Pilot alley project to get $100,000

Work on a pilot alley project may begin next year after $100,000 in community development money has become available, Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Cohn said Wednesday.

The money is coming from unused federal community development block grant (CDBG) funds leftover from a street lighting program in North Sacramento’s Ben Ali neighborhood.

Like most lighting projects, this one came in way under budget, enabling some funds to be used instead for public infrastructure in Midtown’s first "alley activation" project, said Cohn, whose Third District encompasses both neighborhoods.

"Our hope is that it’ll be part of a larger program that will make use of a lot more alleys," he said.

Cohn and members of an Alley Activation Committee in Sacramento see at least some of the central city’s 600 alleys as under-used resources that could provide more space for business and residential development, thus preventing urban sprawl while adding to the city’s charm.

"It really fits with the whole sustainability concept of making use of existing spaces and the existing infrastructure," he said.

A specific project description is needed to meet federal requirements for the funds, he said.

Within the next few weeks, the Alley Activation Committee is expected to create a plan outlining how public and private money will be used on this pilot project, which consists of two alleys stretching from 17th to 19th streets between L Street and Capitol Avenue. The goal is to create an attractive, well-lit pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly corridor, giving diners and shoppers easy access to the East End Parking Garage.

City Development Services staff will give input on the plan. Councilmembers have discretion over how CDBG money for their districts is used, so the plan doesn’t need City Council approval, said senior city planner Stacia Cosgrove.

Developer Jeremy Drucker is also proposing to build a condo building on one of those alleys. Developer Aaron Zeff has proposed creating an upscale restaurant row in a third pilot alley located from 16th to 17th streets between I and J streets.

The CDBG funds may be used for such things as drainage, landscaping and lighting. Benches and other aesthetic improvements must be paid for by property owners, Cohn said.

The Midtown Business Association hired consultant Martha Lake to form a nonprofit organization to search for private and public grants and accept donations, as well as to create a collaborative partnership between business people spearheading alley activation and community-based organizations and residents. Work on applying for 501(c)3 has just begun, Lake said.

The city wants to see private investors make financial commitments to the pilot alley project and a program to activate alleys before releasing the CDBG funds, Cohn said.

The city could request bids for public infrastructure contracts by early next year, and work should start no later than spring or summer, he said.

Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.

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September 23, 2009 | 9:10 PM

Perhaps Mr. Cohn can find another 100k to begin the task of finishing the job of lighting midtown streets. Mr. Cohn has said repeatedly at Council there just isn’t any money yet he found some to fund a project for his friends. This was ‘left over’ lighting money. Oh the irony…we stay in the dark while a few selected property owners with names like Heller, Vrilakis and Jimenez. get their pet project publicly funded. $ 100k can buy about 15 streetlights, enough for at least three still dark Midtown blocks. No Council approval needed, ie: no public hearing is just icing on the cake.

September 24, 2009 | 10:02 AM

You are absolutely right but central city residents have always come last. If the alley development is such a good idea, why subsidize wealthy developers? Let’s see the “market” demand at work to develop these alleys.

Census shows that midtown has long qualified for CDBG funds based on the large number of low income residents who live in Midtown and those funds are to be used to help them and their neighborhood. How much has been spent to improve their quality of life? Very little. Why?

Studies and midtown’s experience is that bars and night clubs increase crime in adjacent business and residential areas. Street lighting is shown to reduce crime and save law enforcement costs. So that 100k and more that is available each year should be used for that.

But is Cohn, Fong or Tretheway, Kerridge, Thomas far sighted enough to connect those dots of safety, lighting and reduced police costs? Obviously not. Don’t forget elections are coming up.

September 24, 2009 | 9:30 AM

It would seem that this alley concept is yet another example of Sacramento attempting to be “European chic.” How novel. But don’t get me wrong, I think the idea of alley activation is great, and I commend anyone who can successfully carry it out (especially in 20 ft. alleys). However, there are critical evolutions that need to occur in Sacramento before ideas like this really take off (i.e. – more density (i.e.- activity that is closer together and not sparsed), more pedetrians on the streets, a variety of surrounding attractions (aside from Zocolo and Crepeville, and the bazillion other restaurants), improved lighting, improved streets, etc.). It will take time, and Sacramento has plenty of potential to develop into a bustling city…but as in anything, it’s good not to put the chicken before the egg.

September 24, 2009 | 9:42 AM

The problem is, which is the chicken and which is the egg? More residential development on alleys will drive density by putting two buildings onto what used to be a single lot, with up to 5 units total density, without destroying the existing building. More business density in alleys will allow greater walkability, as long as those businesses include things useful to the neighborhood–not just restaurants and bars, but goods and services.

Density doesn’t just happen automatically, it happens when things that promote density (like fixed public transit, mixed-use buildings and multi-family residential units) are in place. Downtown Sacramento actually used to be much, much denser than it is today, when we had all of the above. The city deliberately chose to destroy those things and reduce the city’s population density, creating car-centric suburbs instead.

The remaining fabric of the central city could be stitched together by moving back to what we had until the 1950s, with more traditional modes of development and fixed-rail transit (otherwise known as neighborhood streetcars.) We still have some of the fabric, at least in the historic neighborhoods where things weren’t plowed under quite so thoroughly. In order to drive density, transit must come first, then replacing mixed-use housing in historic buildings, then infill of similar buildings on vacant lots.

September 24, 2009 | 10:52 AM

I agree with most of what you’ve stated, and I agree that these transformations take time…and $$$ As far as improved transporatation goes and from an overly pragmatic standpoint, with STA funds having been slashed and RT not being financially self-supporting, I don’t see how transit improvements will occur in the near future (next 5 years). Perhaps we can channel what funds are left into other public amenities…while the other improvements you speak of (housing/retail) are done by private business (developers). Realistically, the order of these developments is, at least in part, dependent on the money available.

September 25, 2009 | 10:51 AM

jrewers: NO public transit agencies ANYWHERE are financially self-supporting. They are all public-supported. New York City’s transit companies have the best farebox return rate in the country, and those aren’t self-supporting either: they get back about 60 cents in the dollar from fareboxes and other income.

The difference is that many other cities do a lot better job of supporting them. San Francisco pays three times per sales tax dollar what we do for public transit–Los Angeles pays six times as much. Because they are willing to pay for their own systems, instead of cutting service and raising fares like we are, San Francisco is at least holding steady and Los Angeles is EXPANDING its public transit lines. The only difference is that they are willing to locally fund their transit systems. They’re having to scramble due to the loss of STA funds–but not as much as we are.

Transit drives density. Portland turned the “Pearl” district from a nearly uninhabited industrial area into a densely populated residential neighborhood in less than a decade BECAUSE THEY BUILT THE STREETCAR LINE FIRST. Trying to build dense infill without fixed transit support means you have to include more parking, because there is no alternative to the automobile.

September 25, 2009 | 3:31 PM

Buses in Seattle drive empty nearly all day and night. The main causes of traffic jams in the NW are the buses and reduced available traffic lanes. Sometimes something that seems like a good idea won’t turn out to be that way.

As for the Pearl District (I have a store there), it has been uber yippified and the area no longer offers affordable living. It went too far.

September 24, 2009 | 12:03 PM

“City Development Services staff will give input on the plan. Councilmembers have discretion over how CDBG money for their districts is used, so the plan doesn’t need City Council approval, said senior city planner Stacia Cosgrove.”

This will be news to the City Council, who on August 11th approved the continuation of City Staff working with the Alley Activation Committee, on what was presented as an open and public process, without specific decisions on which alleys would finally be chosen for development.

When this month’s Alley Activation meeting was cancelled and after Bob Shallit in the Bee announced the 17th/18th/L/Capitol alley “activation” as a foregone conclusion, I called Steve Cohn’s office. I asked whether the decision that this would be the first alley “activated” had been made and who makes the final decision. I was told “No” to the first and “I don’t know” to the second. I also asked the same of Stacia Cosgrove. A week ago she did not have the answer that is presented in SacPress today.

October 20, 2009 | 10:40 AM

William: I know the numbers related to transportation funding in SF and I realize there is a tax structure difference, and I know that no public transit is self-supporting. I think ridership plays a role in this as well… I’ve traveled and read enough about the east coast subways (NY, DC Metro, Atlanta MARTA) and their level of ridership is quite a bit higher (for a multitude of reasons). I’m also aware of the Pearl Dists. development (and how often it is cited); however that took place during a more fluid and stable economic time. While I do agree that development of public transit is intergral to the development of a city, Sacramento is too car dependent..and I think it’s obviously a mentality issue (probably the result of all those car-centric suburbs). I would like to do actual research on this someday…examining if rail transit does actually drive density (it didn’t in parts of Florida), since there are so many variables at play… Anyway, good thoughts on the subject!

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