Anti-river access group wins battle, loses war
By R.E. Graswich
Here’s my entry for the most ridiculous local political takeover of 2022.
Several months ago, a group of homeowners along the Sacramento River levee seized control of the Pocket Greenhaven Community Association. They figured by co-opting the association, they could influence, delay or even prevent the city from finishing the river parkway and bike trail.
They were wrong. The takeover merely squandered the association’s good work and reputation.
Now others will have to pick up the pieces and rebuild the Pocket and Greenhaven neighborhood group after 2024, when the bike trail is complete and anti-access levee homeowners drift away.
The takeover began in 2021, when several households along the levee decided they could derail the river parkway if they got elected to the Pocket and Greenhaven neighborhood board. From their leadership perch, they could convince the city the bike trail is a terrible idea.
How clever. They realized it’s not hard to win seats on a community board. Sixty or 70 votes do the trick. They also realized it’s pretty easy to rig a community association election.
Balloting was conducted online. Every association member was eligible to vote. Miraculously, dozens of new members signed up moments before the vote. Many shared the same address, like a commune voting from a hot tub.
Some ballots might have been cast by new members with four legs and a tail. The neighborhood association’s voting requirements are based on an honor system. Canine and feline votes could slip through.
“We spent hours going back and checking addresses and found all kinds of problems last year,” former longtime Pocket and Greenhaven board member Jim Geary says. “But at some point, it’s not worth the aggravation.”
The levee homeowners’ party managed to elect two board members in 2021. Last year, having perfected their strategies, they took control with three more directors.
“Like an idiot, I actually tried to campaign against them and keep my seat,” Geary says. “I made a speech and everything.” He lost.
Why would a few levee homeowners bother to commandeer a community group? What’s in it for them?
There’s some logic to grabbing control of a neighborhood association, but not much.
City officials—in this case, local City Council Member Rick Jennings—occasionally consult with neighborhood associations on planning and zoning matters. Consultation is primarily for the sake of appearances. It’s a box to check.
There are exceptions. Some neighborhood groups, such as one in East Sacramento, are led by people with credibility at City Hall. The East Sac group includes retired government planners and architects, people who know how to talk to city officials, have serious ideas, and don’t waste city staff time.
Credibility must be earned. The new Pocket and Greenhaven board has none. The old Pocket Greenhaven Community Association, led by established volunteers such as Geary, Will Cannady and Devin Lavelle, built credibility by working to improve the neighborhood.
The group created the Pocket Canal Holiday Lights program, helped organize the Fourth of July parade and acted swiftly last year to help residents when dozens of mailboxes were broken into with skeleton keys. Community association leaders advanced neighborhood interests, not their own.
The new neighborhood board is more about turning the clock back and preventing public access to the levee. Members complain about diminished safety along the levee. They fear people on the river bike trail will peer into bedroom windows.
The new association should form a committee to study how curtains work.
Jennings and City Hall officials don’t want to discuss the significance of the Pocket Greenhaven Community Association, probably because there is none. But Dennis Rogers, chief of staff for Jennings, happily explains the status of the Sacramento River Parkway bike trail.
“It’s a city of Sacramento project, not the council member’s project,” he says. “It was unanimously approved by the City Council. The planning and engineering is funded and staffed and moving forward. It’s supported by funding from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. It’s happening.”
Once the new Pocket Greenhaven Community Association accepts these facts, maybe the organization can become a positive force. Or at least something other than irrelevant.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.