City Beat

Filling in the gaps on Stockton Boulevard

Storefronts line Stockton Boulevard in the vibrant Little Saigon district.
Storefronts line Stockton Boulevard in the vibrant Little Saigon district.

Of this city’s major streets, Stockton Boulevard is perhaps the most “Sacramento” of them all.

It’s not just diverse, it’s also integrated. It passes through upscale neighborhoods where the streets are lined with ancient elm trees and into the working-class neighborhoods of south Sac, where immigrants from Vietnam, Mexico and a dozen other places are building an energetic hub of food and commerce.

Yet for all its vibrancy, there may not be a major street in this city with as many eyesores and empty lots as Stockton Boulevard. And these are big lots, the size of soccer fields, littered with dead grass, cracked pavement and discarded clothing. They attract the predictable array of seedy behavior.

“It’s time to give it a shot,” Eric Guerra said Wednesday, driving down the boulevard during the afternoon rush hour.

Guerra is the new city councilman representing most of the neighborhoods that border Stockton Boulevard. He is the first Latino member of the City Council in more than 15 years and has strong connections to this part of the district. His family attends Mass near Stockton Boulevard and he’s lived within a block of the street for eight years.

As he campaigned for office earlier this year, Guerra said it became clear that patches of Stockton Boulevard were being ignored. Now that he’s at City Hall, Guerra has his office trying to compile a list of the owners of every empty parcel on the boulevard so they can begin advocating for action. It’s a mesmerizing hodgepodge that includes families, former business owners, the state, the county and the city.

As he drove down the boulevard last week, Guerra pointed out the areas of promise and misery.

First, the bad: the nine empty storefronts near 14th Avenue. The desolate lots around the Colonial Theatre. The abandoned car wash near Lawrence Drive. The massive empty field in the shadow of West Campus High School, one of the city’s best schools. The site of the former San Juan Motel that’s full of garbage.

Now, the good: Alonzo’s Coffee Shop, where customers love the pozole and the huevos rancheros. Happy Garden, where generations of Chinese and Vietnamese families celebrate special occasions on Sunday mornings over dim sum. The boba tea and pho joints down in Little Saigon, full of young people. The scents of food and spice inside the Mexican and Vietnamese markets like La Superior or Wing Wa.

It’s time to give it a shot.

Eric Guerra, Sacramento councilman, on Stockton Boulevard

There’s even promise in the eyesores. Guerra envisions someone building a walkable neighborhood full of homes and shops around the Colonial Theatre. He sees startups or tech firms taking advantage of the cheap real estate and easy freeway access and planting roots on the boulevard. He wants more housing facing the street that working-class families can afford.

How does this happen? It will take some nudging, Guerra said, like finding incentives for businesses and simplifying the building permit process.

But he believes in this place not because of what it could be, but because of what’s already there.

“It’s time to use our strength – our diversity – to our advantage,” he said.