Access Fight Heats Up
Tempers flare over private river parkway
By R.E. Graswich
Watch out. Tacks and nails have been strewn along the Sacramento River Parkway bike trail near The Westin Hotel. Fencing has been cut and pushed aside at the city’s private park on Bell Air and Seamas in Little Pocket.
This is what happens when public officials ignore public interests and accommodate a fortunate few. Frustrations boil over. Civility disappears.
City Councilmember Steve Hansen created the controversy along the river parkway. For reasons he refuses to explain, Hansen is building a one-man political barricade against public access to the river levee in Little Pocket. He’s defying his City Council colleagues and ignoring the city’s master plan.
With Hansen’s approval, a city park was turned into a private recreation playground for a handful of Little Pocket residents. Chicory Bend Park, just south of The Westin Hotel and formerly accessible from points along Riverside, is now effectively off-limits to Sacramento taxpayers.
Chicory Bend is a lovely, rustic 10.5-acre waterfront recreation area. But today it’s accessible only to the 40 or so residents who live adjacent to the levee and park. The rest of us can’t visit Chicory Bend—unless we arrive by boat.
I wish Hansen would discuss levee access with me, but he won’t. So I keep searching for reasons to explain his determination to keep the public away from the river.
Many residents in Pocket and Little Pocket tell me there must be some kind of political payoff for Hansen.
Under this theory, a handful of people who live along the river in Little Pocket have given financial support for the two-term city councilmember, who is already campaigning for a third term in 2020. The theory is simple: Riverfront property owners donate money to keep the public out.
It’s a natural assumption, but not supported by evidence.
I went to the county assessor’s office and gathered the names of every Little Pocket homeowner whose property backs up to the levee or Chicory Bend Park. I even threw in residents whose properties almost reach the levee.
Armed with 50 names, I pulled Hansen’s campaign finance forms dating to 2012, when he first ran for City Council. None of the names matched.
While Hansen’s campaign documents were filled with the standard assortment of contributions from labor organizations, law firms, special interest groups, political consultants and elected officials, there was no indication of dollars flowing his way from Little Pocket.
From a fairness perspective, Hansen alone should not be able to block access to the levee parkway. He’s just one vote. The City Council has been unanimous in its support of public access to the levee in Pocket and Greenhaven. Yes, Hansen voted in favor of using eminent domain to open the levee parkway in Pocket.
But City Hall works in strange ways. Tradition grants councilmembers near-absolute authority on land-use issues within their district. Little Pocket is under Hansen’s jurisdiction. Even Pocket Councilmember Rick Jennings—who has worked hard to deliver public access—won’t challenge Hansen over Little Pocket.
Fortunately, access to the river is bigger than one city councilmember. Parkway access benefits the entire city and region. Private fences permitted decades ago are coming down as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins a massive project of levee repairs.
Public access is finally coming to the Sacramento River Parkway—as the city’s 1975 master parkway plan demanded. Little Pocket is no exception.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.