A 10-Step Plan To Fix K Street, Or: The Legend of the Skyscraper Fairy

As a Sacramento resident keenly interested in the history of K Street from the gold rush to the present, I have read many opinions regarding the best ways to fix the ongoing problems of K Street. Some have been proposed recently, ideas that I view with a mixture of amusement and horror. Most involve returning to the mistakes of the past while clearly avoiding its successes. In order to take the best from the past while avoiding some of its mistakes, I have selected some favorites. I can take credit for none of them, as they are all ideas that have been suggested at other times and places, but they seem like the best of the lot to me. This ten-point plan varies in scope from the very simple and inexpensive to the rather complex and expensive, some are short-term solutions while others are longer-term solutions for better times, but all of them are practical. I can provide more detail about most of these points if requested.

1. Accept that the Skyscraper Fairy does not exist.

Many landlords along K Street have no apparent interest in maintaining or improving their properties. Some are convinced that as long as they own the land, the magical Skyscraper Fairy will give them uncountable millions for the land where their decaying buildings sit, and will replace them with shiny new skyscrapers. Thus, they have little interest in maintaining or tenanting their buildings. The result is under-utilized or vacant buildings whose facades continue to crumble. Despite the Downtown Partnership’s efforts to power-wash streets and alleys, buildings allowed to fall into disrepair, inhabited only by bats and squatters, make our historic buildings into eyesores. Ideally, the city’s code enforcement division would issue stiff fines to property owners who allow their buildings to fall into disrepair, in order to prevent demolition by neglect. Unfortunately, the city of Sacramento is also one of the guilty parties, and one of the strongest believers in the Skyscraper Fairy. City-owned properties currently sit vacant, awaiting their own savior in the form of a deep-pocketed developer who will brush aside the old building and provide badly-needed money to build something else. Given K Street’s current state, this is unlikely—the only propositions so far are dependent on generous subsidies from the city of Sacramento. Until both the city and K Street property owners can be dispelled of their belief in the magical skyscraper fairy, their properties will continue to rot.

2. It’s time to leave the shopping mall in the past.

K Street was a bustling place until the 1950s, when most of Sacramento’s population moved out of the central city, the residential neighborhoods adjacent to downtown Sacramento were demolished, and the city streetcar system was replaced by highways and automobiles. Suburban malls were closer to the new suburban neighborhoods and had plentiful parking, while K Street was far away and none of the stores had parking lots. The K Street pedestrian mall of the 1960s and 1970s was a desperate move to woo suburban shoppers by simulating a suburban mall, including demolition of nearby buildings to provide parking. But the suburban malls were still more convenient, and their parking lots bigger and more obvious, so K Street’s rebirth as a mall of the 1970s failed. A 1990s re-vamp that enclosed the section from 4th to 7th Street has become another failure, due to its failure to move beyond the idea of a suburban mall downtown.

A new generation of city planners has noted that shopping centers of the 2000s look a lot like old downtowns, with stores that copy historic styles and a mixture of pedestrian paths and driveways. These planners have decided that this is the future of K Street, and call for a return of cars to K Street so they can pretend K Street is a new suburban "power center," the 2010s equivalent of a shopping mall. But those suburban “power centers” are still closer to suburban shoppers, and their parking lots are still bigger. If K Street is simply opened to cars and its facades remodeled to emulate new suburban shopping centers in North Natomas, how can the result be any different from the last two attempts to disguise downtown Sacramento as a suburban mall?

3. Cars, no. Bikes, yes.

The simplest change to energize K Street will cost very little: permit bicycle riding on K Street. Bike riding is already on the rise, and the freedom to bike on K Street would turn it into the main cycling corridor of the central city, free from the vehicular mayhem of J and L Street. Provide a few bike racks so bike riders can stop and shop as well as ride through, and the numbers strolling past store windows will dramatically increase.

4. Shrink light rail to streetcar size.

Until the 1940s, K Street had transit in all sizes. On K Street itself, streetcars ran from the heart of downtown to Midtown, Southside and nearby suburbs like Land Park, Oak Park and East Sacramento. These cars were small, typically 30-40 feet long, about the size of a modern bus, and operated at speeds up to 25-30 miles per hour. Like a bus, they worked reasonably well with traffic, but because they had fixed rails they had a smoother ride and a predictable path, making them more comfortable for riders. Trains ran every ten minutes during the day, and “owl” runs carried late-night travelers all night.

On the corner of 8th and K Street, interurban trains ran in both directions. Passengers from Woodland, Chico, Stockton and even Oakland could hop on the train and get off on K Street. These trains were bigger, 60-80 feet long, and operated in trains as long as 6-8 cars. They were taller and wider than streetcars, and could reach 60-70 miles per hour going flat-out through the countryside. They ran on 8th Street because K Street was far too busy to handle the big trains.

Today, modern Light Rail trains are more like the interurbans than streetcars. With 80 foot long bodies and operating in four-car trains, they are not well-suited to playing the role of a streetcar. By through-routing Blue Line trains north via the upcoming 7th Street extension and connecting to North 12th Street via Richards Boulevard, light rail trains could bring passengers from Folsom, Rancho Cordova, South Sacramento and North Highlands to K Street without crowding pedestrians off the street.

Meanwhile, the streetcars can return to K Street. Some of Sacramento’s historic streetcars exist in unrestored condition in private collections, but modern streetcars offer amenities like air conditioning and ADA-accessible low-floor entryways. They can run on the existing K Street tracks while leaving more room for pedestrians and bikes. Using existing light rail lines and sharing their tracks, these streetcars can link nearby neighborhoods and connect with light rail. Extending streetcar lines into existing neighborhoods and new development areas costs less than one-third the price of light rail extensions and drives population density, economic investment and reduces the need for cars and parking. Run them until after 2:00 AM to give downtown visitors an option to leave their cars at home—especially if they plan on drinking.

5. Legalize street life.

This is another cheap and easy solution. Part of Second Saturday’s success is its prolific use of street music, performers, and vendors, but its monthly status creates a feast-or-famine condition. A permit program to allow music, performance and vending at any time means that visitors to K Street won’t need to check their calendars before going downtown. Street music and vending also gives local entertainers and small businesspeople a stepping stone to a retail storefront or a musical career. Musicians and vendors will promote activity, give walkers a reason to stick around, and attract visitors to enjoy the street life. This also does not rule out special street festivals and special events above and beyond the day-to-day activity, and maintaining K Street as a pedestrian walk maintains this valuable civic amenity for more public festivals. Both everyday street life and special events will draw visitors from within Sacramento, the surrounding region, and tourists from out of town.

6. Tours bring tourists.

Despite the demolition of the past few decades, K Street still retains a remarkable number of historic buildings, proud evidence of our architectural heritage in stone, terra cotta and concrete. Many cities use local tourism programs to bring visitors into the heart of the city, but to most visitors, Sacramento’s history ends at the edge of Old Sacramento. Efforts to alter this perception have been minimal. The Downtown Sacramento Partnership has a guided tour program, but it is minimally staffed, minimally funded, and minimally advertised. Downtown visitors looking for local history information are likely to come up empty-handed. Sacramento needs a full-strength tourism program worthy of a city with such a rich and diverse history. K Street, the walking street at the heart of the city, can be the center of such a tour program, with more tours branching out into nearby downtown streets and our architecturally rich residential neighborhoods. History tours appeal both to visiting tourists and to locals interested in learning more about their city’s past.

On K Street, the potential star attraction of local tourism is right under your feet. Sacramento’s underground sidewalks, the result of a street-raising measure intended to keep the city above flood waters, run the length of K Street from the river to about 12th Street. Many are demolished, but enough material remains to allow a tour to weave in and out of underground sidewalk spaces, sunken alleys, basements, and even below-surface businesses. Combined with the dramatic story of the raised streets, and some entertaining and colorful stories from Sacramento’s history, the potential of an underground sidewalks tour is unlimited. In Seattle, local booster Bill Speidel turned a walk through clammy underground sidewalks in a notoriously bad part of town into a million-dollar tourist attraction that is known worldwide, drawing as many as 300,000 visitors a year and employing as many as 50 full-time staff. There is no reason that Sacramento can’t do the same.

7. Bring on the nightlife.

If a suburban mall isn’t the answer, what will bring suburban residents downtown? The answer is simple: Give them something the suburbs don’t have. Sacramento is best known for its quiet suburbs, the result of a decades-long whitewashing operation to conceal our party-animal past. The rowdy days of the Gold Rush, the proliferation of local breweries and wineries, our almost total refusal to acknowledge Prohibition, the legendary jazz and blues clubs of Sacramento’s West End, and even last year’s New Year’s Eve party (2,000 expected, 12,000 attended) burst through the “town where nothing happens” façade. It’s time to face the truth, and bring more nightlife down the length of K Street. This doesn’t just mean bars, it also means late-night restaurants, theaters, live music venues, dance clubs, movies, spas and salons, comedy clubs, coffee shops, and other imaginative options for entertainment. Cooperative parking agreements with state parking lots can provide tens of thousands of parking spaces, and better public transit can carry revelers home in safety.

8. Shop local, even if you’re from out of town.

The shopping-mall consultants are half right about K Street—it does need more than nightlife to survive. Daytime and early evening traffic means retail stores and services in between the state-employee lunch rush and the arrival of the dinner, drinks and dancing crowd. However, national chain stores are hesitant to expand, even if bribed into doing so. And again, suburban visitors won’t drive downtown to a store in their local mall. The answer is, again, to give them something the mall doesn’t have: unique, local stores. Local businesses keep money in the local economy, stimulate local employment and provide a unique character that chain stores simply can’t match. Encouraging local businesspeople to rent storefronts on K Street should be a city priority. Matched with neighborhood-serving retail like food markets, cleaners, drugstores and small department stores, locally-based retail on K Street should appeal to suburban shoppers, out-of-town visitors, and central city residents. As stores fill and crowds start to appear, instead of having to beg national chains to locate on K Street, they will appear on their own, smelling money to be made.

One idea we might lift from San Francisco: the much-adored Metreon, high-tech consumer wonderland, is falling on hard economic times, with many vacancies. Earlier this year, a full-time farmer’s market moved into the Metreon, and has already proved a popular destination. A permanent farmer’s market on K Street, instead of the current sporadic weekly markets, would provide fresh foods to a neighborhood where none are sold. Downtown workers, visitors and residents would all benefit from a convenient source for the Sacramento Valley’s agricultural bounty.

9. Living on K Street shouldn’t mean sleeping directly on it.

The destruction of the downtown neighborhoods near K Street was followed by the destruction of thousands of inexpensive rental rooms, commonly known as SRO hotels, where thousands of workers lived. As inexpensive housing disappeared, the poorest people did not. Out of necessity, they made their home on the streets. Many are still there, and as existing SRO stock is phased out of service and homeless services disappear, their numbers grow. They will not vanish and they will not simply move away, because they have nowhere to go and no alternative. The only way to reverse this trend is to replace the housing that was lost. This replacement housing need not be here on K Street, but it needs to be somewhere. Our only alternative is to accept the presence of people sleeping on the streets as an unalterable condition, and tell them that their suffering is necessary and unavoidable—or to simply remain in denial of the problem, which amounts to the same thing. As a people, as a city and as a nation, I think we are capable of better than that.

But it isn’t just the poorest that need housing in the central city. Housing for all income levels should be included in new development projects, but putting it into existing buildings would be even easier. Many formerly residential buildings were converted to office use in the 1960s and 1970s, so why not convert the abundance of vacant upper-story office space back into residential units? This housing should cross the economic spectrum: SRO units for the disabled and seniors, low-income units for service employees, workforce housing for office employees, and high-end, high-up housing for the high rollers. A truly urban life results when you can see all the way across the economic spectrum just walking down the street. That can’t happen unless the street has places for all of them to live, dine, work and shop. Again, not all of these places have to be directly on K Street, but they should be close enough to walk there in a few minutes. Restoration of residential buildings will preserve their architectural value, bring life back to the neighborhood, fill a great social need, and jobs restoring and maintaining the buildings will create more employment than comparable levels of new construction.

10. Have faith, be good, and the Skyscraper Fairy will come.

Part of the current mentality of property owners on K Street is based on outdated models of how downtown development should happen. For decades, cities were assumed to be teeming pits of an imaginary disease called “blight” that could only be cured with wrecking balls and a liberal application of public-funded redevelopment dollars, designed to push out “undesirable” tenants and solicit only the coveted suburban émigré to return to the central business district, and then only to spend money and leave, never to live. Today’s cities don’t work like that anymore. People want to live in cities because they want the amenities of urban life unavailable in the suburbs. If K Street can offer those amenities, not a sanitized Disneyland version and certainly not a copy of a suburban mall, they will grow interested in K Street. If they are interested, they will come to visit. If there are places to live, and things to see and do, they will want to move downtown. Once enough people have moved downtown that there is no longer room in existing buildings, and people feel safe and secure in neighborhoods that are well-maintained, high-rise developers who understand how cities work will look at K Street and see dollar signs. Instead of developers seeking handouts to build on K Street, they will come with money in hand where they think they can make even more.

And when they do, the Skyscraper Fairy will visit the property owners and civic leaders who took care of their buildings, who encouraged vitality and street life instead of a tax write-off, who promoted transit and walkability, and drew people back downtown to share in K Street’s uniqueness, character and history. She will shower them with money and riches and blessings, and cranes will rise on K Street, filling the gaps between the last century’s architectural gems with bright, tall new buildings. Yes, Sacramento, there is a Skyscraper Fairy, but she has very high standards.

William Burg is a board member of the Sacramento Old City Association. This story is a guest editorial opinion, and does not represent the opinion of Sacramento Press or its editors.

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October 11, 2009 | 10:09 PM

Wow! This is truly an enlightening look at K Street. Our city’s history is our strength. We have what no one else in the region has yet city leaders continue to view it as an obstacle instead of the huge asset it is. It always baffles me why our city leaders don’t get that and see the real and practical solutions, both inexpensive and complex to make this a huge regional draw. Thank you for this really excellent view of the “how” to fixing K Street.

October 11, 2009 | 10:41 PM

there is a lot of good stuff here william… & obviously alot of time put into the article.
I walked down K street thursday eve from (9th towards midtown) and was pleasantly surprised how nice and alive it was.. thinkin that the need is from 9th west more so than east.(dominated by greyhound and westfield). Another thought or reminder is that all business and development is market driven and as long as the market is better somewhere else then investors ( business owners) will go somewhere else ..unless motivated by subsidies ( not all are a bad thing & investment by the city could be considerd good economic development practices)… Keep writing william ,, all good things start with a conversation

October 12, 2009 | 12:47 AM

#1- absolutely so true. And I love the “MAGICAL skyscrapper fairy” LOL
#2- wow, I agree, exactly “HOW can the result be any different from the last two attempts to disguise downtown Sacramento as a suburban mall? ” Benjamin Franklin once said, “the definition of insanity is to continuously do the same thing over and over and expect different results.”
#3- excellent idea, I can see the bikes with baskets to carry away small items purchases, people with backpacks… I really do like this idea. Shoot cars may just add road rage to so many already frustrated… Bikes just seem so much nicer, more personal…(heck I guess the city won’t go for it since they’ll remain in deficit depending on parking tickets…but I sure as heck like the idea)
#4- Again, another idea I like. Street cars vs Lightrail. I’d ride the street car anyday.
#5– I love going to fisherman warf. I love the vendors, the art, the musicans, the whole atmosphere and they don’t do it every second saturday. Again I think this is also a wonderful idea.
#6- WOW, I’d love to tour underground sidewalks… I’m serious I love all the ideas. This is really good.
#7- “This doesn’t just mean bars, it also means late-night restaurants, theaters, live music venues, dance clubs, movies, spas and salons, comedy clubs, coffee shops, and other imaginative options for entertainment.”- EXCELLENT Sacramento as it is really is such a dead town- And all the efforts I’ve heard by city officials- window dressing a town to masguerade it as a city still make Sacramento a TOWN. Your suggestions make it a CITY And to think you didn’t have to go to Phoenix to minick their city. You sir have a vision. It takes a visionary to see things as you do. That’s what irrates me about our Mayor he is not a visionary but a copy-cat– their is a difference.
“8- EXCELLENT “A permanent farmer’s market on K Street, instead of the current sporadic weekly markets, would provide fresh foods to a neighborhood where none are sold
#9- WELL SAID – “Living on K street shouldn’t mean sleeping directly on it”!!!! “bring life back to the neighborhood, fill a great social need, and jobs restoring and maintaining the buildings will create more employment than comparable levels of new construction.”
#10- What a beautiful ending. I’m sold and by the time I got to 10- I too, realized their is a skyscrapper fairy–with higher standards.

Since you took the time to write such a complete 10 step plan I wanted to respond to each point, individually and to be honest their was not one point that I disagreed with. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not easily impressed. But you impressed the heck out of me. You said you can’t take credit for the ideas…. BUT YOU ARE a visionary Too many are trying to solve a puzzle without a picture and you put a picture on the puzzle.- That’s impressive

October 12, 2009 | 8:25 AM

Some good thoughts here but …

Many other urban cities have revitalized their urban core. When I was in Denver last summer, I was amazed by the pedestrian mall. It’s served by free rapid transit that promotes mobility. The city also was experimenting with free bicycles to use in the downtown (you return them when you’re done). There were lots of small businesses, but lots of national chains too (let’s face it, most people like them). And yes, there were skyscrapers that house thousands of workers that patronize these businesses during the day.

October 12, 2009 | 9:29 AM

What’s your point? How does this in any way conflict with what William was saying?

He’s saying that the way to revitalize our urban core is to do the little things, not wait for a huge project to hopefully come in and save us. To focus on the things that work and that take advantage of everything our wonderful city has going for it, not trying to make it what it’s not. Of course any successful revitalization would ultimately include national chains. We have quite a few of them already. But it would be foolhardy to wait for them to come along.

October 12, 2009 | 11:05 AM

No buts about it, Steve. I am whole-heartedly in favor of revitalizing our downtown core. The difference is that I don’t think revitalization requires bulldozing the downtown core we already have–nor do I think we can afford it. We can make far better use of what we have, which is actually something pretty amazing and unique.

In the mid-1990s a group of stone-broke downtown punks started a public “bike library” program out of the back of a volunteer-run record store/live-music venue/community center (the Loft/Hindenburg Records) with no city support, and a couple of nonprofit bike kitchens are carrying on those traditions today. Most of the things being cited as potential “improvements” are things we already have but go unnoticed, or once had but cast aside.

Another example: the “rapid transit” you speak of in Denver is a system of light rail and buses–exactly what we have. To hear people like you describe it, in Denver or Portland, it’s an innovative transit system–here, it is seen as an obstacle or discounted entirely. The only difference is one of public perception–and, perhaps, public funding. We could very easily establish a “free zone” downtown, or go back to the 25-cent central city fare used in the 1990s, but we would have to provide other funds to make up for it. That’s how Denver pays for its “free zone”–it helps people move around the central city far more easily, so they consider it worth the expense. Do we?

Article Author
October 13, 2009 | 12:50 AM

Absolutely. Portland’s public transit system is simply amazing. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t pattern ours along the same lines. But heck, we don’t even have public transportation to our airport.

I don’t think we need to bulldoze downtown either. Nor do I think we should have a “no skyscrapers” attitude. It’s a blend. I’m not a fan of the buildings that block out light and are out of scale, but let’s face it: a lot of the buildings downtown aren’t worth saving (though many are). I’d prefer to see the development you suggest, but wouldn’t rule out bigger buildings if they are a valuable asset.

October 13, 2009 | 9:39 AM

You’ve got it all wrong, Steve–I don’t have a “no skyscrapers” attitude. Downtown is EXACTLY the place to build “out of scale” buildings (midtown is another story) that are very tall and very modern, even if they are right next to buildings that are short and historic. That’s how downtowns work. The attitude I oppose is the idea that if we just knock enough buildings down, skyscrapers will magically appear in their place. My objective isn’t to save every building–but too often, “you can’t save everything” really means “you can’t save anything.”

I wouldn’t rule out bigger buildings, and I don’t–if they pencil without having to give up too much treasure, either in terms of city subsidy or our architectural heritage. The example I have written about before is the Bel-Vue. A listed city landmark, National Register eligible, designed by one of our best-known architects, in pretty good condition for its age, being tossed away for a parking garage. That’s the attitude I oppose–if the Bel-Vue isn’t good enough to save, that would suggest that no building in Sacramento is good enough to save.

The point is that if we make use of the resources we have (fixing historic buildings instead of letting them rot, promoting urban vitality instead of scaring it off, solving homelessness instead of hiding it, attracting diverse downtown residents) the skyscraper builders will come to us, instead of us having to attract them with sacrifices and subsidies.

Article Author
October 12, 2009 | 9:30 AM

Great work, William. I’ve been calling for a k street streetcar for some time now. It would really tie together the grid.

October 12, 2009 | 9:46 AM

The streetcar is what used to tie together the grid–and the suburbs, too! In many ways, the loss of the streetcar is what unraveled the central city. Thanks for the kind words.

Article Author
October 12, 2009 | 10:40 AM

Great comments and analysis – maybe you should be the Mayor instead of KFC!

* Encourage more outside ‘parisian-style’ outside cafe life like Ambrosia.
* Get rid of the bums.
* Do something about the lowlife alley that is K st between 7/8th
* Someone, anyone – do some nice graffiti on the huge canvas that is begging for it on the 8th St hole.
* do something and do it soon!

October 12, 2009 | 12:00 PM

Where would you suggest we send the “bums”? I like William’s idea for the SRO type housing upstairs above the storefronts. It should be mixed in with moderate and higher end housing though. This could provide some needed affordable housing. You can’t just ” Get rid of the bums” unless they have somewhere to go. Maybe they could go to your house?

October 12, 2009 | 11:01 AM

Mark Urquhart-Webb- I don’t get the KFC reference. His name is Kevin Johnson so how does the F and C play into it? Where do you propose the bums go? Should we shift them somewhere else?Sacramento has shifted folks far too long – addressed issues on the surface– long enough, attempting to “get rid of ” folks used a weed and seed grant to significantly and ineffectively weed out folks with multi-jurdictional task force and failed to plant seeds of empowerment by ineffectively and insignificantly planting efforts of empowerment with minimual efforts of neighborhood bar-b-ques. Simply feeding the folks Bar-b-ques isn’t effectively addressing the ills of a society if that were the case perhaps they didn’t need to saturate communities with suppression and could of fed them barbque to leave. (sorry your comment worked me up and I swayed to a bigger picture) I agree the comments of Burg are great but the KFC comment that you made is confusing to me.

October 12, 2009 | 11:12 AM

Exactly, Rhonda. Maybe it is our wasteful consumer culture that encourages “getting rid of” things so quickly: buildings, people, cities. Instead, let’s rehabilitate the housing, house the people sleeping on the street, and unleash the creativity of the people in this city. Solving big problems like homelessness is more work than sweeping it under the rug (or into an adjacent neighborhood) but the end result is worth it if our intent is to leave our kids a better world, or a better city.

Article Author
October 12, 2009 | 12:39 PM

William. I really like the way you think. I’ve grown exhausted with the ‘out with the old and in with the new” attitude possessed by some. When I read your article I prepared myself to read yet another effort to make a city appear beautiful but I was so glad to read so much more- you didn’t dismiss the people…. you went deeper. I truly do respect you.

Profile photo of tab
October 12, 2009 | 11:13 AM

Yes William for mayor. A street car named desire. I have 3 drinks and no bus or lite rail to take me home at late nite on weekends causes me to stay home. You have really barnstormed the solution to K street and paralled a lot of what i have envisoned myself, but have gone into more details and more mechanics. How wonderful . I am so excited. I would love to help get this off the ground. Lets put it to a vote. Your amazing and a wonderful visionary. This plan from my viewpoint will really bring downtown Sacrament a place for visitors to come from everywhere for a fun time especially at night.
Now William start the ball rolling. Let me know if i can help. I have no money but do have old age.

October 12, 2009 | 2:28 PM

How about William for manager?

October 12, 2009 | 5:43 PM

His ego is bigger than Kevin Johnson’s… I’m not sure if we could deal with him as Mayor.

October 12, 2009 | 7:39 PM

With old age comes wisdom- that’s better than money- he should definitely take you up on your offer to help.

I doubt if anyone on this site has an ego bigger than Johnson. I could talk to Johnson face-to-face til I was blue in the face and I’d pass out, loss of oxygen, before he even seen me. And once seeing me I better find my last breath to roll over so he won’t walk on top of me to get more to see him and the strong mayor proposal.

I’ve had no problem being acknowledged by William– so I disagree with the ego comment. Sometimes confidence can be seen by others as ego but their is nothing wrong with having passion for a cause that you love (and it’s apparent in the writing of this article that he loves Sacramento… ) and their is nothing wrong in having confidence when you are not self-absorbed and see others. He sees others (including those less fortunate). He’s not egocentric

October 13, 2009 | 9:33 AM

Rhonda, his article is just a detailed repost of what I have already said on this site.

I’m glad to see you started posting on Sac Press, I always love reading your comments. You are one of Sacramento’s great voices for the community.

October 12, 2009 | 12:22 PM

Bikes on the same pathway as pedestrians? Get real. You can’t even get a waiter to cross a sidewalk safely on J Street to bring food out of Kru to an outdoor table. Bikes careening on pedestrian walkways is an incompatible and dangerous folly. Not against bikes at all, just don’t want to compete them when eating or shopping. Make a dedicated area for bikes; leave the desired pedestrian in safety.

October 12, 2009 | 12:59 PM

I didn’t read bikes on the “same pathway as pedestrians”. That would be silly. And having read the article completely I don’t see William as a silly individual or simple-minded. Surely we could be creative and have a designated area for the bikes. Who the heck had a vision of bikes careening on pedestrian walkways? I agree it is incompatible and a dangerous folly perhaps that’s why it doesn’t appear to be within William’s vision. I think that part was self-explanatory and he didn’t have to go into the nuts and bolts of it.

October 12, 2009 | 2:40 PM

I think you misread what he said. He said he thought that opening up K street to bike traffic would be something to consider. K street isn’t a 6 foot wide sidewalk to share with pedestrians, but a 40+ foot thoroughfare for all sorts of pedestrian traffic. If pedestrians and light rail can coexist there, I’m sure adding bikes to the mix wouldn’t cause undue burden.

October 12, 2009 | 12:30 PM

Great article Bill. Your ideas regarding the underground tours, etc. as things to do for people and tourists coming downtown are excellent too. Do commenters have other ideas that they would like to see?

How about a Hall of Famous Sacramento People with pictures, where they lived and short bios of (non-political) of their reason for fame? I checked the internet, and Sacramento has about 400 minus several politicians who were either born or lived in Sacramento area. Many were NFL stars for sports fans. There were a variety of folks including some notorious ones that people always like to hear about.

While Sacramento’s Hall of Fame would not rival Hollywood Blvd sidewalk stars or Washington D.C.’s plaques on properties, both draw thousands of tourists each year there. I think the potential exists here too as one of several other new ideas.

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October 13, 2009 | 2:03 AM

Great idea !!!!

October 12, 2009 | 12:37 PM

You did a nice bit of work on thinking about K Street, (I particularly like the historical suggestions) but I would suggest another model.

The model for downtown Sacramento should perhaps be that of what it is; a bustling state capitol of the largest state in the nation, where the preponderance of business comes from the resident state legislature, state administrative offices, and the numerous lobbyists, attorneys, association and organization professionals, and all of the other services connected to them.

And we can add to the governmental mix the administrations of the city of Sacramento and Sacramento County.

This necessarily imposes some restrictions as to the hours the city is occupied to any degree, but a bustling day-time and early evening city is preferable to what we now have; an uncertain downtown struggling to be something it is not nor probably can ever be, a 24 hour city…the argument underlying the “magical skyscraper fairy” (great term!)

The acceptance of the strengths of our fair city—its status as the capitol and its lovely downtown and midtown grid so interestingly mixed with residential and commercial development all beautifully embraced by our two rivers—is long over-due.

David H. Lukenbill, CFO & Senior Policy Director
American River Parkway Preservation Society (ARPPS)
Preserve, Protect, and Strengthen the American River Parkway,
Our Community’s Natural Heart
2267 University Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95825
Phone: 916-486-3856
Email: Dlukenbill@msn.com
Weblog: http://parkwayblog.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.arpps.org/

The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you. Robert Louis Stevenson

October 12, 2009 | 1:26 PM

The “24 hour city” idea is related to the “world class city” idea–it is a meaningless bit of chin-music intended to make us feel bad about ourselves and more inclined to make us believe in the Skyscraper Fairy, who will save us from our cow-town legacy. Both are based on profoundly incorrect assumptions about our past, and about other cities.

The idea isn’t to have a 24 hour city, but more like a 16 hour city–there are very, very few 24 hour cities other than New York City. Ever drive around San Francisco at 4:00 AM? I have, and it’s pretty dead, other than a few late-night diners. Downtown San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago are great 16 hour cities, but even they give it a rest during the wee hours of the night.

The other incorrect assumption is our agrarian, quiet cow-town past. Sacramento was born a city, the second biggest in California until the 1880s, and it was a lively place from the Gold Rush onward. In many ways, we used to be far closer to a 24 hour city than we are now 60-70 years ago! Many of Sacramento’s big industries, like the Southern Pacific railyards and shops and the canneries along Front Street, worked three shifts, especially in late summer. That’s also the time when Sacramento is most comfortable at night (and least comfortable during the day,) making late-night options far more desirable in those days before air conditioning. Sacramento streetcars ran all night, there were all-night and late-night restaurants downtown. Dance halls, music clubs and movie theaters lit up the night sky along K Street well after sunset, in some cases well after midnight. I wrote a bit about it here:


So, while I would agree that some in Sacramento are trying to turn our downtown into something it never was, I would disagree with the assumption that downtown Sacramento was never a lively, energetic place. The shift in downtown Sacramento’s focus from an urban, industrial place to a seat of state/city/county government with a more suburban character was followed by an effort to erase our urban past, both its physical evidence (in the form of downtown neighborhoods) and people’s knowledge (a literal whitewashing of our history.)

Article Author
October 12, 2009 | 1:51 PM

I love how you point out getting quality retailers, and you don’t always need night life to make things happen… more quality retailers would get tourist and interest during the day. They are trying with midtown, but stores are spotty. We need more supporters like you to attend the MBA meetings… it’s frustrating, they laugh at retailers and want to keep boasting night life and more restaurants. The restaurants would be busy during the day if they helped support the day shopping and retail that surrounds them. Lunctime at these restaurants are very slow compared to our surrounding areas like, rosevile and natomas.

October 12, 2009 | 2:27 PM

Lunchtime is the only time for a lot of downtown restaurants, mostly because there are 100,000 commuters who leave at 5:00 PM and only 30,000 people living in the central city, but most of them are closed by 5:00, because there is very little to keep people downtown after 5:00 PM. The Responsible Hospitality Institute consultant who came to Sacramento to advise MBA recommended exactly that, a better mixture of neighborhood-serving retail (that was willing to stay open later) and restaurants/nightlife. Hopefully the MBA will listen–and the Downtown Partnership, too!

Article Author
Profile photo of fft
October 12, 2009 | 5:12 PM

Thanks for putting this up high, “above the scroll.” And thanks Burg, for typing it up. I linked and added some of my own comments:


October 12, 2009 | 8:06 PM

William, I received the below email today. You should attend and take your 10 step plan article with you. I’m sure your vision would be (or should be) appreciated. Oh, I wouldn’t email it. I’ve learned big fish swallows little fish and while they’ll take your idea they won’t take with it your passion and vision and somehow much gets lost, in the rush-to-take-credit , translation.
P.S. I’m not referring to Graswich I’ve not taken anything to him, yet.

Downtown Plaza Visioning Meeting
Monday, October 19, 2009 / 5:30 -7:00p.m.
Cosmopolitan Cabaret Theater, 10th & K Streets

Mayor Johnson has embarked on an effort to reposition the Downtown
Plaza as a sustainable regional center and further capitalize on
Downtown’s strengths. He wants to hear priorities from community
stakeholders about the future of the Plaza and the surrounding J, K,
and L streets. The result will be a vision to help guide the area’s future
You are encouraged to attend the community meeting to learn more
about the process and share your valued opinions for the future of
Downtown Sacramento!
If you have any questions or want to learn more about this process,
contact R.E. Graswich, Special Assistant to the Mayor, at

October 13, 2009 | 1:45 AM

Every time I visit the 3rd st. Promenade in Santa Monica, it makes me think K street can be just like this.. http://www.thirdstreetpromenade.org/visitors/index.html
Can you imagine…
If you been there, you can see the potential of what K st. mall can be like.

October 13, 2009 | 11:10 AM

There are some big differences between the 3rd Street Promenade and K Street.

For starters, 3rd Street Promenade ends two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. That’s a big, powerful tourist attraction all on its own that works in conjunction with the Promenade and the Santa Monica pier to draw visitors.

Second, Santa Monica is nowhere even remotely near downtown Los Angeles. The drive from Santa Monica to downtown LA is a bit shorter downtown Sacramento to Roseville, but with much heavier traffic. Unlike downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica is an affluent suburb, adjacent to other very affluent suburbs like Beverly Hills, Century City (everything’s so nice and pretty!) and Westwood. This means that Santa Monica, while it superficially looks like K Street, is actually a suburban mall. And, as we have noted, suburban malls work just fine if they are located in the suburbs.

I took a trip to L.A. over Labor Day weekend, and the Promenade was very busy (it was a Sunday), but I did notice a number of vacant storefronts–and quite a few homeless people.

I also visited downtown Los Angeles the same day. Pershing Square was completely vacant except for homeless people. Aside from a couple of sandwich shops, nothing was open. It reminded me a lot of Chavez Plaza on a Sunday, just with much larger buildings. The local free paper (the Downtown News) had a story on efforts to bring people downtown, including an “Art Walk” that galleries disliked because it was more of an excuse for visitors to party downtown, but those visitors don’t buy much art. (Sound familiar?)

Now, there are some lessons we can learn from 3rd Street: they use street vendors and street musicians, they kept cars off the street itself, and there is a lot of nearby parking (in parking structures, not lots) to facilitate a car-centric city but there is also a regular bus route nearby (despite its reputation, Los Angeles is rapidly regaining its excellent public transit system, including light rail and streetcar in addition to express and local buses.) While the Sacramento River isn’t the attraction the Pacific Ocean is, it is an attraction, if we can reinforce the connection between K Street and the waterfront in Old Sacramento.

Article Author
October 13, 2009 | 12:31 PM

I’ve been to the Santa Monica Promenade several times because some friends live nearby. That is the key, the promenade is surrounded by market rate rentals as well as some very upscale. Hopefully, we’ll have that someday near K Street.

October 13, 2009 | 3:13 PM

Yes, it’s obvious that we don’t have the ocean in Old Sacramento. In “Downtown Santa Monica”the two blocks are similar to K st. and other downtown urban like places like Downtown Pasadena, Ca. Tourists do flock to Old Sacramento and the State Capital but not like other big cities. In a smaller scale we have some similarities. You mention L.A., I think Downtown Sacramento has a better turnout for restaurants and nightlife. Yes, you are right about the vacancies and homeless in Downtown L.A. I have seen the two blocks of there tent cities, some of them are two story box tents. Perhaps a Cheesecake factory or tourist businesses could reform the area.

October 13, 2009 | 5:57 PM

Unfortunately, “reforming the area” isn’t the point when it comes to things like tent cities–the point is finding housing for people who don’t have any. If you can fulfill the primary need–HOUSING–you don’t have to “reform” the area anymore. Then, if the market calls for it, you can build a Cheesecake Factory–not to try to solve unrelated problems, but to fulfill a public need for cheesecake (and hopefully provide more tax base to pay for the housing.)

Article Author
October 13, 2009 | 8:01 PM

Late to the party here, with nothing worthwhile to add to some of the really outstanding comments–still trying to “get smart” on this and other key city issues. Yet still wanted to note that Mr. Burg’s piece and the subsequent discussion exemplifies the truly great potential of this site and the important role it is beginning to play in this community. Sac Press has taken some hits of late in other media outlets and blogs…this piece sings out loud the power of informed citizen journalism and dialogue conducted in good will. And my goodness, what tremendous assets this town has in citizens like William Burg, Rhonda Erwin and others posting here. Bravo.

October 13, 2009 | 8:21 PM

Im sorry, I ment that it would be great to have a popular anchor establishment to have a cheescake factory somewhere in K st. Mall. Not meaning to have one in Downtown L.A.

October 13, 2009 | 9:26 PM

I’m talking about K Street too. If your objective is to reduce the negative effects of homelessness on K Street, putting a Cheesecake Factory or other retail on it won’t help. What will help is housing, so that people aren’t sleeping on the street.

As I said above, the mall in Santa Monica works because it is a suburban mall, located in a suburban neighborhood and surrounded by affluent suburbs. Trying to pretend that K Street is a suburban mall has been a failure for nearly 40 years.

Article Author
October 13, 2009 | 9:57 PM

You are saying that housing will help, right? OK, if we have additional housing we will need section 8 housing. Now, have you actually been inside some of the sec 8 homes. I have and not all are safe. Second, how can the homeless afford to even stay in a place like that. they barely have enough. There is housing at the end of Broadway towards the river. have you suggested that place yet? As you might know, the homeless don’t want to change their way of life the “freedom”. Last, a great majority of homeless are stuck on their own vice which homeless shelters won’t let in. They don’t want to quit doing drugs and don’t want to have a curfew.

No Homelessness on K st. isn’t my main objective. What? K street mall is surrounded by suburbs like West Sac, Natomas, East Sac, Land Park, Curtis Park, and Elk grove. Then why would they even propose to have light rail connect from Davis to Sacramento. Davis is a suburban neighborhood. My goal is to share opinions on growing.

October 13, 2009 | 11:22 PM

I have worked at transitional homeless programs and as a case manager for homeless folks and folks in extremely low-income housing. I have been inside the homes of plenty of people who didn’t have much money (sometimes, the person in question was me.) Sometimes they’re less than ideal, but they’re safer than the street, or the tents out by the railyards. I’ve visited the tents, too, although thankfully I never lived there.

I assume you are referring to New Helvetia/Seavey Circle by “housing at the end of Broadway.” There is a waiting list, SEVERAL YEARS LONG, for that housing. The number of homeless on the street is much greater than the total capacity of shelters. The waiting list for housing choice vouchers (the term that replaced “Section 8″ in government nomenclature years ago) is 5-6 years long. The waiting list for a stinky cot in a shelter is a couple weeks long, and pretty easy to lose. Even at absolute maximum capacity, there was not enough room at city, county and private nonprofit shelters to hold the current homeless population, not by a wide margin. There is literally no room in shelters and public housing, and not enough private housing anymore, because it was destroyed. It’s kind of like a game of “musical chairs,” except instead of chairs, it’s housing, and as time has gone on, fewer and fewer people have a place to sit.

Homelessness has increased as the quantity of affordable downtown housing has decreased–it’s just that simple. SRO housing is inexpensive enough for people on SSI or Social Security to afford–so yes, many folks on the street can afford to live there. It isn’t much–generally just a room with a bathroom down the hall–but it would be enough. The problem is, we used to have thousands of SRO rooms downtown, back when K Street was a thriving place. Now we have a few hundred–and a few thousand homeless people.

Are there some street folks who just want to be on the street? Sure. Would it solve 100% of homelessness to replace the housing stock we have lost? Probably not. But it would reduce the problem to a manageable level–and it is the only thing that will. Homelessness isn’t a moral failing, it is very literally a lack of housing.

You’re still thinking of K Street as a shopping mall, that somehow it is the same as Arden Fair or Sunrise or the Roseville Galleria, that it isn’t actually at the heart of a city–that is what surrounds K Street, not a suburb, but a city. Unless we learn to deal with city problems, like homelessness and transit and the sheer, simple fact that in cities people have to pay for parking, we’ll never solve the problem of K Street.

Light rail from Davis to Sacramento is a horrendously impractical idea, but that’s another story.

Article Author
October 13, 2009 | 11:09 PM

yes, you have wonderful points. Yes, safety first. But if we keep helping the homeless find housing, more homeless WILL COME. Just like “The Secret” book states “Where energy flows attention goes.” I feel with all this press about homeless,it gives more homeless hope that we will find them housing so if we advertise that, they will come.

October 14, 2009 | 12:28 PM

First, thank you for changing your mind. If you now believe that housing for the homeless will draw more homeless people to Sacramento, then you must have changed your stance that the homeless don’t want to change their way of life.

Second, if a homeless person gets housing, they are no longer a homeless person. It isn’t a permanent condition, as long as the solution to the problem (housing) is applied.

Third, not sure if you have noticed in your neighborhood, but the number of homeless is rising dramatically, even though we have LESS affordable housing, LESS services, LESS support than we did even just a few years ago. The problem is getting worse as we do less and less to solve it.

Fourth, if you’re going to bring up “The Secret,” let’s talk about it this way: the purpose of concepts like “The Secret” is to reach goals. If our goal is to solve the problem of homelessness, we will never reach the goal if we continue pretending we don’t have a problem. The secret of “The Secret” is to approach a problem with the mindset that a solution can be found, instead of focusing on all the reasons why you can’t (like “it will just attract more homeless.”) Giving homeless people hope that they can find housing is the whole point–and it should be the course that cities take throughout the country! Instead, cities race to the bottom to see who can offer the least. They are offering hopelessness, despair, pain and rejection–and homeless people are receiving those things. I doubt that the point of “The Secret” is that there isn’t enough misery and horror in the world, and that by our inaction and indifference we should create more.

Because a funny thing happens when homeless people get into housing: they can suddenly start working on other problems they may have, like unemployment, or illness, or addiction, and because the #1 priority in their lives (basic survival) is dealt with, those problems become smaller and easier to solve.

Article Author
October 14, 2009 | 12:45 PM

All city’s of Sacramento’s size have homeless, and that will never change, the “problem” will never be “solved,” like having a pack of greedy developers, it is a social phenomenon that will always be there. Trying to hide them will never work…trying to keep them away from K Street is unconstitutional and unrealistic.

Other vibrant City’s thrive despite having huge homeless populations. The problems with K Street will not go away, even if we could wave a wand and make them go away.

The problems with K Street can almost entirely be blamed on our local governments intervention.

The Democrat Left in this town believe that businesses and people cannot survive or flourish without government intervention or subsidies. They take our tax dollars at gun point (try not paying your taxes) and give it to those who are already wealthy. Developers and businesses have been taught that they should not invest in K street without a government subsidy, and why should they, our Council has always subsidized a handful of greedy developers that contribute heavily to their political campaigns. They give these greedy developers corporate welfare to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare, almost entirely through SHRA, in what can only be described as a campaign fund money laundering scheme. They donate heavily, and in return, they get hundreds of millions of dollars in development subsidies.

Every major well know martini bar, hotel or restaurant downtown has been subsidized by our tax dollars. This is disgusting, and nothing but a theft of money by the government to give it to Insider friends.

If I didn’t know any better, I would say that Sacramentan’s are un American, anti capitalist and anti-free market. We have evolved into a socialist City that believes that business can only survive through tax payer subsidies.

The only role of our council should be to make zoning recommendations as to where they want commercial, residential or mixed use; review proposals, and to direct transit dollars to provide mass transit to best serve the appropriately zoned areas of downtown. The rest should be left entirely up to the free market. Despite what the Left in Sacramento would have you believe, entrepreneurship and the free market works very very well. If left to their own devices, investors would invest where they believe there is profit potential.

We must not accept that government is the answer to everything, and that business cannot survive without tax payer subsidies. This same philosophy, on a macro level, lead to the bail out of the bankers, the same bankers that caused the economic collapse of our banking system. We rewarded the very people who caused the collapse in the first place.

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October 18, 2009 | 9:27 PM

I have two thought regarding this topic. First, let me say that I was at the Mayors meeting with business owners and developers, and unfortunately, the meeting became about those that wanted to reflect about the past, and those who wanted to acknowledge their contributions or friends contributions. And, to be honest, (and I am a fan of the Mayor) but several times while people were speaking, he was either throwing his cell phone to R.E. (which a couple of times the way the Mayor spoke or addressed him seemed uncool) or looking to the side or talking to one of his staff. Howver, the one real value that was provided, was the timeline he shared with the group on development downtown, and how the river was and has been overlooked as a precious asset.

So, from my perspective there are two clear actions that need to be taken. One, is lets stop comparing what cities like Portland, Seattle or San Diego have done, as the Mayor used as examples. None of these cities are capitals, and if you were to look around the country, most state capitals are usually slow to progress. Yes, Denver was referenced above, but now lets look at demographics, geography, regions, income, population and revenue. So when we compare where we are to other cities, lets at least do an apples to apples comparison. Not that this should keep us from thinking big, looking large, doing as much as we can withbuilding on what has been good, but lets try and keep some things in perspective.

Second, just like when looking at opening up a retail location, the most important thing is location, location, location. When looking at building a vibrant city, its housing, housing, housing. You need those 100,000 folks in town at night, living here, not just commuting here to work and spending from 9-5. Housing, low, mid, high end, buy, rent, lease, this is the solution, and then once you have the population, the rest will come. We do not need a vision that makes the city a destination, we need the city to be the destination for residents.

If the Towers were just two years sooner, we would have been well on our way.

October 21, 2009 | 3:00 AM

Yes location, location, location is the key for retail spots. The housing, housing, housing in downtown wouldn’t make me want to live there if there wasn’t a location, location, location of retail and restaurants. I really wouldn’t want to live close to K st mall knowing the way it looks now even if there was housing, housing, housing there.

October 21, 2009 | 4:50 PM

Problem is, it won’t change in a real way until there is more housing nearby. There is a dire shortage of central city housing, at all income levels, as well as a shortage of neighborhood-serving retail The solution is to combine them; instead of strictly a housing approach or strictly a retail approach, a mixed-use approach. Look at any old building downtown that is now or used to be residential; almost universally, the ground floor serves a retail use and the residential units are located above. All we have to do is follow the same model of how cities used to be built! The 800 block of J Street uses this model; it has a low vacancy rate and a number of thriving businesses on the ground floor.

An ideal start would be adaptive reuse of existing mixed-use buildings, like the Bel-Vue. Stores and restaurants on the ground floor, residential above. On vacant lots like 8th and K, do exactly the same thing–ground floor retail, a few stories of parking above the retail, and then residential as high as you want to take it.

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October 25, 2009 | 9:24 AM

There are retail, retail, retail locations downtown, and living downtown doesnt mean you have to live on K street, downtown is much bigger than that. And if there were more active living going on downton, then those locations might choose to stay open longer, which then supports the residence living downtown, and not people having to leave to get back to the burbs by midnight.

October 26, 2009 | 3:24 PM

Indeed; K Street is the heart of the central city, and the sooner that we get it beating again the sooner that the 30,000 or so central city residents (plus, I’m hoping, a great many new central city residents) will come back to be the life-blood. However, I would suggest that we do need at least some more residential units directly on K street or adjacent streets–as mentioned above, of all income levels. The opportunity of K Street is that it can be a heck of a lot more than a suburban mall ever could.

Article Author
December 3, 2009 | 6:38 PM

Why not set up K street mall to have mostly local shops in it, that would make it easier to find locally owned and operated shops in one area, and hopefully help provide a place for the small shops to compete with the bigger stores. It might be a good idea for the city to provide incentives for small local stores to set up shops on K street at first to get it going. Instead of trying to bring in large chain stores that are in just about every other mall. I hardly ever go to downtown plaza, or arden fair, or other such malls, because going to one is like going to any other such mall.
They all have pretty much the same stores in each one. and there is very little difference between them.

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