City set to take land for levee trail
By R.E. Graswich
The Pocket-Greenhaven community has two citizen-warriors who work hard to keep bureaucrats honest. They are the two Jims—Jim Geary and Jim Houpt. Both lawyers, they love to deploy their expertise to dissect documents, ask tough questions and insist authorities deliver services as promised.
The two Jims give special attention to the river and levees that make Pocket and Greenhaven unique. They are serious about parks and recreation. They believe the city must deliver on its 1975 promise to complete the Sacramento River Parkway atop the levee from Freeport to Downtown.
The Jims were pleased last year when the Sacramento City Council unanimously agreed to move forward with eminent domain easement acquisitions along the levee, a big step toward finishing the parkway.
The acquisitions involve tiny strips of backyard footage claimed by property owners along the levee. For decades, a few homeowners insisted they “owned” the levee, which was ridiculous. The state owns the levee. It controls everything that happens there.
While levee ownership is clear, the city believes the property owners may have some claim to title for land beneath the levee, whatever that means. To avoid a legal rabbit hole, the city agreed to buy small recreational easements from levee property owners. If owners refuse the city’s generosity, easements will be taken through eminent domain for public benefit.
The two Jims have had many discussions about the city’s strategy. While they don’t necessarily embrace the city’s theories, they cheer the decision to move ahead. For the Jims, what matters is public access to the river and levee—now, not years down the road.
Which is why the Jims have been asking City Hall: What’s happening with eminent domain?
The answer: Nothing, yet. While the City Council green-lighted the acquisition of recreational easements along the levee, the process has been held up by the city’s desire to get other public agencies lined up. It’s a complex exercise, running through all levels of government, federal to local.
“The city has budgeted general fund money for the acquisition of the recreational easements, plus the design, permitting and environmental work,” says Dennis Rogers, chief of staff for City Councilmember Rick Jennings, who has led the battle for levee access. “We’re basically making sure everyone is on the same page.”
The parkway project involves CalTrans and regional flood agencies. It concerns the Army Corps of Engineers, because the Corps is busily repairing levee sections from Pocket to Downtown. The final paving work for the parkway bike trail can’t be completed until the Corps finishes.
Naturally, the two Jims are suspicious of delays. Their suspicions have foundation. A history of excuses and decades of broken promises should make the most optimistic Pocket resident wary.
“I’m gratified the city is moving forward even if it’s taking longer than expected,” Houpt says. “We really wouldn’t want the trail paved only to have it torn up by critical work to improve our levee. The city has the luxury of time to make sure it gets everything right.”
Geary agrees, but notes the city has ignored his requests for information about eminent domain progress. He says, “A little transparency from the city could go a long way to improving my opinion of the status of the city’s effort to complete the parkway. Why must we fight for every bit of information?”
He’s right. The city’s habit of hiding information about the levee parkway destroys public trust.
But the city is determined to acquire easements and build a riverfront bike trail that should have arrived decades ago. It’s nice to know neighbors are ready to yell when progress takes a detour.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.