Sacramento has done plenty for CalPERS. So when will CalPERS start being a good neighbor to us?

This parking lot is supposed to have a 300-unit housing complex on it, but CalPERS has not gotten around to building it.
This parking lot is supposed to have a 300-unit housing complex on it, but CalPERS has not gotten around to building it. rlillis@sacbee.com

Sacramento’s R Street is mostly a good news story. Once a grim, concrete wasteland of warehouses and government buildings, the downtown corridor bustles with rising apartments, hip clubs, bars and restaurants.

There are, however, still whole blocks of R Street that aren’t delivering on their promise. Literally. As The Bee’s Ryan Lillis reported this week, hundreds of units of desperately needed housing remain unconstructed, even though the California Public Employees’ Retirement System was supposed to have them finished in 2012.

Thirty-six single family homes at Seventh and R Streets. A 300-unit development on the 300 block of R Street. The lag is particularly frustrating because the units were supposed to compensate for allowances Sacramento granted to CalPERS when the $337 billion pension fund developed its massive headquarters, which backs up onto R.

Pension funds have a fiduciary duty, so CalPERS can’t be faulted for not building during the worst of the recession. And the city has had as much responsibility as the pension fund for ensuring that CalPERS delivered on the memorandum of understanding the two parties signed in 2001 and amended in 2007.

But the economy has rebounded. The city government that let CalPERS take its sweet time has turned over. And the current mayor and council understandably would like to see the behemoth fund be a better hometown partner. So would we.

CalPERS simply needs to stop taking Sacramento for granted. The pension fund controls an outsized swath of land here, but it has done little to help boost the capital city where so many of its members live and work.

Its headquarters is an architectural hulk. Its property at Third and Capitol Mall is an embarrassment, best known as the giant hole in the ground, encircled by tattered fencing. CalPERS officials have been saying for years that a deal is near to transform this eyesore at the entrance to the city into some majestic edifice. We’ll believe it when we see something other than an artist’s rendering.

Now there’s this block and a half of unbuilt housing. Only 36 of the nearly 400 promised housing units on R Street have come to fruition. One site remains a parking lot.

CalPERS says it is actively negotiating to fulfill the memorandum of understanding. Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents downtown, says the city is on the case and has had “productive” conversations with the pension fund.

Meanwhile, Mayor Darrell Steinberg has talked with the agency about leveraging its connections to sell Sacramento to potential employers. Steinberg told an editorial board member that CalPERS leaders have been amenable.

In the meantime, however, CalPERS needs to show the rest of us some decisive action, by stepping up and putting hammer to nail.

Three hundred thirty-six units is a lot of unbuilt houses. And Sacramento deserves better than to watch that hole in the ground at Third and Capitol Mall fill up with rain again this winter.

C’mon CalPERS. Be a better neighbor. Give us a good news story to tell.

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