Shaping future of West Sac’s Washington neighborhood

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon shares the podium with Cynthia Abbott, a HUD Field Office Director, for public remarks about the Washington neighborhood on Monday at 3rd and C streets in West Sacramento (News-Ledger photo)

West Sac’s Washington District is now a
disparate mix of longtime residents, old houses, shiny townhouses, skyscrapers, and the homeless

NEWS-LEDGER — NOV 23, 2011 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

Officials from West Sacramento and the federal Housing & Urban Development Department (HUD) gathered at a street corner in the city’s Washington neighborhood on Monday to announce a $400,000 planning grant for Washington.

The federal money will help the city complete the “Washington District Plan for Sustainable Community Development,” described by city spokesperson Art Schroeder as “a major planning project that will result in improvements to the Washington area that encourage new transit-oriented development and improve conditions for existing residents.”

West Sacramento is contributing $350,000 to the planning project.

  Cynthia Abbott, a HUD field office director, told the assembled crowd that competition for the $97 million in “Sustainable Communities Grants” was fierce, with only one in every eight applicants receiving funds. In California, only West Sacramento and the Sacramento County Housing Authority were grant winners.

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon’s public remarks included his note that a lot of planning projects, such as the one shaping the city’s “Bridge District” near Raley Field, are led by developers, and set their sights on land that’s uninhabited. Not so with Washington.

“This is a place where the people own it already,” said Cabaldon.

The Washington District is part of West Sacramento’s northeastern riverfront, near the I Street and Tower bridges. After its habitation by Native Americans, the area had a vibrant history beginning in the Gold Rush years.

“It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the Sacramento region, and in fact the oldest neighborhood in West Sacramento,” Cabaldon added. “It is an old neighborhood with a richness of diversity of community. . . but it has often been neglected for infrastructure.”

The new plan will “develop an authentic vision of what the neighborhood should be.”

HUD’s Abbott added that the planning project aims to “connect housing with jobs and provide transportation options for families.”

The plan may include streetcar access (the first phase of a Sacramento-West Sacramento route is in the planning stages) and replacement of the I Street Bridge with one that is friendly to bicycles and pedestrians headed to Sacramento.Now, the old bridge barely has room for two cars to cross past each other.

The Washington District comprises 194 acres and is “predominantly low income,” said a press statement from the city’s Art Schroeder.

The planning effort will look at “infrastructure deficiencies, transit service needs, regulatory barriers, infill development site opportunities, and neighborhood preservation concerns,” added Schroeder. The goal will be making Washington into “a vibrant, mixed-use, mixed-income community in support of the city’s overall vision for an active urban riverfront.”

Mayor Cabaldon vowed that the study won’t gather much dust when complete.
“At the end of the day, this project won’t just be a pretty plan with some nice things on it,” he told the small crowd of press and other interested people. “That’s not the West Sacramento way.”

The Washington neighborhood is one of the city’s most interesting mixes of old and new, promise and disappointment.

It’s built on a street grid dating to the 19th century. There are Victorian homes in various states of preservation, a couple of relatively new skyscrapers (the CalSTRS building and the ziggurat building), and plans for more tall shiny buildings.

  There are projects in place that were built during the Great Depression: an old firehouse near 3rd and C is stamped with the letters “WPA” – signifying the Works Progress Administration, which was charged by FDR with building things and employing workers during the tough times of the 1930s. The Tower Bridge was also a “New Deal” project – a federal stimulus project of its time.

Washington also has shiny new urban townhouses fronted with retail space – but much of the space remains vacant in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression.

And there is a gritty element to Washington. A visitor who parked a block south of Monday’s press conference site walked past a small patch of grass littered with abandoned clothes and various unmentionables, probably left behind by a homeless person.

How will the neighborhood look in 20 or 30 years? Cabaldon and other local leaders hope the $400,000 planning grant will help decide that question.

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