Washington’s farewell address

The city seized the Washington Market in the name of ‘public interest,’ leaving its owners in limbo

The Washington Market shut down in July, calling an abrupt halt to the street-level activity—some of it illegal—that went on day and night.

The Washington Market shut down in July, calling an abrupt halt to the street-level activity—some of it illegal—that went on day and night.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Since late July, the Washington Market, dominating the corner of 37th Street and Second Avenue, has been abandoned. Its metal door has been permanently rolled down; its windows, covered in tight metal mesh, are dark; and the fence that partially surrounds the property has started to list. The tough-looking men who used to step in and out of cars, play dice on the street and own the corner with their inscrutable game faces are all gone, and some neighbors couldn’t be happier.

Just another quiet day in my neighborhood, says Beth Kivel, one of the many residents who fought in recent years for a safer, quieter North Oak Park. Perhaps in retaliation for their neighborhood activism, Kivel and her partner had their house firebombed in January.

Joany Titherington sat on the couple’s steps on a recent evening. “Everyone’s noticed how quiet and tranquil it is,” she said, noting that she sees other residents strolling around at night now. When she moved into the neighborhood in 1996, she said, strangers would brazenly come onto her property and gamble on her front porch. Other neighbors have found drugs hidden on their property. All that’s changing as the neighborhood attracts more homeowners, including activists like Kivel, who has gone so far as to pressure local landlords to repair and clean up their rental properties.

According to Scott Hall, one of the local problem-oriented police, or POP, officers, there were 24 calls for service at the Washington Market in July and August last year. This summer, there have been six.

Titherington said it took about a week after the market closed for the corner to go quiet. “People have no place to hide,” she said.

“It was easily the most well-known place in Sacramento to buy drugs,” said Kyle Jasperson, a former POP officer. Drug users came to Oak Park from places like Rancho Cordova, Citrus Heights and Elk Grove, he said, because it wasn’t as easy to get drugs in their own neighborhoods. Without the Washington Market providing cover, dealers and users won’t be able to find each other. “I think those people will be displaced,” he said.

This March, the city made good on its promise and seized the Washington Market through the use of eminent domain, giving the owner 90 days to vacate the building, which will be razed and turned into single-family housing. “Public interest and necessity required the acquisition of the property,” according to court documents. The lease was extended to July 31 when the owner agreed to surrender his liquor license at the beginning of June.

Though neighborhood activists are pleased, the market’s most recent owners, who only bought the business about a year before the city’s ax fell, were completely blindsided. So far, they’ve received no monetary compensation for the loss of their livelihood.

The Washington Market property actually has two sets of owners. Members of the Lui family owned the property itself, and they’re the ones the city negotiates with. The case is complicated because the property owners and the business owners are different people. The market that sits on the property was bought by Dalip Gupta and two partners for more than $700,000 in 2005.

Gupta now works at another market in Carmichael—he says he’s just an employee there. He’d like to buy a new store, but without any compensation from the city, all he can do is pay his bills to vendors and wait. In the meantime, he tries to gauge the income potential at his current location, finding the profits profoundly disappointing compared with his location in North Oak Park.

Though Gupta’s attorney, Bruce Manning, says that Gupta has received relocation assistance—primarily the help of a relocation consultant—he is also entitled to moving expenses, some undecided amount for the loss of goodwill and the loss of personal property. Currently, Gupta is still paying the Washington Market’s previous owner $3,333 a month for a business that no longer exists.

“They gave me the notice, and we had no choice. We had to close down the store,” said Gupta. He wonders why the city doesn’t send him something so that he can survive, or at least name a figure or provide some kind of timeline.

“I just keep coming here to relax in my mind,” he said of the store where he works. “I’m a working man. If I don’t have work, I’m sick.”

Manning says there’s not much negotiating going on right now, and he can’t say when the case with the city will be concluded. “Eminent domain is generally a lengthy process,” he said. “Generally, it takes longer than a year.”

Angela Jones of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency concurred. “We don’t have any expectation for when everything is going to be final. … We haven’t found a developer. … Everything is just so undecided.”

Gupta says that many of his regular customers were sorry to see the market close. “There were at least 300, 400 people on our side, but nothing can be done,” he said. Advocates for businesses seized under eminent domain, like the Sacramento Citizens for Property Justice, who opposed the use of eminent domain on K Street, haven’t gotten involved. Kelly Smith, an attorney with the organization, explained that the owner “should have been compensated for fair market value, but it’s a tug of war to figure out what that amount is. The government agency has more leverage.”

According to court documents, the city valued the Washington Market property at $360,000.

Though the Washington Market no longer hosts a 24-hour-a-day drug market, it’s not the only site of criminal activity in North Oak Park. The Women’s Civic Improvement Club on Third Avenue often has been the site of prostitution and drug sales. A small market a couple of blocks east of the Washington Market that has always been quiet seemed to have a few more men hanging around its corner recently, and at the Bonfare Market on Broadway, the owner said that he hasn’t seen any extra trouble, but there certainly are more people hanging around.