Tangled up in blue

As Oak Park redevelopment gains steam, questions of historic preservation arise

Kathy Orr, left, and Trina Whitney, right, say they’ve spent five years trying to preserve this boarded up blue bungalow standing alone on a city-owned lot on Stockton Boulevard.

Kathy Orr, left, and Trina Whitney, right, say they’ve spent five years trying to preserve this boarded up blue bungalow standing alone on a city-owned lot on Stockton Boulevard.

Photo By Larry Dalton

At the December meeting of the Oak Park Redevelopment Advisory Committee (RAC), city representative Chris Pahule was asked about a recent workshop on the area’s $20 million in tax-revenue bonds. Pahule, who represents the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA), said he was surprised that the 50 workshop participants preferred infrastructure improvements like new streetlights and public parks over redevelopment projects and low-cost housing opportunities. For instance, in a funding exercise, the “street lighting program” attracted six times as many dollars as “Stockton Boulevard development projects.”

RAC member Linda McDonald explained in an interview that priorities were shifting because a number of big projects were already in the works. Now, she said, residents want to turn their attention to infrastructure improvements to support them. But, with new mixed-use developments planned for corridors like Stockton Boulevard, SHRA also has been criticized for supporting new developments even when they threaten the original historic homes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

At the December meeting, a small coalition of neighbors stood up to plead the case of one small house that stands in the way of future development. This was the culmination of five years of civic activism, but residents’ last-ditch effort to hold on to what’s become known as the “blue bungalow” failed to move the RAC.

The house facing Ninth Avenue from the corner of Ninth and Stockton Boulevard was once a fine example of early 20th-century architecture. SHRA bought the building in 2000 with plans to tear it down and turn the long, shallow block facing Stockton Boulevard into a parking lot to support new development along the Stockton Boulevard commercial corridor.

“They convinced us,” said neighbor Trina Whitney, “that it would be an exceptionally beautiful parking lot.”

Community outcry from members like Whitney and her neighbor Kathy Orr convinced SHRA not to demolish the single-family bungalow, but it began to degrade while plans for the surrounding parking lot and a large development across Stockton Boulevard faltered and then fell through.

The long block now sits almost empty, providing a good view of the side of the blue bungalow, which has deteriorated. The house was broken into, according to neighbors, and was used for prostitution. Its fixtures have been stripped. SHRA boarded it up, and it became another example of a blighted property.

Whitney and others offered to buy the home; to move it themselves to other lots in the original Wright & Kimbrough housing tract, where it fits into the architectural fabric of the neighborhood; or to move into the home where it sits now. But SHRA manages properties under a strict set of rules that thwarted every proposed solution. Either the buyer wasn’t of low or moderate income, or she proposed moving the house to a lot that was outside the redevelopment area.

Sacramento nonprofit NeighborWorks suggested moving the bungalow out of its neighborhood at the edge of Tahoe Park and onto 43rd Street in Oak Park. SHRA recommended the RAC accept this proposal. NeighborWorks wants to rehab the house and sell it to a low- or moderate-income buyer. SHRA recommended providing NeighborWorks with a $110,000 grant—roughly the cost of moving the bungalow.

In November, the RAC voted 4-4 on the proposal, and SHRA was asked to explore other solutions, including finding an empty lot in Tahoe Park that SHRA could buy or leaving the house in place and developing around it.

No development plan was in the works for the lot, so Whitney and Orr continued to think of a move as premature. “The only reason they have that house is because Wright & Kimbrough people saved it,” Whitney explained.

SHRA contacted three developers who all said the Stockton Boulevard lot would be more difficult to develop if the bungalow stayed put. The agency also found no neighborhood lots for sale in the original housing tract. And the costs likely would double or triple if SHRA had to buy a new lot and move and rehab the house itself.

McDonald agreed that the house should be moved, saying that the longer it languished, the more likely it was to deteriorate, or even be burned to the ground by squatters.

RAC member Bud Aungst said he was disappointed with the opposition from residents because the NeighborWorks proposal had been on the table for months.

“This has been going on five years, sir!” Whitney responded from the audience.

Orr stood up to address the board and pointed to the workshop results that had surprised Pahule. “There’s no emphasis on development,” she reminded the RAC.

In spite of the opposition, the RAC accepted SHRA’s plan and agreed to move the bungalow out of its original neighborhood.

“Nobody’s glad that it sat there vacant,” said McDonald.

Aungst felt the same way. “I’m as ticked off as anyone else that SHRA dragged its feet.”

Whitney’s still disappointed that the house will be moved, leaving the lot undeveloped, but at least the building won’t be demolished for a parking lot.

“I fundamentally believe that our historic architecture needs to be preserved,” she said. “Period.”