Building Our Future

Our Joan Didion

Joan Didion, the trailblazing Sacramento-born writer who died a year ago, is getting her due in her hometown.
Didion, 87, was one of her generation’s most celebrated writers. But except for a white mansion with a wrap-around front porch at 2000 22nd St., there are few visible signs she ever lived here.

The reasons aren’t clear. Sacramento has always been skittish about boasting on its celebrities, and a number of Didion fans believe she never cared for the place.

They point to comments made in her writing and elsewhere—“Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento,” for instance—and how she couldn’t wait to flee after graduation from C.K. McClatchy High School in 1952.

But many ambitious young people feel constrained by their hometowns. There is ample evidence she cared deeply for the city and its surroundings.

‘Societal Armageddon’

Moments before signing a package of bills aimed at easing California’s affordable housing crisis, Gov. Gavin Newsom used some colorful language to describe the issue. He called it “the original sin of the state of California.”

“That’s the issue of housing and affordability,” he said. “It touches more things in more ways on more days than any other issue. It is at the core of so much of the frustration many of us have about our state and our future.”

House of Memories

It was hard not to feel nostalgic looking at photos of a demolition team tearing down old Arco Arena. Like many Sacramento residents, I spent a lot of time there and have a head and heart full of memories.

Many are wonderful, like the games my family and I attended when Chris Weber, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac and the rest of the talented roster made a heartbreakingly close run at the NBA Western Division championship in 2002.

Roaring Back

A little more than two years ago, Sacramento’s core suffered a nasty one-two punch. COVID-19 and the March 2020 lockdown removed about 100,000 state workers who poured into the central city each day. Suddenly, they were working at home—many still are—while many restaurants, bars and other small businesses depending on them collapsed.

Throw in the late-spring and summer of sometimes violent protests over the murder of George Floyd and other outrages, and the central city became a ghost town by day and frequent crime scene at night. What finally seemed like a Sacramento renaissance months earlier dissolved into a sad, depressing mess.

Misplaced Danger

Recent hand wringing about the American River Parkway being destroyed by illegal camping reminds me of the old Yogi Berra line: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

If you listen to the critiques, including those from such stalwart advocates as the American River Parkway Foundation, you’d think the popular trail is a dangerous place best avoided at all costs.

“The parkway is in crisis,” Dustin Luton, president of the foundation’s board, wrote city and county officials this year.

Tear It Down

A few months ago, I saw a flurry of nostalgic photos on social media from longtime friends and former colleagues working or posing in room 1190 of the state Capitol.

That’s the place in the old Capitol annex where reporters gathered for jousting sessions with governors and other elected officials. Because I spent considerable time there when I covered politics for The Bee and later as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s speechwriter, the photos and social media posts caught my eye.

But I have to confess, I feel no warm sense of nostalgia about the place and agree with political columnist Dan Walters, who wrote: “No one who works in and around the Capitol will be sorry to see the annex disappear. It is not only plug ugly 1950s brutalist architecture at its worst, but dysfunctional to the max.”

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