Promise Keeper

After half-century, council member delivers on access

By R.E. Graswich
March 2019

They made the promise in 1975. It was memorialized in writing and adopted by the Sacramento City Council. The document was called the Sacramento River Parkway Master Plan, and its vow was simple.

Residents of Pocket and Greenhaven would enjoy a paved recreational trail along the Sacramento River levee, accessible at multiple points. People could walk, run or cycle from Freeport to Downtown without leaving the parkway.

No fences to block the way. No detours onto city streets.

The idea of a levee parkway didn’t start with the Master Plan of June 1975. Fifteen years earlier, a consulting firm, Pacific Planning and Research, suggested to city officials that land adjacent to the river levee should be protected from development and saved for recreational purposes.
That was 1960, before the subdivision of Pocket and Greenhaven began. As the consultants considered the future, they saw something beyond the farmland. They saw an opportunity to build a unique recreational treasure that would serve generations.

The river levee parkway was a visionary notion. It would allow Sacramento to continue its orderly march south and create one of California’s most comprehensive waterfront showcases.

Unfortunately, City Hall didn’t listen. It ordered greenways and winding concrete paths for new neighborhoods in Pocket, but largely ignored the river. Worse, the city did nothing when a few riverfront homeowners claimed dubious property rights to the levee and threw up fences to block access.

Today, the visions of 1960 and 1975 have finally caught up with City Hall. Elected officials have listened. They have identified a process to erase the sketchy property claims, and pieced together budgets and planning documents to deliver the promise made a half-century ago.

Leading the way is Rick Jennings, the community’s City Council member since 2014. Jennings sees the levee parkway as his legacy project.

“When I first ran for office, I supported building the new arena Downtown and opening the levee for everyone,” he says. “I was willing to lose the election on those two goals.”

Now in his second term, Jennings has stood before hostile audiences of riverfront homeowners—a coven unaccustomed to hearing the word “no” from City Hall—and explained why the community’s recreational benefits must prevail over private access to the levee, which is owned and maintained by the public.

“The parkway was a promise,” Jennings says. “You don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

For five years, Jennings and staff have worked with the city bureaucracy, engaged state water authorities and wrangled support from fellow council members, all on behalf of public access to the levee.

“We probably spend 5 to 10 percent of our time on levee access,” says Dennis Rogers, chief of staff for Jennings and point man on parkway access. “Some weeks less, some weeks more. But it’s important.”

Finishing the levee parkway will require several big steps. The city must resolve ownership claims by riverfront property owners. Condemnation is planned for the stubborn cases. Environmental and design work must be completed. Permits must be obtained. And finally, pavement must be laid.

Jennings has penciled out the cost at $7.925 million. Ironically, that’s not much more than the $6 million estimated by the city in 1997, when the 1975 Parkway Master Plan was updated.

Where will the money come from? How will it be spent? What’s the timeframe? We’ll explain those pieces of the puzzle next month.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at reg@graswich.com.

Share via