The case of Portland vs. Sacramento revisited
Former Portlander and current Sacramento City Manager Ray Kerridge was quoted in these pages as saying, “We are where Portland was 15 years ago.” It’s been a couple years since he said this, so presumably we’re now where Portland was 13 years ago?
Anyway, I’ve been to Portland, I often vacation in Portland and, Sacramento: You’re not Portland. Of course, when I say that I love Portland, the reasons are quite different from our city leaders’ and have nothing to do with fast-tracking development—as Kerridge has promised.
It’s the small, quality-of-life issues that matter.
First, there’s the biking. Not only are there bike paths all over in Portland—and even special bike-only signals and zones, you know, to keep those Hummers from crowding you off the road—but Portland drivers also lack a certain attitude. (Hmm, how to put this? Oh yes: rage. That’s it.)
Cross the street in Portland and you’ll be taken aback that people stop without hesitation. There’s no fear that your very existence as a bicyclist stirs mouth-frothing hatred in those behind the wheel.
Portland also is sometimes called “Brewtopia,” and for good reason: You can get good beer everywhere. The craft-beer section at the generic Fred Meyer supermarket blows away every store in Sacramento. There are multiple movie theaters where you can drink a beer while watching a film, like a civilized adult.
Here, a ridiculous law prohibits the sale of single beers by the majority of downtown businesses. Thusly, no new craft or artisan beer shop can open in Midtown or downtown. Apparently, this silly law was enacted to keep the drunks in check, but anyone who’s walked Sacramento’s grid on a Friday night knows it’s a melee of public intoxication; in Portland, not so much.
Portland too is rightly proud of its food carts. They have around 170 of them, and they serve an array of cuisine, from African to Vietnamese, most in semi-fixed locations.
In contrast, Sacramento’s city council unanimously passed an ordinance that would require food carts to move every 30 minutes, thereby discouraging entrepreneurs from starting up carts because, well, how can you build a loyal clientele if you’re always on the run?
The Sac food rules get worse: Food-cart clusters are illegal, because each cart has to be 400 feet from another. And they can’t be open past 8 p.m., either.
In 2008, Portland conducted a study on the influence of food carts. The verdict: They have “positive impacts on street vitality and neighborhood life in lower-density residential neighborhoods, as well as in the high-density downtown area,” according to the report.
Here in Sac, Steve Cohn waxes nostalgic in Sactown Magazine, lamenting the loss of the late-night Red Rooster waffle cart. Maybe he should have cast that lone “nay” when city council voted against them?
To be sure, Sacramento has things that Portland doesn’t: ethnic diversity, warm weather, jobs. “Local,” “sustainable” and “organic” is like a religion up north—and it gets a little precious at times, which makes me miss Sac’s rough edges.
Still, Sacramento’s leaders should get over their “hick town” insecurities and embrace the city’s janky side, something Portland does so well.