River Access is Trending

Governor wants open beaches. Is the city listening?

By R.E. Graswich
December 2019

There are two ways to think about public access at California’s beaches and waterways. One way is to embrace the idea of access for everyone. Gov. Gavin Newsom demonstrated this approach in October, when he signed legislation that opened previously private beaches in Santa Barbara County.

“I’ve long fought to protect these public treasures for future generations and to ensure that any person can experience their beauty,” Newsom says. “That won’t change now that I’m governor.”

Then there’s the opposite approach, as exemplified by Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen.

While Newsom was knocking down gates at Hollister Ranch on the Pacific coast, Hansen was ducking questions and unable to justify why 40 or so homes should maintain exclusive access to the Sacramento River Parkway in Little Pocket. Hansen put up a gate at 35th Avenue and Riverside to keep people out.

Hansen recently held a Town Hall to discuss concerns relevant to Little Pocket. He pushed the access matter to the final minutes and refused to answer questions from many audience members. He also tried to intimidate Inside’s photographer (see sidebar).

Hansen has consistently opposed efforts to finish the river parkway bike trail from South Pocket to Miller Park. He acts like a lobbyist for those 40 riverfront homeowners, allowing them to treat the levee and beaches like private playgrounds.

Under pressure from constituents who demand river levee access, Hansen tries to fog the issue and change the subject. He says it would cost too much to develop Chicory Bend, the city-owned park that’s off-limits to the public—unless you arrive by boat or know someone who lives in one of those homes along the levee in Little Pocket.

And he plays other games. He suggests homeless people are overrunning the parkway and infers a levee bike path would only make matters worse.

Hansen is clever. He says he has “consistently supported efforts to provide safe access along the levee.” He says he has “voted in favor of budget allocations to build the Sacramento River bike trail along the Pocket neighborhood.” He says he “welcomes a reasonable conversation about the public’s interest in accessing Chicory Bend.”

Those statements may be true, but they land with qualifications. Yes, he has supported levee access and approved funds for the levee bike path in Pocket. But not Little Pocket. His interest in access stops at Little Pocket.

Bottom line, Hansen doesn’t want cyclists on the levee in Little Pocket. He wants the public to exit the waterfront near 35th Avenue and jockey with cars on Riverside. Bikes and runners and folks out for a stroll can rejoin the levee at the Westin Hotel.

Hansen’s real message: You are not welcome on the Little Pocket levee unless you own a home there.

With two terms on the City Council and four more years within reach, Hansen enjoys the arrogance of incumbency. He can do pretty much whatever at City Hall. The big problem for Hansen is his legacy.

A talent for double-talk won’t stop Hansen from being remembered as the councilmember who spent years blocking public access to the Sacramento River. On his current trajectory, Hansen’s legacy will be as an obstructionist who helped 40 or so Little Pocket homeowners keep the levee and beaches private.

By contrast, here’s Gov. Newsom: “No matter your ZIP Code, all Californians deserve a chance to enjoy our public parks and beaches.” That includes 95831 and 95822.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Pocket Councilmember Rick Jennings and six other City Council members agree with the governor. Hansen is the only holdout. He represents Little Pocket, 95822.

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

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