Out with the old
Happy 53rd birthday, downtown redevelopment
In March of this year, Mayor Heather Fargo gave a big speech, her annual “State of the Downtown” presentation. I just re-read it, wanting to see what was on her to-do list for 2007.
It was about what you’d expect: revitalizing the 700 and 800 blocks of K Street with upscale shopping, moving the Greyhound station, and seeing the Downtown Plaza reinvigorated.
“We will go over, under, and straight through obstacles to get this done. Period,” she explained.
She could re-use the speech next year, since that stuff didn’t get done. Period. Maybe she could use some of the same filler, too, as when Fargo riffed on being a baby-boomer mayor in a maturing city. “Did you know that David Bowie turned 60 on Monday?” she asked.
“No,” I thought. Then I thought about my mom, who loves David Bowie.
Sacramento mayors have been giving some version of this same speech about downtown—perhaps without the references to aging rock stars—for more than 50 years now.
That’s because Sacramento’s attempt at downtown redevelopment is a baby boomer, too, just like my mom, and my mayor, and David Bowie.
What today we call the “Merged Downtown Redevelopment Project Area” was born in 1955, the same year that Disneyland opened, and the first McDonald’s. It’s since grown to cover 300 acres, including, of course, K Street and the rail yards. It’s blown through more than $300 million in its long life.
Of course, like a lot of baby boomers, urban renewal is starting to show its age. It gets set in its ways. It gets grumpy and self-righteous when things go badly.
That’s what happened when voters emphatically voted down Measures Q and R, which would have raised sales taxes to build a Kings arena in the rail-yards redevelopment area. Shortly after Fargo’s “State of the Downtown” speech, the Sacramento County Grand Jury blasted the whole arena scheme, saying that she and other local political leaders had “pandered” to the Kings, and kept voters in the dark about the arena’s financing plan.
That made the arena boosters cranky. When the report came out this June, county Supervisor Roger Dickinson went all Spiro Agnew, calling the grand jury report, “a political polemic of fiction and fantasy.” Easy, easy, pops, it’s just the Grand Jury. What do they know?
It’s not hard to understand why the friends of redevelopment were a little defensive this year. There was the arena boondoggle. Then John Saca’s iconic $600 million Towers project went flaccid. The nastiest fight was probably the K Street redevelopment war between the city and landlord Moe Mohanna. Bee columnist Marcos Breton has made his living this year harrumphing about Mohanna. In various columns he has called K Street, “a caldron of neglect,” “a toilet where potential is being flushed,” and a place where “scores of teenagers loitered with no purpose. Where were their parents? Why weren’t they in school?” Yeah, and those punks better stay off Mr. Breton’s lawn, too.
Anyway, here’s to you, urban redevelopment. May you live another 53 years, and I’m sure you will. Ch, ch, ch, ch, changes.