Anatomy of a Gate
Emails detail how city closed river access
By R.E. Graswich
She asked for a No Parking sign. City Councilmember Steve Hansen built a gate instead.
She lost access to her property. And the public lost a historic access point to the Sacramento River Parkway levee in Little Pocket.
Months after Inside Sacramento and retired attorney Jim Geary asked the city for documents relevant to Hansen’s new gate on Riverside Boulevard, important evidence has emerged.
The city tried to tell me no documents existed. A different tactic was used on Geary. The city stalled his request for four months. Finally, when he threatened to sue, the goods were coughed up.
And what a story those documents tell. Unfortunately, at no point does anyone on the city payroll say, “Wait a second. Shouldn’t we think about the public? Don’t they deserve access to the levee and river?”
The story began last November, when a Riverside Boulevard resident, Linda Dankman, complained about cars parked on the service road that leads to the levee near 35th Avenue. The city owns the road, which was secured by a pipe gate. Anyone could walk around the gate. And many did—they have for decades.
“At the very least,” Dankman wrote to the mayor’s office, “there should be a No Parking sign and cars should not be allowed to park there at all.”
The city agreed to install signs. Then Hansen got involved. Between last December and April, the city councilmember’s staff badgered various city departments, including parks and public works, to erect a barricade at the Little Pocket service road. His goal: No access.
The gate went up in May. By barricading the service road, the city sealed off public access to a pristine portion of the levee and river, including a 10.5-acre city park called Chicory Bend. Now Dankman can’t reach the backside of her property.
The gate created a private recreational zone for about 40 other property owners along the levee in Little Pocket. When I asked the city and Hansen why they allowed a private riverfront recreational area on public land, they ignored the question.
City documents show a Hansen staffer named Samantha Minor became the Riverside gate project manager, pushing Hansen’s agenda to seal off access. When parks staff first suggested putting up bollards to block cars from the service road, Minor argued for a fence. “This alley has become a nuisance,” she wrote to parks staff. “The Councilman wants to address the issue.”
At first Minor was OK with “something that allows people to walk and bike on the trails,” she wrote in December. But by March, the goal changed. Homeless campers became an excuse to completely block levee access in Little Pocket. “The Councilman wants to get the new fence installed soon,” Minor emailed parks staff.
The shift from some access to zero access became apparent in an April 2 email from a parks staffer to Minor: “The new gate will still have pedestrian access so I do not know how successful it will be with the encampments.”
Within days, the pedestrian access disappeared. Who made that decision? The city and Hansen won’t say.
In boilerplate responses to residents angry over Hansen’s determination to ban public levee access in Little Pocket, the councilmember uses two strategies. First, he says homeless people have caused problems. Second, he says it’s expensive to make Chicory Bend Park accessible to disabled people. Hansen blames homelessness and accessibility for blocking public access. He takes no responsibility.
Meantime, City Councilmember Rick Jennings found money to complete the much larger levee parkway in Pocket and Greenhaven. In tiny Little Pocket, no one expects Hansen to develop Chicory Bend Park. All anyone wants is asphalt and access along the levee top, once the Army Corps of Engineers repairs are finished next year.
Asphalt and public access should not be a big deal. But about 40 riverfront property owners oppose it. And they have Hansen’s ear.
I contacted Minor, who quit Hansen’s office in May. She didn’t respond. I met with Dankman, and she feels misled by the city and Hansen. “I’m all in favor of access to the levee,” she says. “It’s beautiful. I just want people to respect the levee and parkway.” And she wants a key to Hansen’s new gate to access the back of her property. The city refuses.
Jim Geary rolls his eyes at the city’s reluctance to turn over gate documents. “They said they had to redact personal information. They redacted almost nothing, and it still took them months,” he says.
Geary wants residents to know Friends of the Sacramento River Parkway is organized to fight for public access in Little Pocket and Pocket. The email is email@example.com.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.