Give It Up

Hateful few won’t stop parkway progress

By R.E. Graswich
September 2021

There’s something about living along the Sacramento River Parkway that makes a few people hate their neighbors. This is no exaggeration. Maybe it’s the arrogance that comes from living in a house that backs up to something timeless and beautiful. Maybe it’s the fog of exclusivity created by fences that blocked levee access and pushed neighbors away.

No matter the explanation, it’s tangible and unhealthy and dishonorable. Let’s examine this sorry situation and find a way to stop it.

Evidence of anti-social behavior by some levee-side tenants is plentiful. They install fake warning signs about trespassing. Over the summer, a resident on Benham Way rigged two sprinklers with motion detectors and embedded the contraptions on the levee. The goal was to blast water at neighbors who walked there.

Beyond the fact that embedded sprinklers and water hoses along the levee are illegal and dangerous—nothing can be placed on the levee without permission from state flood authorities—the sprinkler prank revealed a sadistic attitude. What sort of person thinks it’s fun to shoot water at neighbors?

Childish conduct by adults is hard to penetrate, but I suppose the sprinklers were a message: Get off the levee, you don’t belong here, it’s my kingdom and I alone deserve to enjoy it.

The sprinkler nonsense followed other anti-neighborly incidents on the levee near Benham. There was a guy in a gasmask—yes, a gasmask—who sprayed chemicals and chased a teenaged boy. There was a resident who turned his dog loose on an Inside Sacramento photographer.

Nobody was hurt, but each encounter projected the image of juvenile bullying—the sort of behavior any good neighbor would consider an embarrassment.

When I started writing about Sacramento River Parkway access seven years ago, I wondered about the fear and loathing harbored by a knot of residents whose houses bump up against the levee. For some reason, they can’t stand the thought of neighbors walking near their homes. It drives them nuts.

The origins of this psychosis can be found in the bizarre belief among some property owners that they “own” the levee. The hallucination runs deep. Some of these people believe they own the entire riverbank and half the river.

There are many reasons why such ownership claims are fantasy. To recap: The state received easements from levee farmers more than a century ago, and gained authority and ownership of the levees. The state directs all levee activities, from maintenance to the placement of vegetation, fences, even sprinklers. State law guarantees public access to waterways. The levees and riverbanks have supported public recreation for generations, decades before Pocket, Greenhaven and Little Pocket were subdivided.

There’s more, but you get the idea. The public owns the levees. Nearby tenants who cling to delusional ownership theories are trying to make a case for Santa Claus.

Which isn’t a good reason to hate your neighbors. Over the years I’ve tried to talk to residents along the levee and learn why they are so afraid. They cite the usual bogeymen, stealthy burglars and drug-addled homeless people.
When I tell them crime on the levee is no worse than other neighborhoods in Pocket and Greenhaven, or that public activity on the levee will discourage criminals, they don’t want to hear it.

A reader named Judi lives near the levee. She emailed me and said people walking behind her home destroyed her peace and tranquility. She said some idiots shot off illegal fireworks. She implied it was my fault. I told her illegal fireworks are nuisances everywhere and asked why she deserves special protection. Is it simply because she lives near the levee? She didn’t answer.

It’s time for levee residents to join their community. Time to stop hating your neighbors.

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

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