Franklin Boulevard neighborhood leaders get innovative

They have huge plans for huge problems

Last year, SN&R published a long piece on the history of Franklin Boulevard—and the struggling, often overlooked neighborhoods that surround it (see “On the rise and fall (and rise and fall, again) of Franklin Boulevard,” SN&R Feature Story; July 18, 2013).

Part of what makes Franklin so fascinating—to Bites at least—is that the area is in many ways the prototypical inner-ring suburb. These were working-middle-class tracts, built largely in the 1950s (older on the north end, newer going south), which declined as suburbanization, white flight and “flight from blight” took their toll.

It’s an important kind of neighborhood, because there’s so much of it in Sacramento. Think of any aging commercial corridor—Florin Road, Stockton Boulevard, Del Paso Boulevard (most of Sacramento’s “boulevards”)—and you see the same patterns of disinvestment and inequality.

The other part of what makes Franklin Boulevard interesting is the people trying to figure out creative ways to revitalize the area, when all the attention and money is focused elsewhere—like Folsom or Elk Grove or the Sacramento Kings arena.

To that end, formation of the North Franklin Boulevard Community Development Fund was announced last week. It’s a community-development corporation, a 501(c)(3), created to try to do what the city and the county and the now-defunct redevelopment agency have not.

“For years, we’ve been waiting for government to help us improve the district. We’ve been waiting for that new streetscape, more trees and crosswalks, better sidewalks and bike lanes, a bank, a health clinic … and on and on,” said Frank Cable, president of the North Franklin District Business Association, in an emailed statement.

“But we’ve realized that local government is struggling too and, if we wait for the next booming economy, we’ll continue to be left behind. We’re taking the future into our own hands.”

Over the last year, the North Franklin district has been busy creating a new community economic development plan. Local residents and business owners have been meeting and discussing their priorities for the neighborhood. More sophisticated surveys will go out in the coming months.

“One of the biggest things is having a more interesting, compelling and safe streetscape,” says the North Franklin association’s executive director Marti Brown. Other ideas include limits on recyclers and a progressive street-food ordinance. Plans for a farmers market are underway.

Brown has a track record of civic innovation. When she lived in Vallejo and served on the city council there, she led a “participatory budgeting” initiative that involved citizens directly in deciding how to spend a portion of that city’s sales tax. Project ideas came from the public and were voted on by the public. The minimum voting age was 16. (Can you imagine the Sacramento City Council allowing citizens anything approaching that kind of power? “No vote! We’re the deciders!”)

Brown is intrigued by the possibilities for “economic gardening” around Franklin—helping local businesses with market research, social media and other tools for growth. It’s a little different approach than cities’ traditional “hunting” strategy, focused on recruiting outside firms with tax incentives.

Brown also fantasizes about establishing a “fab lab” on Franklin—a workshop and machine shop with tools and software for public use, ideally with a connection to youth education.

She has been working with UC Davis professor Jesus Hernandez to develop the community economic plan. One angle he’s been working on is trying to get funding from the state’s cap-and-trade program. State law says 25 percent of the money from California’s carbon auctions must be set aside for low-income communities to support transit and affordable-housing programs—though details of the program’s implementation haven’t been hammered out yet. “We hope that neighborhoods like Franklin will see some of that money,” said Hernandez. It might be used to fund local shuttles, connecting the neighborhoods to businesses and to the 47th Avenue light-rail station. Or it could go to train local youth in green tech.

Brown and Hernandez also want to push for new affordable housing in the area, and promote development around the underused light-rail station at 47th Avenue. And they still hope to find ways to better connect the neighborhood, the Campbell Soup Company site and the new light-industrial businesses expected to move into the site in the coming months.

They say their plan is different than the typical redevelopment plan of the past—which might focus on a few physical improvements. They want to tackle physical and social problems at the same time.

It sounds like an awfully ambitious plan for a neighborhood like Franklin Boulevard’s in a city that doesn’t pay a lot of attention to neighborhoods like Franklin Boulevard’s.

“We have huge plans,” Brown said. “Because we have huge problems.”