Cursed Gate

How everything went wrong with a fence

By R.E. Graswich
March 2021

Here is why people should not build fences to block the Sacramento River Parkway levee. When the city tried to build a small fence and gate across an old marina service road at Riverside Boulevard and 35th Avenue in 2019, everything went bad. The project was cursed.

The small fence and gate—maybe 35 feet of wrought iron—cost city taxpayers $11,900. Almost instantly, the gate became a lightning rod for problems.

The city was in a hurry to erect the gate, driven by political pressure from a City Council member. The pressure flowed downhill from the councilman to the parks department to the fence contractors, who rushed the job and botched it.

The builders worked without a property line survey. They eyeballed the site. They guessed where the posts should go. They guessed wrong and built part of the fence on someone’s private property next to the marina access road.

The property owner complained. Before the contractors could fix the mistake, vandals arrived. They bent and cut the gate’s vertical bars. The vandals served notice: This gate is a bad idea.

A little later, workers from the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency began a five-year project to repair the levee. The old marina road was an entry point for construction crews.

One day, the crews accidentally rammed the gate with a truck. Like most busy construction teams, they didn’t stop to fix the damage. Instead, they pulled the gate off its hinges, set it aside and continued their work.

The City Council member who forced the city to build the gate was Steve Hansen. He was determined to erect the gate—to the point of obsession. To justify his compulsion, Hansen said homeless people were entering the marina road, chopping down trees and starting fires. A gate was needed to stop them. The city produced no evidence of this, but Hansen stuck to his story.

The wrought iron gate helped destroy Hansen’s political career. The gate was symbolic of his resolve to stop public access to the river. His arrogance created an opportunity for Katie Valenzuela, a young neighborhood activist. She trounced Hansen in last year’s election.

The service road Hansen blocked was an ancient track, wide enough for one vehicle. The road hadn’t been publicly used since the early 1980s, when it led to a river café and boat dock called Da Rosa Marina.

Before the marina closed, its operators went to dramatic lengths to stay open. They built an outdoor theater and produced cheesy musicals in what they described as “the old California style.” A show called “A Way, Way Out West” was performed weekends in July 1981, accompanied by the Nick Davis Band.

The show drew few fans. The marina folded. The abandoned site—dock, small café and trailer—rotted away, drowned by high waters, neglect and tax liens. The state took ownership and gave the land to the city, which ignored it.

When the marina closed, a horizontal pipe gate blocked the old access road at Riverside at 35th Avenue. The pipe gate was perfect—authorities could swing it open to check the levee, residents could walk around it to enjoy the evocative beauty of city-owned waterfront.

The old marina property, also known as Wheeler’s Landing, is one of the most magical spots in Sacramento. It’s a raw, unique environment where nature reclaims history.

In October 1956, a small restaurant opened at Wheeler’s Landing. It was called the Aloha Room. A newspaper ad celebrated chef Kam Hoy Loo as “direct from the Island of Oahu with the latest innovations of the island dishes.” Free orchids were given to women customers.

Chef Loo’s creations failed to sway appetites. Two years later, the restaurant switched to Italian cuisine. In the late 1960s, Wheeler’s Landing became the Riverside Marina. The café was reduced to beer and sandwiches. The property was christened Da Rosa Marina around 1970. Al Powell ran it until his death in 1978.

Such a rare and wonderful place should be savored. That’s why people should not build fences along the river.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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