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A new kind of tension may be ahead for Sacramento politics as two strong neighborhoods with vibrant histories are finally united into a single City Council district and, when the election dust settles, one council member will represent them both.
In Land Park, the streets are wide and quiet, the zoo and lush William Land Park have welcomed families for generations, and residents want a bridge to West Sacramento built farther up the river to keep the traffic out and preserve the peace and quiet of their neighborhood.
In Midtown, an eclectic mix of trendy restaurants and bars, art galleries, coffee houses and other small mom-and-pop businesses have helped attract a growing population of young professionals to the neighborhood, with its old Victorian homes and high-water bungalows on tree-lined streets.
Now, Land Park and Midtown, along with downtown and the smaller neighborhood of River Oaks, share a single City Council district, and seven candidates are vying to represent it. Residents of both Midtown and Land Park are worried that their neighborhoods will be secondary to the other in the new District 4.
That tension bubbled to the surface in the conversation about a recent Sacramento Press article on City Council candidate Phyllis Newton’s proposal to change the hours for the Second Saturday Art Walk.
“Why should Central City residents trust that Land Park resident Phyllis Newton will represent their interests when she appears to know very little about the Central City and its concerns?” Midtown resident Julie Murphy commented on the article.
Newton is one of the contenders for the City Council District 4 seat – a race that includes six candidates from Land Park and one from Midtown.
Midtown has been a part of the central city for more than a century. It all started here: The city was laid out in a dense, compact grid so people could move about easily in the days before cars, and businesses and homes were side by side.
Early city development was transportation-driven and boundary-driven, according to local historian William Burg. A new streetcar line in 1870 was key to the population shifts and, as streetcar lines extended beyond the city limits, people began moving away from the central city and started building up the suburbs.
When redevelopment was in full swing in the 1950s and ‘60s, downtown neighborhoods got demolished in favor of development projects. Around the same time and into the ‘70s, a younger, lower-income, creative community began to settle into the central city where rents were cheap. Midtown’s renaissance had begun – and it didn’t stop.
“In places where the arts and music and creativity flows, it reaches critical mass and becomes a place that people want to be a part of and want to get involved with,” Burg said.
Today’s Midtown is a hub of activity with specialty shops, yoga studios, bars and burger joints right along with homes, parks and urban gardens. Arts and entertainment thrive on the grid, and it has become a destination for suburbanites looking for something new and interesting to do.
Midtown has a lot going for it, but it also has issues that the new City Council representative will need to be sensitive to.
Hot-button issues for Midtown residents and businesses include:
- Historic preservation: making modern progress without sacrificing old character
- The arts: protecting and enhancing the arts community, recognizing the value that artists, musicians and performers add to Midtown
- Traffic issues: finding ways to accommodate commuters and visitors while preserving the walkability of residential areas
- Parking: developing a parking policy that is friendly to both the business community and residents
- Homelessness: easing the burden of a high concentration of homeless individuals in the central city
Sources: Julie Murphy, co-chair, Marshall School/New Era Park Neighborhood Association; Elizabeth Studebaker, executive director, Midtown Business Association; Alan LaFaso, president, Newton Booth Neighborhood Association. Are you a Midtown resident with an issue you want us to add to the list? Let us know in the conversation below the article.
Land Park grew up as a result of people moving away from the central city.
Streetcars stopped running in Sacramento in 1947 in favor of the automobile, and the auto-centric growth of the city meant people needed larger lots for houses and garages, wider streets and more commuting routes.
Land Park is a designed neighborhood, Burg said, with a style defined by a lush park and tree-lined streets.
Despite being initially colonized by middle- and upper middle-class Sacramentans, Land Park is not without its contrasts: The combination of a well-to-do population, along with the not-so-wealthy from Depression-era housing projects New Helvetia and Seavy Circle, is as much a defining characteristic of Land Park as its sleepy cul-de-sacs and 80-year-old trees.
Now that the shape of District 4 has changed, the incoming council representative will need to be aware of the issues important to people in Land Park.
Hot-button issues for Land Park residents and businesses include:
- Preservation: maintain historic aesthetics of older neighborhoods
- Parks: more emphasis on park maintenance
- Cohesiveness: maintain connectivity to the central city
- Livability of neighborhoods: preserve the walkability of residential areas and provide protection from unnecessary traffic
- Consideration for small businesses: streamline processes and help business owners more easily navigate the city system
Sources: Luree Stetson, president, Upper Land Park Neighbors group; Teresa Rocha, executive director, Greater Broadway Partnership; Mark Abrahams, president, Land Park Community Association. Are you a Land Park resident with an issue you want us to add to the list? Let us know in the conversation below the article.
WHO WILL BE HEARD?
Land Park residents are known for being passionate and vocal about neighborhood issues and, from the first time district maps were drawn in 1971, Land Park was the majority stakeholder in City Council District 4.
At the other end of the spectrum, the central city has been politically fragmented for more than 30 years under the care of three council districts. Midtown’s civic voice was often muffled at best.
“The past fracture of being under three districts made central city issues fairly low on the list, and the perception was always that Midtown didn’t matter,” Murphy said.
“Land Park has an identity as a whole neighborhood, where the central city is emerging and experiencing a lot of change,” said Alan LaFaso, president of the Newton Booth Neighborhood Association, located in Midtown.
Midtown and River Oaks combined have the lion’s share of residents, (roughly 40,000 to Land Park’s 16,000) but Land Park has the majority of active registered voters and historically had a stronger electorate voice, LaFaso said.
Now, however, the new district boundaries have unified Midtown, and some see that as an opportunity to push Midtown’s struggles to the top of the list for the City Council by electing a representative with direct experience with those issues.
“A candidate has more working skills coming from this (Midtown) experience that would translate to handling issues throughout the district,” Murphy said. “It might not be so true the other way around.”
Sixteen-year Land Park resident Chris Morfas said he sees an opportunity in all of this to put Sacramento on the map – but it hinges on a focus on the central city.
"The crucial issue in District 4 is that the central city is now united within a single district,” Morfas said Wednesday. “Land Park already has lots of clout. Sacramento's one shot at greatness is to make the central city an attractive location for entrepreneurs, artists, politicians, writers, analysts, poets – all the people that give life to a place. There's room for affordable housing and families, too.”
For Morfas, more people, more housing, more businesses, enhanced river access and better street design in the central city could make all the difference for Sacramento.
Whether the new council member comes from Land Park or Midtown, he or she will need to come to the dais prepared for the new dynamic in the district that redistricting created.
“The challenge is going to be finding out what common ground really is for both areas,” Burg said. “Land Park is more residential in nature, and they may have difficulty understanding that the central city is not just a place for business. They need to realize people live there.”
The bottom line for both areas comes down to one common expectation, however.
“What each neighborhood should expect is to be heard and understood,” Land Park Community Association President Mark Abrahams said Friday.
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.
Jared Goyette co-wrote this article.