Jack Ohman

Sacramento: Don’t mistake geegaws and slogans for progress

Artist Jeff Koons stands in front of his artwork "Coloring Book," in 2016.
Artist Jeff Koons stands in front of his artwork "Coloring Book," in 2016. Sacramento Bee file

Sacramento, a beautiful city, has stunning parks, a great location at the confluence of two rivers, and a diverse, well-meaning, hard-working populace.

Sure, we have civic problems. We have blight, litter, homelessness, crime, graffiti and many of the other problems that plague American cities.

We also have an inferiority complex.

Cities with inferiority complexes tend to seek quick fixes to assuage their feelings. They often resort to construction of some Large Signature Shiny Object.

Based on my experience, cities that fall back on geegaws and slogans only further illustrate that they have inferiority complexes.

In the 1980s, there was: “New York’s the Big Apple, but Cleveland’s a Plum!” And Cleveland added a rock and roll museum.

I like Cleveland. It has an opera and a symphony, and the Indians and LeBron. But 35 years later, it's still Cleveland.

Which brings me to Sacramento, where Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other power hitters point to, of all places, St. Louis. “It has an arch! And it’s 630 feet tall!”

Sacramento already has an $8 million Jeff Koons iridescent glass Gummi Bear/Fidget Spinner? I can hardly wait for the next geegaw.

The other night, bless her civic heart, a 13-year-old girl spoke at the City Council meeting and proposed a Disneyland-style fountain that would project images. Dancing farms and forks? She was appointed to a study commission.

We argue about what words should go on our 1954 Airstream on a Stick/Sacramento water tower, while CalPERS refuses to fill its precious we’re-waiting-for-the-right-moment hole in the ground, the first thing you notice upon entering downtown from the west.

Meanwhile, we aren’t doing all that great on homelessness. People are getting hit with rocks and slammed into on bikes and fending off pit bulls on the American River Parkway.

Spare a little change for that? After all, there’s a $22 million hotel tax fund sitting there, waiting to be spent on a Large Signature Shiny Object.

Maybe we could use a little of that to help CalPERS fill the oozing carbuncle at the entrance to our city. Or spend a little to make sure poor cyclists or joggers don't get their head bashed in on the parkway. Or do something, anything, to give Capitol Mall some humanity. Or help that boarded-up eyesore of a block on J Street.

Once we get those things under control, then I’m all in on a (limited scale, tasteful, non-Jeff Koons) Signature Object.

Just please, please, please, can we stop wasting so much civic time and energy on this sort of foofaraw, and eat our vegetables first?

Then even more house-poor San Franciscans might stop by and pronounce us, you know, survivable.

Jack Ohman: 916-321-1911, @JACKOHMAN