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A rock band steps onto a portable stage set up in the old Sacramento News and Review parking lot at 20th and J streets. They tune up and begin to play. This promotion marked beginning of the end of the traditional Second Saturday.
Second Saturday was no longer going to be an art walk and about visiting art galleries. Second Saturday was going to be about bringing large numbers of young people to Midtown to stay after the event and continue partying and drinking in the Midtown bars and nightclubs.
City officials and the Midtown Business Association (MBA) immediately tried to distance the Midtown Second Saturday Art Walk event and themselves from the unfortunate and preventable death of Victor Hugo Perez Zavala and shooting of three others.
Why unfortunate and preventable? There had been plenty of warnings from Midtown residents and others that the art walk (Second Saturday A) and, more to the point, the after-event – the unofficial party in the streets of Midtown (Second Saturday B) – was rapidly reaching the point that a major incident was becoming a foregone conclusion.
This peaked after August’s Second Saturday (both A and B). The outcry become so loud that it was finally reported by The Sacramento Bee and The Sacramento News and Review. Both promptly poo-poo’d it along with city officials and the MBA.
So why were things allowed to spiral so out of control that Sacramento Police officers at the scene of the shooting last weekend could not prevent it or even identify a suspect? It can be traced back directly to the relationship between city officials and the MBA with the purveyors of highly profitable liquor in Midtown.
A little history: A few decades ago there was no way there would be a clubbing scene in what wasn’t even known as Midtown. White flight to the suburbs had left the area to drug dealers, prostitution, social services and Section 8 subsidized housing.
Slowly, a small group of determined individuals and families recognized the potential of the neighborhood and started demanding that the city help clean up the area and contribute to its livability.
About the same time, some art galleries began opening, along with a few nice restaurants. As Marion Millen described in an earlier SacramentoPress.com article,
“Gallery owner Michael Himovitz brought Second Saturday to Sacramento two decades ago, to ‘educate and connect people through discussing art.’ He advocated coordinating individual efforts into an event that benefited all the galleries, their customers, local culture and the community. It worked.”
It worked very well for a long time. Midtown grew to have a good quality of life (livability). It had a variety of businesses within walking distance serving the neighborhood. This included restaurants focused on food and a vibrant art scene.
It needs to be emphasized that what is called Midtown is overwhelmingly residential. It is an area made up of several-century-plus-old historic residential neighborhoods. Midtown is crisscrossed by two two-block-wide commercial strips: J and K streets and 19th and 21st streets.
The other small commercial areas are 28th Street south of J Street and a small area on Capitol Avenue. All the rest is residential. A significant amount is single-family homes. A lot of these residents are still occupied by those who fought for a good quality of life or those attracted to the neighborhoods because of the quality of life and the philosophy of new urbanism (Live where you are not dependent on a car, goods and services are within walking distance or public transportation and your living situation takes up much less space).
The latest changes to Midtown started a little over a decade ago. Midtown went from livable to being marketed as “THE HOT” location in Sacramento. High-end restaurants that morph after 9 or 10 p.m. into bars and nightclubs designed to attract 20-somethings from the whole region and beyond displaced the businesses serving the neighborhood.
Except for negative impacts on nearby residents, it worked for a while. But then came the recession coupled with overconcentration. And along with that came desperation. The bars and nightclubs became desperate to find any way to attract patrons to their near-empty businesses. No one was in a better position to witnesses this than the residents of Midtown.
It didn’t take the alcohol purveyors long to realize that they could have an OK to even good night once a month on the night of the Second Saturday Art Walk. Soon there was promotion of the Second Saturday “After Party.” The one city block of eight bars and nightclubs between 27th and 28th on J Street, the self-named “Bloc,” is a good example. With nary an art gallery in sight they started proclaiming, “Come to the Second Saturday After Party at the Bloc!”
Now here comes what really led to last Sunday morning’s shooting. Not content with the amount of business they were getting from Second Saturday A (the wine-sipping and cheese-nibbling art crowd was not contributing to their business), through the MBA and with the assistance of the city, they hijacked Second Saturday A.
There is a thing with late-night talk shows sometimes called the “warm-up.” This consists of someone, sometimes the star, appearing before the show starts telling jokes and getting the audience going. So when the show starts, the audience members are all excited, and the home audience sees them on their feet cheering.
Second Saturday A has now become the “warmup” for Second Saturday B. This is well-documented. No one denies that Second Saturday A has become more of a Mardi Gras event.
Loud bands are located throughout the area with large numbers of street vendors. Many galleries have dropped out, complaining of vandalism, thefts and crowds only interested in drinking their wine with no interest in purchasing art. Few feel it is safe to bring their children. In fact, few genuinely interested in art attend. Many are afraid of the crowd that has gotten more and more out of control.
Second Saturday A getting everyone in a major party mood for Second Saturday B has been a massive success. Well, at least in terms of attendance and rowdiness.
Now add to this ready-to-continue-to-party crowd an unwillingness to disperse them.
The whole mood is conducive to partying and, more importantly, drinking. With word of the Second Saturday B spreading, and with a lot of promotion, the event has continued to grow.
Along with the frat boy types and others with a propensity to drink spending money in the bars and nightclubs, Second Saturday B has attracted the underage with not much else to do, and, sadly, those prone to anger and violence.
With no mechanism to sort out and remove the latter, it became inevitable that there would be a major incident, and sadly that incident took a bystander’s life and injured three others.
So what is the City of Sacramento’s role in all this? What were they thinking in allowing these crowds to grow so large in the first place? Did they not listen to their officers telling them this was getting beyond what they could control? Do they truly think that this is what makes Sacramento a world-class city – ignoring the loss of quality of life for the residents of these neighborhoods? Are they so beholden to the political power of the bar and nightclub owners that they are so willing to put people’s lives at risk?
The city had almost exactly the same situation in Old Sacramento. When this started to threaten the business interests, the crowds were forcibly driven out of Old Sac. Police officers told residents of Midtown neighborhoods that that is where these individuals ended up, making it more difficult for the police to deal with them.
When the the Thursday Night Market got so out of control that the police realized they no longer had the resources to deal with it, city officials at the time wisely shut it down before someone was killed.
In regards to the Midtown Business Association: the MBA started out many years ago, founded by owners of many of the small individually owned businesses that served a number of the needs of the neighborhoods.
It has changed into a business association that primarily represents the interests of the high-end restaurants, bars, nightclubs and associated businesses. As I have already stated, many of the original businesses have been displaced, and those that are left are mostly ignored. If you don’t believe, me just attend their monthly meetings.
After a shooting on the patio of Harlow’s Nightclub, there was a lot of media coverage. During the same period, female patrons were robbed at gunpoint crossing 27th Street at J Street. The bar and nightclub industry feared a loss of patrons afraid to come into Midtown.
A security company was hired and instituted things like security patrols and other systems that improved the situation for residents while making it safer for patrons. When the memory of the shooting faded, the security was discontinued. The problems for the neighborhood returned.
It is not surprising that the public has not heard anything from any of the bar or nightclub owners that have benefited so much from Second Saturday. That is what they have the MBA for.
Some immediate solutions: If the City, they MBA and everyone else involved truly wants to save the 6 to 10 pm Second Saturday A they need to shut down the after party crowds of Second Saturday B. It has been made crystal clear that even with added resources the Sacramento Police Department can not control what happens in these crowds. After 10:00 pm anyone who is not in a restaurant/bar/nightclub, coffee house or other legitimate business or on their patio needs to move on. There are plenty of locations east and west of Midtown to legally drink and enjoy them selves.
The crowds need to be controlled so they do not move out into the residential area. To help prevent this a two hour or less no parking without a residential permit zone needs to be instituted throughout the Midtown residential areas and ENFORCED. 311 needs to be staffed adequately on the second Saturday/Sunday morning so that residents can call and report drinking and other illegal activities. Police need to be dispatched to deal with this. Some residents are going to whine about the parking but it is a small price to pay to have peace in the residential areas. Guests at legitimate gatherings can move their car every two hours or hosts can easily obtain one day visitor permits.
These two things would go a long way in having a post Second Saturday that would much safer and sane.
About those of not of drinking age and the problem of gangs: Youth are attracted to the Second Saturday events to see and be seen. An area in the central business district needs to be set aside for them that access can be controlled. Possibly a section of the convention center. It needs to have food and soft drinks available at a reasonable cost and feature music. Could one or more of the bands at Second Saturday A be brought in?
As for gangs, having a controlled access area would make it much easier to exclude them and weapons.
But sadly gangs are a long term problem with no quick solutions. While a lot of resources have been put into Second Saturday the city has cut youth programs and gang prevention nearly to the point of non existence. Mayor Johnson talks of working for youth but with out the support of the whole council to find money and other resources how is this city going to have a better future for its’ young people?