McKinley Village gets tunnel vision, council member demands could derail project
Developer says vehicle access at Alhambra unfeasible, too costly—and not needed
The city’s largest infill development in years is close to becoming a reality. Sacramento’s planning and design board unanimously approved the proposed 336-home East Sacramento community McKinley Village late last month. After nearly six years of work, the Phil Angelides led project appeared poised for approval by the city council when it discusses the project in a few weeks on April 29.
But then, Councilman Steve Cohn spoke up.
Cohn, who represents East Sacramento, told SN&R this week that he would not vote to approve the project unless an entrance tunnel for cars is built under the railroad tracks at Alhambra Boulevard and B Street. There are already two planned vehicle entrances to McKinley Village near 40th Street and 28th Street. But Cohn says the 3,500 car trips a day through East Sac and Midtown will be too disruptive.
“[McKinley Village] has created this firestorm by really forcing the traffic onto very quiet streets,” Cohn said.
This tunnel-vision ultimatum comes at the eleventh hour. Environmental-impact reports are complete. The city’s Planning and Design Commission has chimed in and voted. Dozens of town halls and outreach meetings have gone down over the past six years.
If a third car-access point to the community was going to be a deal breaker for any council member, why didn’t the city staff aggressively pursue it earlier in the process?
City associate planner Evan Compton said that a third vehicle access point isn’t being required because two is sufficient. “We’re comfortable with the two access points,” he told SN&R.
The city’s report on traffic impacts concurs: The thousands of new car trips in Midtown and East Sacramento that will happen because of McKinley won’t negatively impinge what’s referred to as the “level of service,” or amount of traffic, in the neighborhoods surrounding McKinley Village’s entrances. Things will still flow smoothly, the report surmises.
“With the two access points we have, they really work extraordinarily well from a traffic perspective,” Angelides said. The planning commission agreed with its 13-0 vote on March 27.
But Cohn says the big problem is the traffic study only looks at the impact on drivers, not residents. “It doesn’t measure impact on a quiet neighborhood street,” he said. If McKinley is built and thousands of cars pass through the narrow, sleepy roads near 40th Street, it will change the tenor of the neighborhood, he argues.
There’s precedent for this. In 1997, Cohn worked on the Midtown Traffic Plan. The impact report said everything would run smoothly, and that traffic impacts would not be significant. But the reality on D Street and other Midtown blocks was “like a nightmare,” the council member said. Cohn said it’s frustrating that city staff didn’t look into these sort of real-world traffic impacts for McKinley Village more aggressively.
The city did commission a feasibility study for a possible vehicular underpass at the Union Pacific railroad tracks near Alhambra Boulevard. The verdict: It would be a challenge to execute. And costly.
“We’re not even clear if it could be built,” Angelides said of the tunnel. He also explained that if it were possible to construct, the costs would “kill the project.”
Cohn rejects this. “If that is true, I think it might illustrate the problem with that site,” he said of Angelides’ claim.
Angelides, who has worked on the $160 million project since late 2007, counters that the demand for a third entrance point would have to “restart the process,” which could increase risk for investors. He says Cohn’s opposition is “wholly political at this point.” Cohn is locked in a race for state Assembly, and East Sac residents are all potential voters.
“This is not typical NIMBY behavior,” Cohn said. “People are willing to accept appropriate infill development.”
Angelides said it’s classic NIMBYism—with a twist. “It’s a more elegant way for them to be against infill development without being against it. They get to be for something.”