Legacy of Fear

Council, city attorney leave a mess on levee trail

By R.E. Graswich
July 2022

At some point the city will hold meetings in Pocket and tell residents what’s going on with the Sacramento River Parkway and levee bike trail. I’ve heard city authorities talk about these meetings, but only in a tentative way. Nobody knows when they will happen.

But I have a good idea how they will unfold. Something like this:

City Council member Rick Jennings will acknowledge the promise made in 1975 to build the levee parkway. He will offer excuses for the half-century delay and explain the need to respect concerns of people who bought homes along the levee.

He will admit how some homeowners convinced themselves their property included the entire levee and even river itself, and how this misconception created problems for the city.

Finally, Jennings will say the city wants to move forward, pave the levee top and finish the parkway north of Garcia Bend Park. (He won’t talk about the levee in Little Pocket, saying that’s another story.)

He will describe procedures to keep residents safe near the levee, including placement of cameras that read license plates on streets near the river. He will mention legal details about recreational easements and eminent domain.

After reminding everyone to be respectful of neighbors (variations of the word “respect” will be repeated often), the councilman will invite questions.

A few people will ask questions. Others will make speeches about their privacy being violated, their safety being ignored, their property values threatened.

On that note, the meetings will end. Eventually, paving equipment will appear on the levee and the trail will open, 50 years late.

I’ve been writing about public access to the levee for eight years, pounding out the same tune with different arrangements, inspired by hundreds of community members who say please keep going.

Every time I write about the parkway—I don’t count the columns, but I must have written 70—people email and say thanks, we’re with you, the city needs to finish the parkway, how can we help?

Throughout this journey, I’ve returned to a question that occurred to me eight years ago: Why is the city afraid of a few homeowners along the levee?

Here’s what I know:

For decades, the city wasn’t afraid. After all, it planned the parkway and promised the bike trail.

But influential property owners near the river began to lobby City Hall, claiming perverts on the levee would peep into their windows or break into their homes.

They found sympathetic City Council members. I argued with the most significant among them, my late friend Robbie Waters, who served 16 years as Pocket’s councilman.

Robbie was determined to keep the public off the levee north of Garcia Bend. He insisted it was “private property.” I told him that was nonsense, that he was failing the community. We went back and forth. Neither convinced the other. We finally agreed to drop the subject.

Robbie didn’t fear troublesome property owners. They were his friends. He took care of them.

Another big problem is the city attorney’s office.

When I told a deputy city attorney the “private property” claim was ridiculous and the state owned the levees, she agreed. Then she recited a theory about how some residents owned land under the levee—irrelevant, inaccessible dirt.

Moreover, she insisted the state’s ownership rights were limited to maintenance, not recreation—an absurd idea given historical access and the state’s complete control over the levees.

Substantial precedent says the city attorney is wrong. Errors are routine for the city’s legal team. Look no further than the disastrous redistricting map that left thousands of East Sacramento residents without representation until 2024.

For more questions about the city attorney’s competence, check out the bizarre signs installed by the parks department on the levee near Benham Way. The signs describe parts of the levee as “private levee roads.” Walking there is described as “trespassing.”

Wrong and wrong. The levee is not “private property.” Walking on the levee is not “trespassing.” Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant or lying.

But guess what? The city attorney approved the message.

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

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