City Beat

Home in midtown alley comes with challenges

The Arguello family home faces Blues Alley in midtown Sacramento. The family has encountered several challenges since moving into the home in 2012.
The Arguello family home faces Blues Alley in midtown Sacramento. The family has encountered several challenges since moving into the home in 2012. rlillis@sacbee.com

Tyler and Juan Carlos Arguello are used to the oddities of urban living. They’ve lived in big cities before – places like Seattle and Los Angeles – and are not the types to seek refuge in the suburbs.

But life in a midtown alley has been a bit more challenging than they expected.

The Arguellos and their two children live in a home facing Blues Alley, a secluded pathway tucked into the northern edge of midtown. Their three-bedroom home was built in 2011, despite the opposition of some neighbors who thought its modern design and size didn’t fit the character of the surrounding area.

The home is one of a handful in Sacramento whose address is an alley. And City Hall wants more of these homes as they push to activate the central city’s alleys. Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned in Blues Alley.

“We were used to a bit more of an urban feel,” Tyler said last week. “And we knew there would be some differences, living in an alley.”

But not this.

When they moved in, the alley was dirt and loose stone, so the Arguellos recently paid to install stone pavers for the portion of the alley in front of their home. Think about that: would you pay for the street in front of your house to be paved?

Traffic in the alley is surprisingly heavy, from cars to utility trucks to UPS vehicles. And drivers speed down the narrow alley; the Arguellos and their children have had some close calls.

There aren’t streetlights in the alley, so the Arguellos installed flood lights in front of their home. They also take care of cutting back weeds and grass in the alley.

Tyler has found needles, empty beer cans, condoms and cigarette butts in front of their home. One harrowing morning, when Juan Carlos opened the garage door to leave for work, a man who had been sleeping against the door fell into the garage.

“We’re not ‘Not In My Backyard’ people,” said Tyler, who teaches social work at California State University, Sacramento. “But it’s a problem when there are used needles lying around.”

Some of these stories are common in downtown and midtown. And there are people who live in alleys in the central city who don’t encounter the same challenges. Perhaps some of the Arguellos’ situation can be attributed to their isolated location: their alley is close to the railroad tracks and in an area frequented by homeless people.

To help limit the challenges, the Arguellos asked the city to place gates at both ends of the alley, as the city has done with some other alleys. That action requires support from a majority of adjacent residents. But the Arguellos didn’t get that support, perhaps due to lingering resentment about the home’s construction.

Still, Councilman Steve Hansen – a downtown dweller who represents midtown – said he’s working on getting gates and making the alley safer.

The city has named the central city alleys and is talking about reviving its focus on promoting development in the pathways, a focus that was shelved during the recession. But so far, at least in the case of Blues Alley, the city’s support of its alley-dwellers has fallen short, Tyler argues.

“I wouldn’t want my neighbors whose homes face the street to find needles and condoms in front of their homes all the time,” he said. “We’re the ones dealing with these things.”

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