Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Work to improve McKinley Village, not torpedo it

To grow without growing out, Sacramento must take advantage of old, vacant land within the core city to build the homes and neighborhoods of the future.

Whether it is the Curtis Park railyard or northwest Land Park site of the old Setzer plant, the city seeks a mix of housing types and affordability for families of different incomes to meet the need for a projected 24,100 homes within the next eight years.

The city planning commission and City Council soon will consider a proposal in east Sacramento for 328 homes on a vacant 48-acre, eye-shaped piece of land, surrounded by the Capital City Freeway and the Union Pacific railroad tracks.

Over the years, this has been the site of many ambitious, unfulfilled plans, including 15- to 20-story towers. Now comes along a more down-to-earth project – McKinley Village – a residential neighborhood with densities and character similar to McKinley Park, east Sacramento and midtown.

The proposal, by Riverview Capital Investments and led by Phil Angelides, is not perfect. But it would provide needed development in Sacramento’s urban core (as opposed to the sprawl of Cordova Hills or Dunnigan Hills) with a short distance to downtown, hospitals, schools and the nearby Cannery business complex that employs 1,200 people.

The city’s much-awaited draft environmental impact report came out last Tuesday. A 45-day public comment period begins. This is a workable project. Remaining issues can be worked out before the proposal goes to the planning commission in February, then the City Council.

The report deals with access issues that have dogged the site from the beginning because of the freeway and railroad embankment. The plan calls for two ways in and out: on the east end at 40th Street, through a tunnel that would be built under the railroad tracks, and at the west end over the A Street bridge.

On that front, opponents of the project have pointed to potential floods that would require evacuation. The report points out that the railroad embankment and nearby Sutter’s Landing Regional Park are above 100-year flood depths and would be considered “safe haven” areas during a flood. If the 40th Street tunnel were closed during a flood, residents would exit via the A Street Bridge.

In this, McKinley Village would be similar to River Park, which is bordered by the American River on the north and the railroad on the west.

Access is no reason to reject the project, though the developer and city planners should continue to explore a third access point at Alhambra Boulevard.

Opponents also have observed that the proposed development is car-oriented. Three bus routes run nearby, but bus stops are a quarter-mile walking distance. Why not explore a shuttle to the 29th Street light-rail station?

Nothing jumps out in the traffic study that should stop the project. The city would require the developer to pay for monitoring and retiming of a handful of traffic lights, and contribute toward a traffic signal at McKinley Boulevard and 33rd Street.

What’s missing in the proposed project is a true mix of housing types and affordability, including homes for lower-income families. The proposal includes several styles of single-family homes ranging in cost from $300,000 to $700,000, but no townhouses or mixed-use housing with streetfront commercial space. Instead, McKinley Village proposes to offer “granny flats” on top of garages.

Sacramento will need 8,400 homes for lower-income families and 4,500 for those with moderate income by 2022. McKinley Village should contribute to that.

Efforts should go toward improving the proposal, not trying to derail it. The city needs housing, and McKinley Village would be a fine new neighborhood.