A big, green dream

Sacramento sits at the confluence of two extraordinary rivers, but you’d never know it from the way the town is laid out. For the most part, city planners long ago determined to develop apart from the rivers.

Basically, we never figured out that we could vastly improve our quality of life, as well as our city’s economic fortunes, if we’d devise a way to properly merge the downtown with its two greatest natural assets—the working Sacramento River and the wild and scenic American River.

Now along comes a bold idea to set things right by creating an enormous urban park, a new north end for downtown Sacramento along the south bank of the American River.

Influential attorney and native Sacramentan Joe Genshlea has proposed a 900-acre park that would go from the Sacramento River along the northern border of the downtown and connect to the American River Parkway. Genshlea’s daring vision is a park that rivals Golden Gate Park in San Francisco—one that comes complete with expansive views of the rivers, an Exploratorium-style science museum, a world-class zoo and, of course, a sports arena. (Note: Hey Joe—We’d like to see a museum of modern art mixed in there, too.)

Right now, the southern edge of the property in question is occupied by the mostly abandoned and toxic Union Pacific Railyard. The rest is a mix of state office buildings and privately owned businesses and residences. Scrap yards and abandoned warehouses abound, and hundreds of homeless campers also live in this area. If Genshlea’s dream were to ever become reality, some ultra-creative joint-powers arrangement would have to be devised.

Interestingly, recent news has been full of developments related to the Sacramento Kings arena proposed to be built in the rail-yard portion of this dream park. The Sacramento City Council will likely put an arena advisory vote on the March ballot and seems to be considering the $600 million arena through some joint Maloof-taxpayers arrangement. And there’s new legislation that could provide a funding mechanism to help build the arena by allowing business owners in the area to float bonds.

There’s no question that Genshlea’s so-called Gold Rush Park is in for a world of controversy once it hits prime-time politics. Homeless advocates will cry foul about the displacement of the city’s poorest citizens, and developers in the north area will undoubtedly object to much of the proposal.

We believe Genshlea’s dream should get a serious hearing anyway. Without endorsing any of the specifics, we applaud him for moving beyond the arena, thinking green and pushing city leaders and citizens to look at the big picture. Most of all, we’re encouraged by the notion that perhaps it’s not too late to embolden the connection between our town and our two rivers.