Beyond Sacramento

You ask, we answer: Will riverfront south of downtown Sacramento ever be developed?

This story is part of our “Beyond Sacramento” series, where you vote on questions and topics about our region submitted by readers, and The Sacramento Bee explores the winning question for a story. Scroll to the bottom of this article to vote for our next story or submit a new question.

This question, submitted by John Golemon, won the last voting round: “Why hasn’t the riverfront south of Sacramento been developed as a recreational amenity? Isn’t the levee and adjacent land public property?”

Like many in the Sacramento region, John Golemon loves to ride his bike down the American River Parkway, but says it’s a schlep to get there from his home in Elk Grove.

“We have the same river coming down this direction,” Golemon said. “It would be wonderful to have something that extends all the way down to Freeport.”

Fifty years ago, the city created a master plan for the Sacramento River Parkway, envisioning a multi-use trail from the confluence down to the end of the Pocket neighborhood. Part of that dream has come to fruition: Residents can walk and bike along the river through Old Sacramento to near Scott’s Seafood on the River at Riverside Boulevard.

But south of that, the trail on the river’s levee is closed to most residents down to Garcia Bend Park. Slices of public land are sandwiched between parts of the levee controlled by private properties in the Little Pocket and Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhoods.

In the 1960s, as properties were subdivided and housing was built along the riverfront, ownership of portions of the levee was included on the titles of homes sold or transferred, said Friends of the Sacramento River Parkway’s Jim Houpt.

It wasn’t until 1974 when the state updated the Subdivision Map Act that new subdivisions along waterways like the Sacramento River were required to include easements for the public to have access to the waterway.

After it created its master plan for a Sacramento River Parkway the next year, the city would purchase portions of the levee every time a developer subdivided land near the water. But it was too late – dozens of homes had already been built and sold by then. With a patchwork of public and private properties along the levee, a waterfront connector between the Pocket and downtown failed to materialize.

When will the Sacramento River Parkway be built?

The trail is, however, inching its way closer to completion as the city has stepped up efforts to take control of riverfront land from private owners.

“I believe that trail should be a public right, I believe that trail belongs to everyone,” Councilman Rick Jennings, who represents the Pocket and Greenhaven, told The Sacramento Bee in 2018. “There’s a serenity there and I want everybody to have the ability to see that.”

Earlier this year, Sacramento City Council greenlit the use of eminent domain to allow the city to permanently acquire the remaining privately owned portions of the levee between Garcia Bend Park and Arabella Way. And funding for the design, environmental review and permitting of the trail along the parkway up to Zacharias Park has already been secured, said Jennings’ chief of staff Dennis Rogers.

During next year’s budget discussion, Jennings will be requesting the last portion of money needed for easements between Arabella Way to Grangers Dairy Drive, which would clear the pathway for a trail along the Pocket, Rogers said.

Once all the funding is approved and plans for trail along the Pocket are teed up, construction would begin as soon as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finishes strengthening the levees. It’s part of a $1.8 billion federal flood protection plan for the Sacramento region announced last year.

The Army Corps could finish improvements between 2021 and 2023 “depending on who you ask,” Roger said, though it could be as long as 2025 until the levee is strengthened and trail construction begins.

Will the riverfront ever be fully connected?

As for the final section needed to create a seamless trail along the riverfront, the Little Pocket, headway is less certain.

“The question is about timing, and dependent on available resources and the complications of acquiring properties we don’t own,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the neighborhood.

He said his district is inundated with calls from the public to create safer city streets for pedestrians and bicyclists, such as by adding bike lanes or pedestrian crossings. “That’s really a top priority,” he said.

“How do we make progress on the longstanding vision of connectivity when we’re just struggling to survive with the resources we have?” Hansen said

Plans for the Sacramento River Parkway running through Little Pocket are on the back burner, Hansen said, while street improvements and deferred maintenance on city parks are addressed in the short term.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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