. Two other addresses linked to the company in public records do not exist, and another was a home on Freeport Boulevard where no one answered the door on Thursday.

Jefferson Reynolds, a 12-year resident of Oak Park, said he’s pleased with the development on Broadway and other progress in the neighborhood. He and others said they were wary of bringing attention to the troubled apartment complex, worried that it would take focus away from the positive changes in the area.

But, he said, “We just want good neighbors.”

Councilman Schenirer, who represents the area, said he sympathizes with the frustrated residents.

“This is their neighborhood, and I give them a lot of credit for being there and taking this on,” he said.

Schenirer acknowledged there are “landlords that are not good actors” in the area. He said he is hopeful that Wong sells the building.

“Anybody who thinks you can come in and (turn things around in Oak Park) in 30 days or six months, that’s not possible,” he said. “We’re just scratching the surface.”