Remember the Cornfield!

Not so fast: Before Mayor Fargo, Richie Ross and the Maloof Brothers get their grubby hands on the downtown Union Pacific railyard and turn it into some obnoxious corporate welfare project for the Kings in the form of a new arena, (see page 12), Bites thinks Sacramentans ought to bone up on what happened in Los Angeles when citizens there torpedoed a city-backed, but otherwise unpopular, plan to develop some abandoned rail yard property. In short, they won.

It all started when LA developer Majestic Realty Corp. bought a 32-acre parcel of land from Union Pacific two years ago called the “cornfield” (it got its name from the corn that sprouted in the ground after it fell from passing rail cars in the 19th century). The land, a rail yard that had gone unused by Union Pacific for 15 years, is adjacent to the Chinatown area of downtown Los Angeles and the LA River. It’s the largest parcel of open space in downtown LA.

Once Majestic bought the land for $18.5 million, it announced it would build an $80 million warehouse and industrial complex on the site, which won the backing of then Mayor Richard Riordan. That got local activists fired up enough to form the Chinatown Yard Alliance to fight Majestic, which also developed the Staples Center in downtown LA.

The activists eventually won what the LA Weekly called “the most remarkable victory to date,” and persuaded the company to sell the property to the state for $30 million—a cool $11.5 million of profit for Majestic. The state has also agreed to earmark $10 million to clean the land up. It was all signed into law in Governor Gray Davis’ last budget. The result? A state-mandated “Cornfield State Park,” designed by the Chinatown Alliance. The park will have bike paths, a community center and a Chinatown cultural center.

What, if anything, can Sacramentans take from Cornfield? First of all, don’t accept anything as a done deal. Let’s not forget that local activists have already done a pretty effective job of sinking UP’s plans to develop a suburban style mall on that patch (the Mills Corp. project), and subsequently stopped another harebrained scheme to move Amtrak out of the historic rail depot there. So far, Sacramento activists have been pretty successful at holding the greedheads at bay.

Bites encourages local activists to resist the notion that a passionate group, united, can’t undo any backroom deal that’s foisted upon them. Maybe the rallying cry should be “Remember the Cornfield!”

Saint Angelo: Bites wants to congratulate super-developer Angelo Tsakopoulos on the recent news that Placer county folks are buying his university idea, hook, line and sinker. As dutifully reported by the Bee, a whopping 78 percent of those polled (out of a whopping 600 people) would like to see a four-year university built on land that Tsakopoulos would generously donate. Only 9 percent said no.

What the Bee didn’t mention was that the free school is just leverage to get the county to run a proposed Placer Parkway right through Angelo’s property. That’s so he can build the hell out of thousands of acres of farmland, within spitting distance of his spanking new freeway.

Bites supposes that pollsters didn’t mention any of this to the folks in that impressively large sample. But even given the sleight-of-hand being used in the polling, the numbers seem crazily skewed. Only 9 percent opposed? This must be some carefully picked sample.

Bites suspects that even if Jesus Christ himself were to go walking around Placer County, handing out snow cones and asking folks "Will you be my buddy?" at least 15 or 20 percent of Placer folks, being the contrarian hill people that they are, would say "No!" just for kicks. But then again, maybe Angelo really can walk on water.