City Beat

Mysterious groups sue to prevent taller buildings on commercial Sacramento corridor

Sometimes, all it takes to rile people up in this town is 30 feet.

The Sacramento City Council voted Sept. 27 to make some zoning changes to a handful of blocks along Alhambra Boulevard in East Sacramento. Among the tweaks was raising the height limit on buildings from 35 feet to 65 feet to promote greater density.

Everyone seemed cool with the proposal, as long as it applied only to the blocks between J and N streets – a strip of banks, fast-food joints, hotels and medical offices. Keep in mind, that corridor borders the elevated section of the Capital City Freeway. It’s not exactly the Fab 40s.

City staff sought higher building limits for a slightly larger area. But two women who identified themselves as members of a group called Citizens for Positive Growth and Preservation asked that the new height limits apply only to the area between J and N. Councilman Jeff Harris – who represents the neighborhood – said he was fine with that and the council approved the change.

Five weeks later, Citizens for Positive Growth and Preservation sued the city anyway.

Never heard of Citizens for Positive Growth and Preservation? You’re not alone. They don’t have a website. They aren’t registered as lobbyists with the city. But one thing’s for sure: they really – REALLY – disagree with the City Council’s action of Sept. 27.

They’re represented by lawyers from Brown Rudnick LLP, a law firm with offices in cities around the world. The suit was filed by an attorney working out of the firm’s Irvine office.

That attorney – Stephen R. Cook – is a former federal prosecutor whose specialties are “white collar defense and government investigations,” according to his firm’s website. Cook did not return messages seeking comment. Neither did the women who spoke that night at City Council.

It’s hard to tell what exactly is driving this citizens group. In its petition to the court filed Nov. 2, the group is described as an advocate “for positive growth in the city, and the preservation of safe, healthy, and livable residential neighborhoods throughout the city.”

Their suit argues the changes to the Alhambra corridor were made without proper consideration to the California Environmental Quality Act, a law that requires intense scrutiny of major developments. The lawsuit cites a list of bad things that could happen when taller buildings are built along Alhambra, like traffic congestion, noise, glare and impacts to “sewer and water resources.”

This type of lawsuit isn’t new here, but we can probably expect more in the months and years to come as development picks up in Sacramento. There’s another suit pending against a 15-story condo tower planned for the corner of 25th and J streets, six blocks west of Alhambra Boulevard. Advocates are balking at a perceived lack of affordable housing in the downtown railyard development plan approved by the city earlier this month, signaling that a legal challenge might be on the way.

It’s gotten to the point where people seem shocked when big projects encounter smooth sailing. That was the case when developer Nikky Mohanna’s 19J was approved unanimously by the planning commission last week. 19J is a proposed 11-story apartment tower in midtown with modern touches and units made affordable for young urban workers.

The support on the planning commission – and the lack of opposition in the community – was striking.

“So, Ms. Mohanna,” planning commissioner Alan LoFaso told the developer. “No opposition. You’ve got to bottle that, get a formula – and sell it.”