Truth Serum

Neighborhood group offers levee facts, not fiction

By R.E. Graswich
February 2020

The Big Dig planned in Pocket and Greenhaven by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will intimidate residents. The Corps and its contractors are chopping down trees, cutting deep into the Sacramento River levee and building an underground wall to hold back floodwaters. Hundreds of trucks will haul dirt through local neighborhoods. Traffic will snarl. Tempers will boil.

But help is here. The volunteers who comprise the Pocket Greenhaven Community Association are determined to make the levee repair project easy to understand and navigate. They are planning a community forum where questions can be answered and facts provided.

“Most people don’t realize the impact it’s going to have,” says GariRae Gray, PGCA secretary. “It’s really important that we maintain an open discussion, separate truth from rumor and don’t get into all the hyperbole.”

Distinguishing between fact and fiction is just one task for neighborhood associations. Collectively, they play a special role in Sacramento’s municipal governance.

There are more than 50 neighborhood and community associations across the city, from Valley Hi to the far suburbs of North Natomas. Some have many active members, others just a handful. Officially recognized by City Hall, neighborhood associations have a direct pipeline to City Council offices. Local politicians ignore them at their peril.

Until recently, Pocket and Greenhaven were exceptions to the community association roster. The community had no neighborhood association. The reason was simple: Most residents believed there was no need. Pocket and Greenhaven were among the safest and most affluent neighborhoods in the city.

Life was good. For more than two decades, the local City Council member—whether Robbie Waters or Darrell Fong or current representative Rick Jennings—was responsive to citizen complaints and concerns.

About four years ago, several Pocket residents decided to form a neighborhood association, not out of frustration but as a proactive move. Neighborhoods such as Land Park, Sierra Curtis and Midtown had powerful community associations. Why not Pocket and Greenhaven?

By 2017, the Pocket Greenhaven group was up and running as a nonprofit. GariRae Gray got involved because, as a retired analyst and project manager for the state, she had expertise and time to give back to her community.

“For most of my adult life, I was busy working,” she says. “When I retired, I had to get involved in something.”

The timing was excellent. The Big Dig is the largest, most expensive infrastructure project to hit Pocket and Greenhaven since the community’s agricultural fields were plowed under and subdivided. The levee repair work stretches across every level of government—federal, state and local—and will approach $2 billion, with at least $500 million spent around Pocket and Greenhaven.

Work has begun with tree removal. Heavier digging will commence in April and continue for most of the year. It’s literally a Big Dig—crews will excavate deep trenches within the levee and construct slurry seepage walls. In some places, the walls will reach 135 feet below ground. The digging will be done in sections. The depths will depend on engineering assessments.

The seepage walls will do exactly what the name suggests—prevent river water from working its way under the levee.

The Pocket Greenhaven Community Association provides a grounded alternative to the untethered, alternative reality that can be found on social media platforms such as Nextdoor.

“There is truth there on Nextdoor, but also rumors, and people use it to complain a lot,” Gray says. “We are trying to push a broad perspective about what will really be happening.”

Before our press deadline, no date had been set for the neighborhood association’s public forum on the Big Dig. We will keep readers informed here and on our website at

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

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