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Mike McGowan: the man whose name is on West Sac’s newest bridge

NEWS-LEDGER — DEC 3, 2014 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

  EDITOR’S NOTE: Friday (Dec. 5), West Sacramento officials will cut the ribbon on a new bridge across the barge canal. The bridge is a few hundred yards west of the existing bridge that takes Jefferson Boulevard over the same canal. It will provide a new connection between Southport and the freeway and other points north.
  In another year or so, the new bridge will fully connect South River Road north of the canal to Village Parkway in the south.

  The bridge’s name?

  It will be called the “Mike McGowan Bridge,” in honor of the city’s first mayor.

   Earlier this year, the News-Ledger sat down with McGowan for a wide-ranging chat about his experiences and service in this city. With the planned opening of the Mike McGowan Bridge this week, perhaps this is a good time to bring that interview to you.

  We’ll present it in multiple parts starting here this week.

__________

It was midget car racing that brought Mike McGowan to West Sacramento in the early 1950s.

mcgowan michael 2014 by news-ledger  “We moved here when I was probably about five,” recalled McGowan, talking from a chair in Southport’s Eagle Café. “We came here from the Bay Area. My father was essentially a concessionaire. His business model was to sell beer, soda, hot dogs, popcorn and whatnot at different race tracks around the state.”

At the time, West Sacramento was home to a popular track on West Capitol Avenue called the “Capital Speedway.” The roar of the engines was a familiar sound in the air on Saturday nights. The speedway attracted McGowan senior.

“He liked the town, and moved us up here. It was quarter-mile dirt tracks,” said McGowan, 66. “This was right after the war, and dirt track racing was becoming more and more popular. At that time, the cars were called ‘midgets.’ They were little open-cockpit cars, mini-roadster cars. After the war, we started seeing what we called jalopies, which were modified street cars. The guys would take all the glass out, put roll bars around them, hop up the engine and cut out the wheel wells. It was the ultimate entry-level racing, very amateur.”

When the track’s owner contemplated shutting it down, the elder McGowan took over as its promoter to keep it going (and kept it going into the 1970s).

“That’s where I grew up,” recalls Mike McGowan. “That’s how I grew up – selling popcorn, cleaning the bathrooms, doing anything and everything that had to be done. It was a family business and everybody worked in some capacity.”

The track provided family entertainment, he said, although “the families could be a little rough.”

“Especially the jalopy types – but they were all good, hardworking people. It was a wonderful place for a kid. In those days, we could hire a 12 year old, give them a basketful of peanuts, and they could work all night and make a dollar-fifty. For me, it was also the place where I could watch this incredible array of mankind. I learned a lot. . . There were a lot of interesting characters on the racetrack!”

McGowan spent most of his elementary school years at Westmore Oaks Elementary School, then Westacres School, following that up at James Marshall High. He met his future wife, Sue, there. He graduated in 1966 and went to Sacramento City College.

But:

“I flunked out because I was in a band and having way too much fun,” he remembers. (He still plays drums in a popular local band).

That was during the Vietnam War, and there was a draft going on. McGowan rated high on the draft list.

“I was classified 1A, and I didn’t want to be drafted, so I joined the Marine Corps,” he chuckled. “That was a 19-year old’s logic.”

But he said the decision to join up was really a little more complicated than that. At college, McGowan had met some returned veterans and had been impressed.

“None of them had been in a war zone, but they had these great stories about being in Germany, or wherever they had been stationed. . . I believed at the time that this (war) was going to be my generation’s story. And I didn’t want to be 50 years old, sitting around when guys are telling their story, and I didn’t have one.”

“There was anti-war sentiment, there were protests, there were people going to Canada” to avoid the draft,” he added. “But West Sacramento in 1966-67 was a very patriotic, blue-collar, middle class town. VFW (the patriotic Veterans of Foreign Wars organization) loomed large in our world.”

“Most of our fathers had been in the war – not that they were rah-rah for us to go,” he continued. “My friend’s father, who had been in the Pacific in World War II, was basically telling me ‘don’t go, you don’t want to go to war.’ But at 19, I was invincible.”

McGowan was sent into the Marines and “lucked out,” he said. He was assigned to artillery, and was a section chief for a 105 millimeter Howitzer gun for 13 months, mostly in 1968.

He came home from Vietnam in one piece and turned Sue Barber into Sue McGowan. Then:

“I went to work for PG&E as a field clerk,” McGowan recalled. “I’m proud to say I was the world’s worst field clerk. It was a terrible job. I was sitting there one day, talking to a co-worker, and all he did every day was talk about retirement. I was 21 years old, working, trying to start my family. I had this epiphany, that I did not want to be sitting here at 38 (like that coworker) counting the years to retirement. I decided, ‘I’m getting out now.’”

He went back to school on the GI bill, graduating from Sacramento State and then from McGeorge School of Law.

“I wasn’t a master student, but I got through,” said McGowan. “I opened my own office January 1, 1977, just about where the massage parlor is over by West Sacramento Land Company (near Merkley and Jefferson). I wound up doing almost extensively indigent defense. I was a private attorney but I was doing public defender work, both in Yolo and Sacramento. I was doing lots and lots of trials, which I truly enjoyed.”

McGowan kept a hand in his practice through his later years on the West Sacramento City Council, and into his the first years of his service on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. He had a partner only briefly, but shared an office at various times with Clark Cameron and with Doris Shockley (who later became a Yolo judge).

Meanwhile, what’s now the City of West Sacramento was really just a group of neighborhoods in what was called “East Yolo,” governed by the county supervisors in Woodland. It was a troubled area, and dissatisfaction was brewing. There were a couple of failed attempts at shaping part of the area into a new city.

McGowan was still in college in 1976 when one of those efforts sprouted and dried up.

“I had virtually no role,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I went to some hearings with (the late activist) Grace Ohlson. I wound up writing a paper about the incorporation.”

Then, in 1986, a new incorporation effort sprang up. This one was championed by a variety of people, including enthusiastic citizens. Developers and other businesspeople provided most of the campaign funds.

“The motivation primarily was that we were sending a lot of tax money over there (to Yolo County), and we weren’t liking what we were getting back,” remembered McGowan. “Also, we don’t need those folks from Davis and Woodland telling us how to live our lives.”

The community also was unhappy with crime and the services provided by the county sheriff’s department, and it was fed up with the “sin city” character of its decaying main street, West Capitol Avenue. That was a place were prostitutes were commonplace and respectable people didn’t linger.

“There was a growing dissatisfaction with the sheriff’s department and the way they were treating us,” said McGowan. “Rod Graham was the sheriff at that particular time and he didn’t have anything good to say about us.”

Also, McGowan said, “there’s no question that development – the monied interests that are here – wanted to have greater influence over the governing body and would rather have a group of local policy makers than have to go to Woodland and Davis to get their stuff approved. . . This successful incorporation was, as you know, significantly backed by development money and the business community – (Frank) Ramos, (Tom) Raley. Those folks over here, for a variety of reasons that were not all self-serving. But certainly there was a feeling that hey, we want to have our own team here to work with.”

McGowan gives credit to people like County Supervisor Clark Cameron (an “unsung hero” of the effort) and Jake Misfedt (who actually “wasn’t a fan of incorporation”) for paving the way for the separate communities of Bryte, Broderick, “old” West Sacramento and Southport to become one city. They laid groundwork including arranging a county incorporation study and consolidating the various communities’ water and fire services.

Cameron also helped create a “redevelopment agency” in what later became West Sacramento, drawing out a large mapped-out area which would help keep in more of its property tax money local to pay to fight blight. The city kept that agency until recently, and although some aspects of it were controversial, the redevelopment agency helped to fund many of the city’s bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

“There was an evolution, then there was a revolution,” said McGowan.

At the same time voters were asked to vote up or down on incorporation in November of 1986, they were asked to choose from a slate of candidates who would serve as the first five people on the city council.

“It was a beauty contest – a popularity contest,” he remarked with a chuckle.

McGowan was on that list, and he drew the most votes. Does that mean he won the beauty contest?

“Go figure that one out!,” he answered.

Today’s elections in West Sacramento are fairly sophisticated, with money raised and spent and most of the campaigning done with mailers and other impersonal communication. Then, it was different.

“I wasn’t politically involved when I ran for city council,” said McGowan. “I was sitting there watching everybody else sign up for this thing. I was thinking, ‘I know this guy, I know that guy, I can do a better job than they can.’ And I thought it would be fun. I’d do one term and get out.”

As for some of the other candidates:

“Ben Davis was the only candidate who ran opposed to incorporation, but he wasn’t able to articulate that in a very effective way,” McGowan remembers. “And then Mike Zimmerman, a barber, was in it, Fred Pierini was in it, Bob Mahalisin was in it – it was 21 people It was the best campaign I’ve ever been in. We were making it up, no one knew what they were doing.”

“We’d go to candidates’ nights,” he recalled. “There were about 12 or 13 of us who were serious, and we’d go to the candidates forums and then we’d all go to dinner afterwards, and say ‘yeah, I got you on that one!’ and ‘yeah, you didn’t know the answer to that question, but I did!’ And then on election night, instead of going to our own little camps, we all went to the El Rancho (a hotel near the current city hall) and watched the results come in together. It was entirely different atmosphere.”

Turnout was high, and incorporation passed with an approval rating that was “off the charts.”. The new council was scheduled to take office and take charge of a city just a half-year later – in January, 1987. Questions about everything from land uses to policing would fall on their laps. The other council members-elect agreed that McGowan, top vote-getter in that election, would be the first mayor.

“Being the first mayor, to this day, is the most fun I ever had,” said McGowan. “It was fantastic.”

  Next week: Finding some police, fighting zoning wars. 

The new bridge is sited off to the right in this modified City map. It will cross the barge canal from South River Road from the north. Eventually, it will connect with Village Parkway. Construction may start on that extension sometime after mid-summer of next year.

The new bridge is sited off to the right in this modified City map. It will cross the barge canal from South River Road from the north.
Eventually, it will connect with Village Parkway. Construction may start on that extension sometime after mid-summer of next year.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2014

Japanese factory starts up in Southport

Flanked by company mascots at the Southport grand opening are, left to right: Tetsuya Ozawa, president of Nihon Shokken Holdings Co., Ltd. (parent company of Nippon Shokken USA; Nippon Shokken chairman Kazuhiko Ozawa; and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon (photo by the News-Ledger)

Flanked by company mascots at the Southport grand opening are, left to right: Tetsuya Ozawa, president of Nihon Shokken Holdings Co., Ltd. (parent company of Nippon Shokken USA; Nippon Shokken chairman Kazuhiko Ozawa; and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon (photo by the News-Ledger)

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — AUG 28, 2013 —

A handful of West Sacramento officials joined dozens of Japanese employees of the Nippon Shokken company on Monday for the festive grand opening of the Japanese-blend food seasoning plant at 2970 Ramco Street, near Southport Parkway.

The plant is meant to help serve the company’s American market. It will employ up to about 400 people, say city officials.

Attendees were invited to tour the new plant after the ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Media were invited to a press conference, but not to the tour of the production facilities.

 

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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

 

 

Southport: the trouble with beavers

This downed tree is a casualty of a group of beavers who have made their home in the Bridgeway Lakes area. (Photo courtesy of Marty Swingle)

This downed tree is a casualty of a group of beavers who have made their home in the Bridgeway Lakes area. (Photo courtesy of Marty Swingle)

NEWS-LEDGER — FEB 6, 2013 —

City’s trapper has so far caught five of the pesky mammals

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

“It comes in waves,” reports Dena Kirtley, the City of West Sacramento’s urban forest manager. “It has probably been about three years.”

But now, they’re back:

DENA KIRTLEY Urban Forest Manager City of West Sacramento (courtesy photo)

DENA KIRTLEY
Urban Forest Manager
City of West Sacramento
(courtesy photo)

“About a month ago, one of my crew noticed some trees that he thought were chopped down with an axe. On further inspection, we discovered it had been beavers.”

The animals have been active “for probably six or eight weeks” in the Bridgeway Lakes area of Southport, chopping down trees. Their preferred species is willow. The animals – perhaps a family – probably came in from the Sacramento River.

“There’s a canal that belongs to Reclamation District 900, just east of Otis Road, south of Marshall,” said Kirtley, who is managing the city’s response. “That’s pretty much where Bridgeway Lakes begins. That canal runs under the road.”

“They’ve taken out several trees at Cherokee in Bridgeway Lakes, and gone around the corner behind some houses and taken out some more.”

Why do the beavers want to gnaw down willow trees in particular?

“They eat the bark and leaves off the portion that falls into the lake,” answered Kirtley. “Their intent is to make the trees reachable so they can get to the bark and leaves.”

The felled trees aren’t immediately being removed by the city.

“We leave the trees where they are, so the beavers don’t down more trees,” said Kirtley.

You might call that an official policy of “Leave it to Beaver.”

If the animals can’t get at willow trees, they will settle for other species, like live oak, she added.

How many animals are there?

“We’re hoping less than 10,” she said. “They move in from the river through the ag canals. It’s like a little highway.”

So far, there has been no problem with beaver dams as a threat to drainage.

The city’s response to the beaver infestation was to show the state Department of Fish and Game that it was taking adequate tree-protection measures, and then get a permit to hire a trapper. Parks workers have tried to protect over 100 area trees with chicken wire – a questionable strategy, allowed Kirtley, because the beavers can always just “move on down the line” to unprotected trees.

A trapper has thus far caught five of the animals. When pressed, Kirtley admitted delicately that the animals are not live-caught. They’re killed by the traps.

  “It’s illegal to transport them,” she said. “Nobody else wants them. They would just be somebody else’s problem, and we are in an urban area. It’s a delicate subject. I’ve had people ask me what happens to the beavers.”

Kirtley said the animals can build aquatic lodges, but they also burrow into riverbanks – and “we think we found one of their nests.” The trapping doesn’t seem to be over.

The good news is that the downed trees will probably rise again.

“Once we think we’ve alleviated the beaver problem, we will remove the felled trees,” said Kirtley. “We’ll make a nice, clean cut below the damage, and the trees will re-sprout and we’ll have new trees.”

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Copyright News-Ledger 2013

 

Big old trees stand in the way of new development in West Sac

On Nov. 5, members of the West Sacramento Conservancy gathered for a photo next to some heritage oak trees on the site of an apartment project near the Tower Bridge. (That's the parking lot for the 'ziggurat' building in the background.) The next morning, these oaks were sawed down, and the group is not pleased that city permission was granted. Left to right are Joan Liffring, Lana Paulhamus, Joyce Miller and Jerry Wingfield of the Conservancy. Over a dozen large sycamores along the West Capitol portion of the same project will probably also have to give way for the project -- but an official request to remove them has not yet been received by the City. (News-Ledger photo)

FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — NOV 28, 2012 —

Opinions in West Sac differ about when to preserve them and when to replace them —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

An apartment project near Raley Field has paid the City of West Sacramento about $200,000 for replacement trees after it quite legally removed five “heritage oaks” that stood in the way of development. But not everyone is happy that permission to remove the trees was given.

“We are concerned that these trees are being sacrificed for yet another big development,” Lana Paulhamus of the West Sacramento Conservancy told the News-Ledger shortly before the trees went down. “We were given very little notice that this is happening. It appears that the planning commission and city council all voted in favor of this new development even though it will be cutting these heritage trees.”

The “Tower Bridge Commons” project envisions over 300 apartments in three-story buildings, and some commercial space on property bordered by 3rd, 5th and G streets and the Tower Bridge Gateway. The land has been bought by developer Wolff Enterprises, LLC, out of Arizona.

It’s part of the city’s plans for redeveloping the riverfront district already home to Raley Field, the Ironworks subdivision, the state office ziggurat and the CalSTRS tower – and the emerging “Bridge District” development just south.

“Landmark” and “heritage” trees get some protection in West Sacramento by local ordinance. An oak gets “heritage” status if it measures 50 inches in circumference at a point four and a half feet above the ground, and other trees qualify if they are 75” in circumference. To legally remove such a tree, landowners need a permit.

Dena Kirtley is West Sacramento’s “urban forest manager,” and the request to remove these five oaks landed on her desk a couple weeks before the trees came down on Nov. 6. She did not dispute Paulhamus’s assertion that the permit process moved quickly.

“I was torn, because the arborist’s report didn’t indicate any health issues with the trees, or any rot, although sometimes you can’t see that from outside,” Kirtley told the News-Ledger. “But it was an opportunity to refresh the site with new trees at their expense.”
“The arborist report (paid for by the developer) indicates the trees were previously ‘lion-tailed,’ which means somebody had topped them and trimmed the trees incorrectly. Other than that the health of the trees was good with the exception of (one of them). But on that site at the corner near CalSTRS, we recently had a catastrophic failure of two oak trees into the street. You probably remember that – it was right in front of CalSTRS. One lost a major limb and had to be removed. Out of that tree and the CalSTRS trees, we got no mitigation.”
No one had to pay to replace those trees, Kirtley meant. When such trees are removed through the permit process, there is mitigation money.

So how long might these five remaining oaks at Tower Bridge Common have lived?

“They had reached maturity a long time ago, and because the ones along the street had been trimmed incorrectly, maybe another 10 or 15 years,” she answered. “With oaks, it’s hard to know.”

If the trees were allowed to live, not only would they have caused trouble for the development plan, but if they fell over or had to be removed due to a hazard, no one would have had to pay to replace them.

Kirtley recommended the developer receive the city permit.

Based on the number of total “diameter inches” of oak trees being removed, the developer ended up paying $202,150 towards new trees in West Sacramento.

Meanwhile, a row of about 14 large sycamores appears to be in the way of a parking garage in the same development. These trees are along the southern end of the project, along a piece of West Capitol Avenue no longer used as a city street.

“All I know about the sycamores is that they are slated for removal if the project moves forward,” said Kirtley.

That, presumably, will require more city approval and more mitigation money.

Dan Nethercott, a project manager for Tower Bridge Commons, said the sycamores are not part of the project’s first phase.

They’re on a grade. If and when Phase II is built, there will be a parking garage at that slope that “appears to be subterranean” when viewed from inside the project, with a “brownstone” building on top of it, visually at eye level.

Nethercott said his company is “trying to do the right thing,” and he said there is an inherent tension between new plans and old trees.

“The city has a Bridge District plan,” he told the News-Ledger. “It’s a very positive thing for West Sacramento. As property is urbanized, the decision has to be made by the city where you have older trees that are near the end of their life. Do you replant for the future and maximize the use of the land, or do you allow the (old) trees to dictate their setting?”

“Some of these large trees are located in places incompatible with the best use of the property,” Nethercott added. “That’s why we have planning commissions and city councils to make the decisions.”

  Do you like what you see here?

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  You can even try it for free for two months if you live in West Sacramento. Just send your name and mailing address to FreeTrial@news-ledger.com (offer open to new subscribers in West Sacramento ZIP codes 95691 & 95605).

Copyright News-Ledger 2012