Looking For Excuses

Motorbikes can’t be reason to stop river access

By R.E. Graswich
May 2021

One guaranteed way to get my attention is to say somebody needs to build a gate near the Sacramento River Parkway levee.

After all, thanks to Inside Sacramento, I’ve spent the last seven years helping Pocket community members erase nine cross-levee gates that blocked public access to the city’s original treasure.

It’s been a tough fight against a small group of property owners who live along the levee and think they own the river. Some of their fences have stood for five decades.

Now the battle is over. The community has won. The gates are coming down to accommodate levee repairs by the Army Corps of Engineers. State officials will not issue new permits for levee fences and gates when the project finishes in 2024.

So I was surprised to hear urgent pleas about the need for a new gate near the levee behind Arabella Way in Pocket. This new gate will replace an old pipe gate that was removed for levee repair work. It’s basically an idiot-proof barricade.

In other words, a new gate would prevent idiots from driving motorcycles and even cars onto the levee.

“People have been doing some really dumb stuff,” says Dennis Rogers, chief of staff for City Councilmember Rick Jennings, who represents Pocket. “I’ve seen video of motorcycles up there. We don’t want to lose momentum for the bike trail.”

And Rogers doesn’t want to give ammunition to people who oppose public access. He’s right to be concerned. For reasons I’ve never understood, a handful of levee property owners somehow amassed significant political influence decades ago.
State and city authorities feared them.

Fortunately, that influence disappeared in recent years, thanks to Jennings and the state’s Central Valley Flood Protection Board, which owns and controls the levees.

Fear of crazed trespassers has been a foundational argument for property owners along the levee since the 1960s. The first cross-levee fences were established after property owners claimed marauders on horseback and motorcycles used the levees to terrorize newly subdivided neighborhoods south of Riverside Boulevard.

I’ve spent years searching for evidence that horseback and motorcycle outlaws plundered homes near the mid-century Pocket levee. I’ve found easements from long-deceased Pocket farmers giving levee access and control to state agencies. I’ve found permit applications for levee fences that looked nothing like the fences that were erected.

But I’ve never found proof that crazed horsemen and motorcycle gangs rampaged in Pocket.

A lack of evidence won’t stop property owners from claiming they need fences. In 2014, the late Pocket hero Gary Buzzini enlisted my help in his campaign to open two illegal gates on Chicory Bend and Rivershore courts. Outraged residents claimed the gates were needed to prevent drunken youth from accessing the levee and running amok.

We checked police records and found there were problems on Chicory Bend and Rivershore—mischief generated by residents themselves.

The Arabella access noted by Rogers is an old levee entry road used by maintenance crews. A simple pipe gate prevented entry for cars and motorcycles (and most horses). Earlier this year, Army Corps contractors removed the gate to deploy equipment on the levee and build seepage cutoff walls.

The levee repair project has been underway for more than a year. The contractors do a good job fencing off construction zones to keep people safe. Securing the Arabella site isn’t complicated.

Dealing with a few idiots on motorcycles or motorized toy scooters is another matter. When the repair project is finished and the levee parkway is paved and open to pedestrians and bicyclists, an occasional knucklehead on a motorbike will discover an access point and ride along the levee. It’s stupid, but they can’t help themselves.

These will be the same idiots who let go of the handgrips while speeding and pop wheelies on Pocket Road. We don’t barricade Pocket Road on their account. And we won’t barricade the levee parkway.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at regraswich@icloud.com. Previous columns can be found and shared at InsideSacramento.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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