Shed Some Light On Alley Activation
(This comment in response to Suzanne Hunt’s "Pilot Alley Project To Get $100,000" is too long for a comment and too important to not bring to immediate attention. If the public is ever to have a voice in this matter and the expenditure of those funds, now is the time).
Today ground was broken for Jeremy Drucker’s Stitch model project in the 17th/18th/L/Capitol Alley.
Today would have been the September Alley Activation meeting, which was inexplicably cancelled.
At August’s Alley Activation meeting, Steve Cohn announced the availability of the $100,000 CDBG funds. He said the money needed to be spent and projects completed within a year and "Let’s have a plan together within the next three weeks."
"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."
I have been asking people in general what they think about this focus on alleys and expenditure on beautification during tight budgetary times. Most agree that there are many other priorities in the broader community, including the street lighting issues throughout Midtown. Why light alleys when many Midtown streets are still dark?
This past Wednesday night, Zocalo celebrated Mexican Independence Day. Whatever and for however long the patrons were drinking, this was one of the worst nights ever for people leaving extremely intoxicated, having altercations and driving away drunk. Two women were weaving down the alley at midnight, one literally falling out of her shoes, the other providing some balance and saying "I”m okay to drive."
If city leaders and local businesses continue to base their revitalization efforts on drawing crowds to Midtown to imbibe and drive, while creating a false sense of safety within "activated" alleys, more people are going to become crime victims, not fewer. It’s already happened, with increased car break ins and robberies that are underreported. The overall sense of lawlessness and mayhem created and fostered by city leaders has resulted in another fatality. This past week, a security guard was hit by a car — possibly shot or stabbed — in a parking lot at 20th and K Street.
"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."
Easy access? As if walking down the sidewalk and turning a corner is too difficult? Zocalo and other 18th Street watering holes need to herd their drunken clientele down a chute to the garage? If these patrons can’t figure out how to get to and from the East End Parking Garage, before or after the party, please don’t parade them down the prettified alley to be easy prey for criminals.
It’s a real pretense that the issue here is getting people to the parking garage. Zocalo was approved as a 500-600 seat restaurant by the Planning Commission (it was never approved as the rowdy nightclub that it actually is) and granted a parking waiver. The streets immediately filled up with Zocalo and other business’ patrons (and employees), making it impossible for residents to park. The Zocalo owner bought a registered Historic Landmark property a half block up Capitol Avenue and immediately cut down every living thing in the back yard (in a record two hours), including two extremely rare Heritage Trees.
One year ago, the owner paved — without required City Building Permits — the rear of the property. He created a tandem lot for 2 rows of eightfour cars, used by him and Zocalo employees. The East End Parking Garage at the end of the alley? No. They have to park closer to Zocalo and play musical cars all day and all night. That lot has been consistently used by the owners and patrons of Old Soul Co. directly across the alley, who also were granted a parking waiver for their retail business which was originally approved as "wholesale only, never need parking." The owners were notified by city staff that if their business use changed, the parking issue would come up again. The Old Soul owners claim that people walk and bike in or use the East End Parking Garage. Yet they all continuously park as close to the door of Old Soul Co. as possible, including stopping and parking illegally in the alley.
If the objective is to draw pedestrians down the alley, why don’t the very businesses that directly and personally benefit from expenditure of public funds for "alley activation" use the East End Parking Garage, use the alternatives that they advocate, obtain proper permits and comply with the conditions of their Parking Waivers?
And now, a year after the illegal cement and compacted gravel tandem parking lot was put in, it has been taken out again, to make way for the Stitch model condo. Where will ALL those users of that lot be parking now?
Oh, and to top it all off, the Stitch project before the City Zoning Administrator tomorrow afternoon is requesting a Parking Waiver.
From the SacPress article:
"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.
So the public is left out of the process; the neighbors are invited to one meeting after complaining about being left out and the next meeting is cancelled; the Council is left in the dark; Council approval for use of city staff time is needed but their vote on the results of that staff time and the final choice of alleys for the project are "not needed."
City Staff is contributing "unpaid" hours to the project; the press reports it’s a done deal; the process goes forging ahead behind the scenes; and the very people who will profit the most from "Alley Activation," who are on the committee, have selected their own properties to be first in line.
The canned answer to that last concern is "Doesn’t it make sense that the people who are making the effort and spending their own money get something out of it?"
Yes. In a public process affecting public property, the future of sustainable development and the whole community, utilizing public funds intended to benefit the whole community, those business owners certainly deserve to be part of the process.
However, they don’t deserve to run the process. The don’t deserve to exclude the public and patronize city council representatives, while collaborating with city staff on how to spend $100,000 in public funds.
Maybe some lighting needs to be shed on this process.