Weber Park in Roseville was empty and quiet on a recent Thursday afternoon, save for a few homeless people chatting around a picnic table. The faded basketball court and the green plastic play structure went unused.
Shannon Quignon, 32, who lives in the surrounding low-income neighborhood known as Roseville Heights, said families shy away from the downtown park because they don’t see it as a safe space. The sidewalks there are cracked, and the streets are too crowded with parked cars for kids to ride bikes, she said. In an otherwise wealthy city, the neighborhood represents a pocket of neglect.
“We need a place for the kids and families and adults to recreate in our neighborhood so people can be physically active,” she said. “It’s breeding isolation because no one is outside because it’s not safe to be outside. … In the rest of Roseville, that’s not the case. It’s a super-active city and people are always outside doing things – but not in these neighborhoods.”
Roseville Heights is part of a trio of impoverished neighborhoods in the city that have been targeted by a unique $60,000 grant designed to lift up marginalized communities and, in the process, improve health outcomes. The three Roseville areas targeted by the grants struggle with high chronic disease rates, barriers to health care and other problems that advocates plan to tackle, with input from Quignon and other residents. Roseville Heights will receive brighter lighting, safer sidewalks and other improvements this year.
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The central area known as Old Roseville, which encompasses the Roseville Heights, Cherry Glen and Theiles Manor neighborhoods, has an average poverty rate near 35 percent, compared to 8 percent for the city overall, according to Census Bureau data.
Old Roseville is among the highest-ranking zip codes in the city for diabetes mortality rates, mental health emergency department use and asthma-related emergency visits, according to a 2016 community health assessment from Kaiser Permanente. It is also in the second-highest tier for unintentional injury hospitalization and cancer mortality rates, behind some impoverished rural areas.
The situation puts a major strain on local hospital systems, said Jeff Collins, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals in Roseville, at a recent Invest Health meeting. Even with more people insured under the Affordable Care Act, the city’s poorest patients still show up in droves.
“We’re always well over capacity, the waits are longer,” Collins said. “We take care of very complex, very ill patients. We need to educate people that there are other places they can go.”
Historically, it’s been a challenge to develop older neighborhoods because of a lack of funding, said Roseville City Councilman Scott Alvord. Many newer neighborhoods are Community Facilities Districts that get extra government funding for public works and services. On top of that, private developers often bring in plans that include maintenance of the surrounding neighborhoods.
For places such as Roseville Heights, the money has to come from the already-tight general fund, Alvord said. The city announced in May that all general fund departments including parks, recreation & libraries, police, fire, public works, and development services must develop a net zero budget to help close a projected $2 million budget gap.
Last year, the City Council voted to add “core neighborhoods” to its list of priorities for 2017-18, stating it would make improvements using community-based grants, council discretionary funds and federal block grants.
“These neighborhoods have been neglected for a while,” Alvord said. “It’s a little tougher to get the funding from the city to do what’s needed. … Ongoing, this will be something that’s important to us. We want to not let these communities fade away, we want to focus on bringing life to them and keeping them safe.”
As the downtown area around City Hall sees major revitalization, and big box stores and residential developments pop up on the city’s west side, people in Roseville’s original neighborhoods are ready for their own change.
“The city has done a great job with new developments, but there hasn’t been a cohesive long term plan for the older neighborhoods,” Quignon said. “We’re not going to see changes overnight, but they could be made as long we have resources and good intentions.”
That’s part of the plan for Invest Health, which will pair community activists with hospital leaders to figure out how residents can best access care. At the same time, the city will implement neighborhood changes to prevent people from getting sick or hurt in the first place, said Debra Oto-Kent, executive director of the nonprofit group Health Education Council, which is the lead agency for the newly received Invest Health grant.
Roseville is one of 50 midsize cities across the U.S. to win the grant from the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and an urban development group called Reinvestment Fund. Each winning city gets $60,000 over 18 months to increase access to nutritious food, job opportunities and affordable housing while also reducing crime rates and environmental hazards in low-income areas. Napa was the only other Northern California city to receive the award.
“A lot of times the solutions are right in front of us,” Oto-Kent said. “We have just not focused on the (neighborhoods) with the highest disparities. This is an opportunity to deepen a lot of those partnerships.”
The sidewalks near George Cirby Elementary School, about two miles south of Weber Park, will be a starting point for some of that change. Stretching up both sides of a residential street called Darling Way, the sidewalks serve as the main drag for local moms who don’t own vehicles and need to get their children to school, said Carol Garcia, former Roseville mayor and Invest Health team member.
The pavement is pocked with softball-sized divots that could trip up a walker or a stroller wheel. Raised asphalt meant to cover crumbling concrete makes for an uneven surface, and surprise cracks run horizontally across sidewalk squares.
“It’s important that people feel comfortable walking,” Garcia said. “Walking is the most natural form of exercise for your body. That’s where it starts.”