Sacramento’s North Franklin Business Improvement District announced this month that it has received a $10,000 grant from the California Endowment. The same day the grant was announced, news broke that the Campbell Soup Co. is in negotiations with prospective buyers who want to purchase its shuttered south Sacramento plant.
The two seemingly disparate events are related. Both offer a glimmer of hope for renewal of a beleagured Sacramento neighborhood.
Campbell Soup was the largest employer in the North Franklin neighborhood when it closed last summer, putting 760 people out of work. Even before it closed, the newly energized business improvement district had been working on a community-based economic development plan for the area.
Jesus Hernandez, an urban sociologist hired to help write the plan, says: “To be effective, it has to be data-driven, and the data must come from the residents.”
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The grant will help fund a series of community meetings and door-to-door surveys crucial to gathering information about education, employment, transportation, health, access to healthy foods, housing and myriad other community assets and needs. It will help pay for the graphic artist needed to illustrate the data collected and prepare conceptual drawings of new streetscapes and urban designs for a revamped business corridor.
Given the Campbell plant’s proximity to the business district and its sheer size, 139 acres, how the new owners redevelop that site will be key to neighborhood renewal. Although the plant was an important source of employment, it was also an eyesore and a barrier to neighborhood connectivity.
Surrounded by a chain-link fence, parts of it topped by barbed wire, the plant walled off huge swaths of the neighborhood. People who lived on the east side of the plant had a very hard time getting to the 47th Avenue light-rail station on the west side. In a poor neighborhood where many people don’t own cars and public transportation is woefully inadequate, the blocked access to light rail prevented people from getting to work, or to school or to medical appointments.
Neighborhood activists dream of turning the 47th Avenue station into a retail center, like the vibrant Natoma light-rail station in Folsom. They dream of building a pedestrian bridge across the Campbell complex like the one being built to connect the new upscale development near Curtis Park now under construction to the light-rail station at Sacramento City College.
If these more affluent communities can have such amenities, North Franklin residents want to know why they can’t have them too.