A Discussion with Mayor Steinberg and Councilmember Hansen
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
- 6:00-7:45 pm -
Ella K. McClatchy Library (2112 22nd St.)
Special Guests: Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Councilmember Steve Hansen, Kriztina Palone, Neighborhood Services Division (NSD)
- Alkali Mansion Flat Historic Neighborhood Association, Represented by President, Sean Wright
- Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association (BPNA), Represented by Director at Large, Dave Herbert
- Marshall School/New Era Park Neighborhood Association (MSNEPNA), Represented by Board Co-Chair, George Raya
- Midtown Neighborhood Association (MNA), Represented by Board Chair, Ange Tillotson
- Newton Booth Neighborhoods Association (NBNA), Represented by Board Communications Officer, Sean Manwaring
- Richmond Grove Neighborhood Association (RGNA), Represented by President, Pamela Rasada
- Southside Park Neighborhood Association (SPNA), Represented by President, Marni Leger and Vice President, Gordon Lane
- Washington Park Neighborhood Improvement Group (WPNIG), Represented by President, Martha Damjanovic
Q&A from Alliance Members to Mayor Steinberg and Councilmember Hansen:
-Moderator: Ange Tillotson, President, Midtown Neighborhood Association
-Notes: Sean Manwaring, Board Officer, Newton Booth Neighborhoods Association
-Time: George Raya, Co-Chair, Marshall School New Era Park Neighborhood Association
1. We understand the need to add to the housing stocks and central city residents would like to be engaged and informed about the development in the city at its early stages. Please outline your plans to ensure that institutional neighborhood knowledge is not lost as the central city develops. Would you consider a resident task force or more regular meetings like the one this evening to allow for the early dissemination of information? (BPNA)
Mayor Steinberg stated that he would like to continue to develop an open relationship with Central City neighborhoods associations, reminding us that such is why he was in attendance this very evening. He further explained that he hoped to continue the dialogue between neighborhood groups and city leadership to ensure greater collaboration. Steve Hansen thanked everyone for meeting and looked forward to further addressing neighborhood concerns at greater length in quarterly District 4 leadership meetings. Marni Leger (SPNA) commented on her experience with community activism in North Natomas, citing the importance of regular communication between neighborhood groups and leadership across city government (Council, Parks and Rec, Planning…) to help maintain a clear understanding of expectations and outcomes between all parties involved. Kriztina Palone of NDS announced the development of a new permit tracker portal, which is intended to provide up-to-date information regarding pending permits, applications, and approvals for development throughout the city. This tool is specifically designed to help keep residents informed regarding development proposals, site upgrades, etc. She will email more information on this and other developments to the group in the coming weeks. She further explained that the release of this new resource was just a first step toward improving communication and notification between neighbors, developers, and city planning staff: https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Community-Development/Development-Tracker
2. What proactive measures will city government commit itself to in order to deter land speculation concerning historic properties within the central city? i.e., mandatory residential lease agreements/on-site property management, etc. Current examples of the threat of land speculation in the central city include the blighted ½ block of 15th and S Streets, where a speculator allowed the properties to decay and never secured financing to develop the property (or sell entitlements) as he’d originally intended. Now the three historic homes that were located on the site have been compromised beyond salvaging. (NBNA)
Steve Hansen acknowledged the damage that has occurred throughout the central city due to land speculation. He further explained how consensus on how to address absentee speculator ownership of historic lots/buildings varies across city staff, as not everyone wishes to consequate people who misbehave. The Mayor then stated that we are wholly under-resourced when it comes to economic development in this community. He explained that we do not have enough “big picture” economic specialists at the moment to address the more nuanced elements of smart growth and that if we are going to be hands-on to prevent land speculation, we need an economic development infrastructure to address such issues. The Mayor would like to balance the new economy with preservation efforts and will recommend resources for such measures to be built into the future budget. Steve also asked for more support/follow through from Central City neighbors/residents to help him identify and stay vigilant on specific instances of land speculation. Steve recommends that we take pictures with detailed observations and pass them along to his staff so that he can address these issues more effectively.
3. Richmond Grove has been identified in preliminary surveys done in the 1990’s as a potential historic district. Will the city help to get Richmond Grove, and other potential historic districts in Sacramento (Alhambra Triangle), surveyed before more of our blocks end up like 15th and S? (RGNA)
Steve Hansen responded by stating that the answer to this question is an easy “yes.” The Councilmember assured neighborhood leads that he cares deeply about preservation in the central city. He stated that one of his top priorities is to reexamine and update old historic surveys to make sure that they include ALL potential contributors. Steve also discussed the instance of the rare historic barn on Capitol Avenue and how the rest of Council voted against him on whether or not to allow the owner to demolish it. He further gave the example of his efforts to move at-risk historic bungalows to city-designated lots for single-family residents but that the process proved very difficult to sell. Councilmember Hansen believes that surveys must communicate the vital historic significance of remaining structures throughout the central city in order to ensure their protection. Mayor Steinberg explained that he would like to place more focus on a “workshop method” to address the importance of historic preservation and to educate other council members, so as to help them to better understand the law and how it applies to these sorts of properties. George Raya shared the importance of actually meeting with developers so that we can speak to one another and be sure that all community stakeholders adequately express priorities and concerns. Steve concluded his thoughts by proposing District-4-facilitated meetings/workshops with infill developers and neighborhood association leads, with the intent to build relationships of trust and reinforce communication and collaboration.
4. Mayor Steinberg, at a meeting with neighborhood leaders earlier this month, you mentioned that you wanted to see the relationships between the developers and the community groups thrive again. What is being done to change the community Group/Developer dynamic and what will you do to ensure our voices are heard when special permits are being considered that veer from the General Plan? Recent city projects have been given the green light in spite of deviations from the city’s General Plan and resident concerns. Will future projects determined to offer “community benefits” receive exemptions from the general plan, and if so, how does the city define a “community benefit”? How much weight will you give to neighborhood input on planning and development issues? (MSNEPNA/RGNA)
The Mayor began his response by stating that he wanted to give a broader perspective to his explanation. He shared that when he sat on the City Council in the ‘90s, they had a structure that was intensely focused on neighborhood services, all working together. At that time, the City employed supervisors who oversaw integration of services, including city planning. Mayor Steinberg emphasized how he would like to see us return to that approach. He would also like to strengthen Neighborhood Services by returning it from a division to a department. He wants to be sure that all sectors of city government are in better contact with neighborhoods. The Mayor also lamented how too much of the responsibility for supporting the neighborhoods has fallen upon the respective city councilmembers. This is yet another reason as to why he would like to see the creation of a Neighborhood Services Division that works more directly with neighbors in collaboration. George Raya discussed the need for a potential reboot of a Neighborhood Advisory Group (NAG) to ensure that the city communicates regularly and directly to neighborhoods. However, Steve expressed his belief that NAG didn’t meet its objective because people abused the forum with city staff. Mayor Steinberg also expressed that he wants to broaden the neighborhood movement (neighborhood justice, land use, etc) and will be looking into ways to do so over the coming year. Sean Manwaring (NBNA) redirected both the Councilmember and the Mayor to the specific question of “community benefit” and what the actual definition of such a claim looks like, so that residents have a point of reference when planning variances are granted based on their potential for “community benefit”. Steve responded by saying that the concept of community-benefit was not well defined in the general plan, and that city staff will be revisiting this presently to articulate what exactly a “community benefit” entails.
5. The city has been very vocal about its desire to add 10,000 housing units to the central city. What benefits would the city receive by relaxing specific zoning laws in the central city and nearby neighborhoods, allowing property owners to be more creative with their space? What additional incentives can we offer for small and medium development in particular? i.e., simplified permit and building processes made easier/less costly for small to medium developers and individual homeowners. (MNA/BPNA)
Councilmember Hansen fielded this question, stating that the City has stopped the frivolous destruction of old housing and believes that our newly updated and progressive development code will help to add housing while yet maintaining the current stock. He also cited a new state law, which allows second unit construction to be streamlined to help promote construction and keep up with demand. The new city development code regarding the construction of granny flats or small apartments above garages piggybacks on said streamlining processes at the local level. Steve stated that one big challenge currently facing those looking to develop their properties is the general lack of expertise. Many people don’t have a grasp of all of the intricacies of project planning and often lose a lot of money due to inexperience. He also said that the City can always relax more requirements but we need to remember that price/cost of labor is enormous, and also stifles growth. The Councilmember invited neighborhood leads to share any additional ideas as to how we can further development in the central city. The Mayor stated that the City is adding people to the Community Development Dept. to help meet demand, but that they are still recovering from the consequences of deep cuts that were made to community development during the recession. They also continue to outsource community development tasks but are actively seeking to grow the division. The Mayor also recognized the problem of rising rents. He reminded us that while economic development is good, gentrification is very bad. He would like for the City to improve streamlining and technical assistance to contractors and homeowners who want to build granny flats, etc. Steve clarified the difference between restoration/preservation and gentrification, reminding the group how many people left the Central City behind in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but early preservation pioneers took it on in the ‘80s and ‘90s and brought it back (literally saving, preserving, and maintaining our old neighborhoods). Marni Leger discussed how difficult and expensive it is to work with planning to get the residential review approved for these infill projects. Steve responded by stating that the new accessory dwelling unit policy (passed a few months ago) will waive these fees. Steve also assured neighborhood leads that he will work with us on clarifying and identifying solutions when neighborhood residents wish to develop their properties.
6. While supportive of infill, we would also like to understand the overriding plan for infill development in the alleys. We are concerned about the ability of the existing infrastructure to handle the large dwellings that are being proposed. Existing sewers and water removal devices are aging and were built to manage a smaller population than what is being proposed in some cases. Lot splits can sometimes result in a parcel supporting 3-5 dwellings as opposed to the one dwelling that the systems were built to handle. In addition, we feel that new development should take the character of each neighborhood into account. Please share any information you might have that would help us understand the greater plan. (BPNA)
The Mayor stated that affordable housing or market-rate housing production is faced with a dramatic gap. He suggested that we must be creative regarding infill by taking advantage of the existing lot sizes that will permit for density and growth. He continued by stating that so long as proposals are consistent with neighborhood value and ethic, we should seek to foster as many opportunities as possible to build and get creative with housing.
Steve discussed the importance of appropriateness and context when approaching infill. He stated that what may work on a commercial artery/corridor may not be as appropriate on a residential corridor. He reminded the group that lot splits are often divisive issues because of opposition to density. Steve believes that we need to stick to developing/maximizing available space while establishing better guidelines and cooperation/input with neighborhoods regarding what they will be receptive to in the way of new development.
7. What measures will the city take to ensure that alley development is conducive to resident/pedestrian/motorist safety? Most of our neighborhoods have infill projects demonstrating garages and front doors facing the alleys, yet little infrastructure has been added/planned to prevent cars from speeding down the alleyways (nearly hitting people as they enter/leave their homes, take out the garbage, or back cars out of their garages). Residents and businesses found within our developed alleyways have proposed installing inward-facing stop signs at either end of inhabited alleys to ensure that motorists drive more calmly and do not hit residents, business patrons, or oncoming bicyclists/pedestrians at alley intersections with the sidewalks. (NBNA)
The Mayor expressed the notion that perhaps we are not ready to develop alleys without first addressing the traffic needs. Councilmember Hansen emphasized what he sees as the importance of educating each other on how to be better aware and not as distracted while driving, so that alleyways will be safer for all people. He also stated that Central City alleys have existed for over a century and horse carriages must have zoomed down them every bit as much cars do today. Today we need to intervene and do something about case-specific issues. Steve indicated that several traffic studies from other places have demonstrated that the very people who tend to speed are usually people from within the neighborhood in which they are speeding (due to their familiarity with the zone, they often become comfortable with speeding through). Sean Manwaring (NBNA) demonstrated an image of Solons Alley at 20th Street, where ½ of the alley has been developed with homes that have front doors and garages that face the alleyway. Residents constantly report nearly getting hit by vehicles that speed down the alley, often hitting garbage cans or nearly colliding with pedestrians who are crossing the intersection with the sidewalks. Sean also reminded Councilmember Hansen, who recommended case specific traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps, that speed bumps are prohibited by the Sacramento Fire Department in any alleyway within the Central City. Steve recommended following-up with neighbors impacted by these issues in specific alleyways to address these concerns directly.
8. We would like to express concern regarding a perceived lack of communication between the city and the constituents/neighbourhood activists, and often feel that when there is some communication, it verges toward hostility. What can be done to improve civility/conductual etiquette on the part of elected officials towards public commenters at city meetings? (WPNIG)
The Mayor stated that he has had a little bit of a hard time adjusting to the unique dynamics of a mayoral role from that of his former position at the state level. He became mayor to use some of his state experience to help the city but he feels that he needs to be more patient. Martha Damjanovic (WPNIG) clarified that the question was not made in regards to the conduct of the current administration. She explained that people who have been living in the Central City since the 1980s have noticed a big change in how city staff engages with residents. She expressed how many neighbors from across town think that city staff is dismissive, condescending, etc. Martha further explained that many longtime city staffers are retiring, and that their new replacements have brought along a new culture, one that is seemingly lacking in communication and civility. In response to Martha’s explanation, the Mayor asked for clarification between lack of communication and lack of civility. Martha responded by stating that residents have often been told by city officials that it was “the city’s way or the highway.” Martha also indicated that she would address more specific examples with city leadership outside of the meeting. She further expressed that she feels as though the issue has really spun out of control because residents felt that they were not being heard when approaching city staff to address specific issues.
9. Sutter’s Landing Regional Park is near and dear to our neighborhood residents, and more and more visitors from across the city are enjoying the park and the river access. We understand that because Sutter’s Landing was a former landfill, construction in much of the park will have to wait a number of years while the land settles. However, many projects can and should be done now, and long-term planning for the park needs to be revisited. What is the timeline for improvements to Sutter’s Landing, both short-term and long-term? How will the funds raised from McKinley Village be used? (MSNEPNA)
Steve responded by stating that (technically speaking) Sutter’s Landing is located within the 3rd District’s boundaries, which is Councilmember Jeff Harris’ district. There are many parcels that are still owned by other parties, but the state has a moratorium on building over the next 30-years as the land settles. They are currently planning bathrooms for a specific segment of the park. They are also targeting funds (from billboards) to preserve revenues to reinvest in the park. Being a landfill inhibits our ability to do a lot of improvements in the interim. However, when McKinley Village was first pitched, Steve was able to secure financing with the developer for sidewalks leading up to the park, etc., and said sidewalks will be installed in the near future.
10. How will the city address the negative impacts on residents and businesses of Southside Park due to frequent use of Southside Park for Special Events attracting thousands to this community park designed to serve residents within a 3-mile radius? Is there a reason why a proportionate number of special events cannot be directed to larger parks with amphitheaters such as William Land Park and McClatchy Park, so that the negative impacts of large events are spread more equitably? (SPNA)
Councilmember Hansen responded to this question by saying that his staff is currently in the process of working on some improvements for Southside Park (SSP). Steve also indicated that he would like to take a closer look at permitting for SSP, suggesting that the city should have a program, which adds additional fees for large events (they did this for Cesar Chavez Park and William Land Park) so that they would actually be able to recoup some of the costs from damage/use to the park during big turnouts. He is also working on a plan to move more of these festivals to the Capitol Mall by improving infrastructure so that it becomes a more feasible location for large events. Steve further stated that securing the funds to improve the parks has been a tremendous challenge (especially because there hasn't been a lot of large developments in the area to help fund these programs). Marni Leger (SPNA) read the amount of fees raised from permits for SSP relative to William Land, citing that Southside Park raises significantly more money in event fees but sees less of an actual return investment from the City than William Land Park. She further explained that 24 cars were spotted in the park driving on the lawn at a recent event and that the abuse to the park is substantial. Steve responded by explaining that the City only has half of the rangers that they need to properly maintain/manage the parks, but they are working to rehire enough rangers to bring it back to the proper level. They have less staff now than they did in 1980 for 50% more park space at current. Steve said that if they get a lot of complaints, they are feasibly able to deny a permit for the same event in future years, so Southside Parkers should be sure to report any issues related to a specific event.
11. In light of Neighborhood Services’ mission, as articulated online to - “promote and maintain healthy diverse neighborhoods”, do you support providing resources to the community by opening the Southside Park Clubhouse/Community Center and discontinuing future leasing of the center to non-profits? (SPNA)
Steve responded saying that during the recession (before his election) community centers were leased out in lieu of major spending cuts citywide. He reported that the city recently sent a letter stating that they are ending the lease of the SSP Clubhouse with Target Excellence. Councilmember Hansen is working to get the Clubhouse staffed a couple of times a week. He also thinks that we should find other ways to raise the capital to provide budgeting for the clubhouses. The Mayor responded by saying that after coming into office, he was surprised by just how many community centers were contracting-out their space and equally shocked by how much nonprofits have had to step in to compensate for the lack of programming and park services made available by the City. He discussed how the parks system used to be (when he served as a councilmember) and how he believes that he was elected-in part-to get the funding back into neighborhood services and the community/park and recreation system, etc.
12. In a 2016 ruling by the Third District Court of Appeals, the Court found that “McKinley Village would cause traffic impacts more severe than what the EIR described” and that those impacts would occur at 28th, 29th and 30th Streets. In light of this ruling, what additional traffic mitigation will be undertaken in conjunction with McKinley Village construction? Also, what steps will the city take in the future to mitigate traffic impacts for projects that impact other parts of the central city? (MSNEPNA)
The Mayor responded stating that City Council debated this very issue the previous evening as the question came back before them. He explained that by state standards, increased traffic congestion may be acceptable if it results in people spending less time in their cars. On a state level, California is looking for housing projects/developments that result in less-miles traveled. Councilmember Hansen added that in the referenced ruling, the court found that the City didn’t provide enough evidence to show that traffic impacts would be sufficient to justify further mitigations. However, Steve believes that there are more ways by which the city can try to reduce traffic congestion. He looks forward to discussing such strategies further with interested neighborhood groups.
13. With the recent passing of the state transportation funding bill, will the city allocate funds towards increased safety/visibility for cyclists by painting bike lanes on every street in the central city? (MNA)
The Mayor answered the question by stating that making our city more bikeable is still a major priority. However, Sacramento still hasn’t come forward with a major plan for addressing these sets of issues. Steve added that Grid 3.0 is the plan that was most recently adopted by City Council and he is going to try to get enough money from that package to improve bike lanes/lighting/etc. wherever possible. The Mayor proceeded to pay Steve a compliment, assuring neighborhood leads that Steve is on top of his duties and doing a fine job researching alternative modes of transportation and securing funding for improvements throughout the Central City.
*A WPNIG member also made a recommendation that color temperature LEDs be used in historic districts as opposed to the colder LEDs that are being installed of late around the Central City. He encouraged Councilmember Hansen to work with neighborhood leaders to address this issue before it becomes a bigger problem. Steve assured WPNIG leadership that he intended to follow-up on this particular issue. Public WPNIG stated that Public Works employees are engineers and they don’t necessarily consider these issues in the same manner as people living within historic districts.