Portrait of a hell-raiser as an old man
At 75, a veteran of World War II and a 33-year stint in the salt mines of the state bureaucracy, Brooks Truitt is enjoying a sort of retirement—he spends every single day taking it to the man.
For 10 years, Truitt has been the editor of the Old City Guardian, the propaganda organ of the Sacramento Old City Association. SOCA, which was formed during the turbulent struggle to save the Alhambra Theater years ago, has since become one of the most vocal and powerful community associations on the Sacramento scene.
And over the years, Truitt has taken the Old City Guardian from a quarterly newsletter on historic preservation to a monthly critique of city politics and advocacy, focusing on everything from sensible development to housing and transportation, among other issues.
Truitt himself demurs at his reputation as a hell-raiser. He once said, “All the hell that’s ever been raised in this town you could fit into a thimble.”
But his name is a familiar one in Sacramento’s halls of power, and city officials know Truitt always speaks his mind. He once told a News & Review reporter, believing he was speaking off the record, that the Sacramento City Council was a “chickenshit bunch of putzes.” The reporter innocently printed the quote, much to Truitt’s dismay. But rather than making enemies, Truitt was later roasted by councilmembers Kerth and Cohn and given a plaque with the quote prominently displayed.
Be it the struggle against the East End Project, blocking a proposal to gut the old Memorial Auditorium or the fight to save the R Street Corridor from becoming a wasteland of office buildings, Truitt has been there, taking on developers and bureaucrats alike. As of this writing, he spends about half of his week volunteering for Heather Fargo’s mayoral campaign. The rest of his time is split between his work to save the historic rail depot north of downtown and his irascible agitating on the pages of the Guardian.
What does the Old City Guardian do that other papers don’t?
Well, it keeps me from shoplifting and getting drunk and peeing in the gutter with all my wino buddies. Edit that out very carefully, OK?
It doesn’t have a big circulation, about 4,000 readers, but most of the people who read it vote. And it is read by the cognoscenti all over town. We drop off big stacks at City Hall and the Planning Commission. And those folks read it because they want to know what that screwball is saying. So that’s good.
It also deals with issues that you don’t see in the mainstream press. But if you do see it in the mainstream press, you’ll see our commentary. If I think they’re wrong, or if they missed the boat, we’ll say so in as sharp a manner as we can and still keep it a family paper.
Give me an example.
Here’s an interesting story that [Sacramento Bee columnist] Bob Graswich eventually picked up and did a little squib on. This lady had a store called “Bloomingdeals.” Bloomingdales came out and threatened to sue them for millions, brought out all of these lawyers and such. To make a long story short: She beat them to their knees. They left town. I take some credit for that. Eventually she did have to change the name, but she was one gutsy lady.
SOCA fought the East End Project, the massive state office building that’s going in now. Can you talk about that?
Please, I’m eating! Well, the fix was in. I won’t be too specific. But there was no way for community people to get in on the planning process. The community would give its input, and they would nod OK and look like they were writing it down. We raised a lot of hell. We got a lot of attention. But the fix was in.
So, what we’re going to get is a really bad project. When the workers all go home, we’re going to have five blocks of five o’clock desert.
My problem is that architects designing buildings seem more interested in getting an item in the architectural journal than they are in creating a space that the community can live in, that enhances the livability of the community. That’s what should be primary.
What are you most proud of?
Memorial Auditorium. What we did with Measure H was really pulling the city’s chestnuts out of the fire. The business community, the whole establishment was all behind gutting it. But the community really got its shit together. They put together a ballot measure, and we won by just 215 votes. That was a real upset, and it got a lot of people out of joint.
What’s the biggest problem in Sacramento?
I think there’s a lot more potential for people to get involved than is actually being done. There are many public and open forums where you can get up and have your say, but it takes a lot of commitment to do that. You have to spend some time; you have to get together with other people; you can’t do stuff yourself.
What’s your reputation at City Hall?
So far, I’m getting smiles from people. Even when I call Jimmie Yee, the poster boy for everything that is wrong with land-use planning in Sacramento. Whenever I see him, he still greets me and shakes my hand.