Fenced Out

Councilmember blocks public from river parkway

By R.E. Graswich
July 2019

Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen has broken ranks with his colleagues on the mission to provide public access to the Sacramento River levee.

While the rest of the council is committed to tearing down illegal and private fences that block levee access, Hansen has decided to build a new barrier.

With Hansen’s urging and support, the city erected a metal gate and fence across a public access pathway at 35th Avenue and Riverside Boulevard, blocking residents from enjoying the river.

The gate project, completed in May, moved forward without public notice, input or discussion. Taxpayers paid for the barricade. But they had no opportunity to object to it.

Even worse, the gate appears to have been hastily constructed on private land, which would make it a gift of public funds—a violation of state law.

It seems the city failed to conduct engineering surveys at the site prior to the gate’s installation. The city rushed to complete the job after Inside Sacramento and local residents sought details from Hansen’s office and the city manager’s staff.

Those of us who have been around Sacramento for decades have trouble recalling many municipal construction projects that moved with such speed and efficiency. When it comes to barricading public access to the levee in Hansen’s Little Pocket district, the creaky old bureaucracy can move like lightning.

I’ve known Hansen since before he first ran for City Council in 2012. I get along fine with him and figured it would be easy to learn why he would defy City Council priorities and the Sacramento River Parkway Plan of 1975, which calls for opening public access to the river.

But when I contacted Hansen, he passed me off to his staff. And when I set up an interview with his staff, the staff turned around and canceled the discussion.

 

So I was left with Marycon Young, a spokesperson for City Manager Howard Chan. I exchanged several emails with Young, asking routine questions such as: Was any public notice given or outreach conducted? Was the site surveyed? Is the gate actually on city property? What’s the cost? And what’s the justification?

Young, who clearly wasn’t thrilled to land in the middle of this mess, said, “The parks manager has the authority to close this access point at 35th and Riverside. It does not require City Council approval.”

When I explained her non-responsive answer would confirm that no outreach or engineering surveys were completed, and the city apparently built the barricade illegally on private property, she was silent.

I never like to pick on civil servants who are trying to do their jobs—which perfectly describes Young. I checked with City Hall sources and confirmed the gate was Hansen’s handiwork.

In fact, the parks department wanted no part of the gate. Several years ago, a resident whose home backs up to the levee near 35th and Riverside built a similar illegal fence at about the same location. The parks department ordered the obstruction removed.

Here’s another twist: To justify his new gate, Hansen is willing to scapegoat homeless people. The city manager’s office sent me a photo of a trash-filled homeless camp near the river, and implied the presence of homeless people forced the city to build the barricade at 35th Avenue.

Which begs the question, are fences and gates suddenly Hansen’s answer to homeless camps? Will he fence off the Broadway corridor under the W-X freeway, a prime homeless site? Will he fence off Cesar Chavez Plaza, Old Sacramento and Land Park?

Days before Hansen’s new gate went up at 35th and Riverside, I went there, climbed the levee and walked for 2 miles. I saw no evidence of homeless people. The same can’t be said for Broadway, Chavez Plaza, Old Sac and Land Park, all of which are in Hansen’s district.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com.

Update (7/18/2019): A reply from Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen can be found here

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