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McGowan takes one last look back at his public service, Part III

NEWS-LEDGER — DEC 17, 2014 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

  EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final piece in our three-part interview with Mike McGowan, who was West Sacramento’s first mayor and later its longtime county supervisor.
  We talked with McGowan in March, and that chat covered his view of a lot of the city’s history and his own experiences. We hope you enjoyed the series.

 You can find the other parts of the series here:

  Mike McGowan Looks Back, Part I and Mike McGowan Looks Back, Part II


MIKE McGOWAN -- an elder statesman of West Sacramento and the region, believes he may have been a little pushy in his early years

MIKE McGOWAN — an elder statesman of West Sacramento and the region, believes he may have been a little pushy in his early years (News-Ledger photo)

There were some contentions battles in West Sacramento in the late ‘80s, soon after the city incorporated. Councilwoman Thelma Rogers left, and was replaced by Greg Potnick – who occasionally became the “1” in some 4-1 votes.

On the winning side of those votes were Mike McGowan, Fidel Martinez, Ray Jones and Bill Kristoff (who is still a councilman).

Later, Wes Beers joined the council as a frequent ally of Potnick, and there were some 3-2 votes on major planning issues. One of the splits centered around the city’s new master plan, which called for major industrial development in Southport near the port. The council majority supported that vision.

McGowan acknowledges those divisions, but they don’t loom large in his mind:

“I got along with Greg (Potnick),” he said. “My biggest challenge with Greg was getting to know him. He was a very closed kind of guy. I don’t remember how big of a deal that stuff was. I’m sure it was at the time.”

Partly, those divisions occurred because of the need to make some kind of progress and get the city off the ground, he said.

“It was important for us to create momentum, to create synergy,” he said. “Then, we were going from a dead stop (and) that’s just impossible to do without offending or hurting or ruffling a lot of feathers and making a lot of people mad at you. Making enemies.”

“We’ll fix it later,” he said was the attitude. “Let’s just get this car running.”

On the other hand, he allows, part of it was the fault of a young and callow Mike McGowan.

“My sin then was the arrogance of youth, because I wasn’t going to pay much attention to (those who disagree). If I thought you were going to be in my way, I’d either walk around you or walk over you. I didn’t really care. I’ve learned since then.”

McGowan then succeeded Clark Cameron as the “District 1” member of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, representing Clarksburg and most of West Sacramento, in 1993. He won a four-person ballot, against chief rival Ray Hensley, “who’s now a friend.”

A year later, still early in that term, he made a bid for the State Senate against Republican K. Maurice Johannessen (father of current local councilman Mark Johannessen). McGowan, a Democrat, lost. He recalls that this was in the year of Newt Gingrich’s conservative “Contract for America,” and the senate district was more rural and conservative than he had realized.

That left him with a dose of “humility” and the remaining years of his term at the Yolo board of supervisors.

“I said, you know, I want to see what kind of supervisor I could really be,” he remembers. “I started to take it really seriously and work at it and enjoy it – and I enjoyed it till I left.”

There were a couple of things he had to learn when he went from West Sacramento’s city council to the board of supervisors. One of them was the “culture shock” of going from a place where the city had tried to “develop its way out of a problem” to a place where development and its monies were shunned. The city saw tax dollars from new development as a solution and the county didn’t.

“I went over there and I didn’t get all this ‘land preservation’ stuff,” McGowan commented. “These guys (in the county government) are broke, and they need to do some development and make some money. That’s what you do in West Sacramento, right? ‘We’re going to develop our way out of this problem.’”

But Yolo wanted to keep its farmland as farmland, and wanted to preserve its open space between cities. County policy was to steer development into the cities. This was a costly policy for the county coffers.

As McGowan remembers this mindset:

“We’re not going to do urbanized development in the unincorporated area. We’re going to great lengths to protect the unincorporated land for agriculture and/or open space. Ag land is our number one commandment. . . We will drive urban growth and development back into the cities – we will take a vow of poverty, so to speak.”

But McGowan said he saw the light of this approach and became an “ardent proponent.”

Meanwhile, county officials were still smarting over the fact that West Sacramento had incorporated and taken a chip out of the county’s revenue stream.

“We’d stolen all their money,” McGowan summed up.

Relations weren’t good and the city and county were squabbling over various small issues. McGowan believes that the relationship, though, is again trusting and healthy.

Another difference between the city’s government and the county’s is that local council members are all elected “at large,” while county supervisors are elected from separate  geographical districts. In the city, McGowan believes, councilman have historically been able to keep the “whole city’s” interests at heart. But with districts, there was the potential for selfishness.

Was it a win-lose proposition between various districts in county governance?

“It’s a combination,” he answered. “It all depends on how you play the game. . . I guess I learned that if you muscle it to get a 3-2 vote, you’re likely to be on the wrong end of another 3-2 vote down the road. So you really play it for the long haul. It’s a give and take.”

So the Yolo board – like the current city council – is now a collegial place to get things done, McGowan believes.

And then there’s Clarksburg – the little town to West Sacramento’s south. It’s part of the same supervisor’s district that includes the bulk of West Sacramento.

When he became a county supervisor, McGowan said he learned that Clarksburg residents had a strange view of their bigger neighbor to the north. Especially since there were developers trying to convince West Sacramento to allow a massive project to go in between the two jurisdictions.

“When I ran for supervisor for the first time, I went to a coffee klatsch down in Clarksburg,” he recalls. “They knew more about what’s going on in West Sacramento than most of the people in West Sacramento did at their own coffee klatsches. They’re not  obsessed, but they’re very interested.”

“It took me a while to figure out that they had this paranoia they had about West Sac taking over. And I said, ‘I don’t think you understand. (West Sac) is going to have a hard enough time putting in more growth in Southport, period. They’re not interested in that project south of the city.’”

The project withered, and the distrust has ebbed, said McGowan.

“Clarksburg is like the little village in the Scottish glen, or something. What do you call it? ‘Brigadoon’. . . It took me a long time to develop their support.”

Working on the board of supervisors led to a leadership stint at the California State Association of Counties, and that led to working with the Governor Jerry Brown on projects such as prison realignment.

A year ago, McGowan – looking ahead to his retirement – stepped down from the county board of supervisors to take a governor’s appointment to a special post at the DMV. He did so believing that his hometown is being well-run, and his old supervisor’s seat is in good hands with Oscar Villegas.

He jokes about the lifestyle change – for the first time since before law school, he now has a boss at work. And his commute has doubled (!) from 1.5 miles to three miles.

He expects to put in another year or two at his post, working on things like implementation of the policy of driver’s licenses for undocumented residents.

But at as Mike McGowan approaches age 67 later this month, he feels like a lucky guy:

“I got to be the first mayor of my hometown. I got to be the guy that helped launch all this stuff. Then I got to work as a supervisor and I got to work with the governor and do all those things.”

What does he like about his hometown?

“I still see West Sacramento, for the most part, as being this incredibly good place to raise your family. It’s the schools, it’s the churches, it’s the swim team. That’s what’s happening here.”

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Copyright News-Ledger 2014

Mike McGowan looks back: Part II

NEWS-LEDGER — DEC 10, 2014 —

By Steve Marschke
News-Ledger Editor

  EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, the City of West Sacramento opened a bridge named after Mike McGowan, the city’s first mayor and later its longtime representative on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.
  Earlier in 2014, the News-Ledger had a lengthy chat with McGowan about his own window into the city’s history. We brought you the first part of that interview last week (you can find it here). We continue below, taking up roughly from the moment that local voters approved cityhood and McGowan became mayor of the first West Sacramento City Council in 1987.  

When you ask Mike McGowan what it was like to be part of the city council that took control over the fate of four newly conjoined neighborhoods in 1987, he can answer with a simile:

“It was like fixing a car while you’re driving it,” he has said in the past.

“So much was coming at us at the same time, it was like drinking out of a fire hose,” he explained much more recently. Either way, you get the picture.

MIKE McGOWAN got a ride in the ceremonial procession on Dec. 5 at the opening of the West Sacramento bridge named in his honor. Visible in front of him is his wife, Sue.   (News-Ledger photo)

MIKE McGOWAN got a ride in the ceremonial procession on Dec. 5 at the opening of the West Sacramento bridge named in his honor. Visible in front of him is his wife, Sue.
(News-Ledger photo)

You have to understand that West Sacramento was different then – the population was in the mid 20-thousands, or about half of what it is now. There was old West Sacramento and the less reputable Bryte and Broderick neighborhoods to the north, and the barely-developed Southport area, and a troubled downtown strolled by prostitutes and grifters.

This section of East Yolo had an inferiority complex. It did not compare itself well to, say, Davis or Sacramento. And local voters wanted change.

The new council members included McGowan – the top vote-getter and first mayor, along with Fidel Martinez, Ray Jones, Bill Kristoff (who is still on the council) and Thelma Rogers. The five met unofficially a number of times before they took their seats at city hall, which was then located on Stone Boulevard. They brought on a temporary city manager to serve as their C.E.O. – a college professor who had once worked for Governor Reagan’s administration.

“We hired him, and gave him this pamphlet we got from the League of California Cities on how to start a new city,” recalled McGowan. “And it quickly dawned on me that what he did was read one chapter ahead, then he would come into our meeting and said ‘Okay, now it’s time to hire our lawyer. . .’”

One of the city’s first challenges was deciding on a police force. Unhappiness with crime and law enforcement (provided before incorporation by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department) was one of the reasons citizens approved cityhood in the 1986 vote.

“That was the platform – law enforcement, cleaning up West Capitol, and schools were important as well, and (providing more) shopping. Those were the issues,” said McGowan.

The new council had the option of creating a local police department or paying Yolo County to provide patrols by deputies. The county was obligated to provide interim service for six months either way.

McGowan said the new city leaders went to see Sheriff Rod Graham about a Yolo County contract.

“He said, ‘You’re going to have to do a long-term contract with me and you’re not going to tell me who I deploy over there.’ We literally walked out of that meeting and said, ‘Well, we’ve got to put our own police department together in six months. We did. I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way. . . There were some bumps along the way, but it turned out fine.”

In came the next city manager, Gene Roh, a former County official whom McGowan respected but with whom there were some “personality clashes.”

“When we hired him,” said McGowan, “he said ‘I’ve only got two conditions. One is that we agree on the (salary) number, and also I get to hire my number two.”

Roh chose as his “number two” another county employee – Carol Richardson. Richardson still remains as the assistant city manager, (although city managers have changed several times in the past 27 years or so.)

“Carol is another one of those people, in my opinion, who I would call an unsung hero,” said McGowan. “So much of what we put together at the professional level has come through her.”

One of the first big tasks for the new city was to come up with a “general plan” – a state-mandated document that includes land use zoning and other big, long-term policy choices.

The general plan contained broad outlines that have mostly endured and in some cases been fleshed out by succeeding “specific plans” and in some cases, actual development.

The early council developed this plan, “grandfathering” into it some existing plans for a major Southport industrial park near the port (championed by local developer Frank Ramos and his partners) and plans for what was then the Lighthouse Project (with a proposed marina) in the north. Lighthouse later morphed into “The Rivers” gated subdivision, and plans for the marina were dropped.

The industrial zoning for Southport became controversial and bred an opposing ballot initiative in 1990. The city council majority – including McGowan – took a strong stand against the initiative. The ballot challenge barely failed, and the Southport Industrial Park kept its zoning.

Does McGowan have any regrets on the general plan?

“The general plan was good,” he said. “Looking back, I’m not very good at looking at specific things because that’s not the way I approach the work to begin with. The work is the work. It’s about how we work together to get stuff done. It’s also more about building the team – I won’t dare say ‘leadership’ – and figuring out how to put the pieces together to accomplish the goal.”

Did the developers have too much influence over McGowan and the early city council?

“I don’t think so,” answered McGowan. “I think it’s a subtle distinction to make. I think we agreed with what they wanted to do. I don’t think we were doing it because it’s what they wanted to do.”

“Take (Frank) Ramos, for instance,” McGowan continued. “And I think we were fundamentally in support of Lighthouse, the other big project. . . We were a little naïve, there’s no question about that, I’m not going to over-defend it. Could we have been more knowledgeable about what to ask for, or looked at things more carefully? Of course.”

At the same time, said McGowan, this city was fighting its reputation as a dumping ground. Sacramento’s then-mayor, the late Joe Serna, famously vowed to keep state offices from moving to this side of the river, for example.

“This is the same environment where Mayor Serna is saying that we’re only good for truck stops and warehouses and he’ll put the kibosh on any state governing facilities coming over here,” recalled McGowan.

So West Sacramento fought for progress, and “the attitude was that we’re not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Did West Sacramento focus too much on developing industry at a cost to homes and other commerce?

“Well, only because that was the project that was in front of us, and it was so controversial – Ramos’s piece,” answered McGowan. “But we were even then looking at the riverfront and (removing its) tank farms, even though we didn’t know how to deal with that.”

Businessman Bill Ramos, for example, tried at one point to change his petroleum facility along South River Road to a commercial complex with a marina, McGowan recalls. While McGowan supported it, the early effort didn’t work.

Part of that riverfront and its oil tank farms along South River Road now seem to be finally at the beginning of a transition to higher, urban-style uses. The bridge named in McGowan’s honor last week has just connected that road to Southport, with related infrastructure changes on the drawing board. Together, they may help bring to fruition the dream of changing riverfront oil tank farms into riverfront restaurants, shops and condos.

Other proposed projects came and went. Frank Ramos tried to bring an auto mall to the area where Ikea now stands (McGowan favored the proposal because of the sales tax revenues it would bring). Later, when McGowan had moved on to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, Ramos championed building a tribal Indian casino at the same spot. The casino idea gained a lot of traction and drew a lot of controversy – arguments included jobs and economic growth, versus sin and social costs.

“I was vehemently against it,” said McGowan. “It was one of the few times in my 20 years on the board of supervisors where I came over (to the council) and said ‘This is a stupid thing and you shouldn’t do it.’”

McGowan credits City Councilman Oscar Villegas and other allies for doing the work that eventually defeating that proposal.

Later, the same developers succeeded with a far more popular project – the shopping center that includes Ikea, Walmart and surrounding retail stores.

One of the big changes that West Sacramento has experienced since 1987 is an invisible one – a change to its psyche.

“Being in West Sac is a blessing and a curse,” said McGowan. “Part of it is having an inferiority complex and the other part of it is having a chip on your shoulder. A part of you says, ‘Hey, I had to fight my way back across the bridge when I was in high school coming back from a teen dance, and I’ll fight you again.’ It’s the baseball-bat-in-the-trunk syndrome, and that was very much a part of who we were when we started out.”

Did this inferiority complex cause city officials to lower their standards or give away too much when dealing with developers?

“I think that’s partly true, but like any other generalization, it’s not completely true,” answered McGowan. “I’ll give you a case in point. When we incorporated, there was a developer and he owned a property just about where Nugget is, and he wanted to develop it. I was mayor. He came in and said ‘I want to develop this and that,’ and it was zero-lot-line cookie-cutter homes. Thousands of them.”

McGowan recalls telling him “that’s not what we want here.” The developer asked, “Well, what do you want?”

“Estates, million dollar places,” said McGowan. “He laughed and said ‘The market here won’t support that.’ I said, “Well, we’ll just wait for the market.’ He sold and left town.”

Was there an inflection point – a time when West Sacramento seemed to shed its inferiority complex and become a proud little can-do community?

McGowan points to the evening of May 15, 2000 – opening day for the River Cats minor league baseball team at Raley Field.

“The River Cats were the game-changer,” he said. “Opening night was the proudest moment I had since I got sworn in on the first council. . . All of a sudden, other than having nice communities, and Pheasant Club, and Whitey’s and their peach shakes, and the new homes being built, all of the sudden, there was a really gosh-darn good reason to live in West Sacramento.”

“People were sitting there (at the game), and they’d look at the panoramic view. . . and literally, people would say, ‘Honey, this is really nice over here. Why don’t we think about this? We were going to move to Roseville, but why don’t we look at these homes they’re advertising?’ It was amazing.”

Raley Field got built after West Sacramento essentially had to arm-wrestle with Sacramento for it. Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna, McGowan believes, was behind a lawsuit that tried to block construction.

But building it, McGowan said, “has done more for us than virtually anything else.”

The early council decided to grow and develop the city’s way out of its problems, said McGowan. There was a possible downside to that:

“I had a concern that along the way – because I grew up with such a strong sense of community – we’d lose that. We’d become, you know, Natomas. But in fact – and I don’t understand this part – I think it’s only enhanced this sense. People who move to West Sac don’t have an inferiority complex. They think it’s great and they love the community atmosphere.”

The city has always been a city of different neighborhoods and of people who live “across the tracks” from each other In McGowan’s eyes, has the City of West Sacramento come together from the communities of Bryte, Broderick, “old” West Sacramento and Southport?

“Probably not,” he allowed. “It used to be the freeway and West Capitol Avenue that were basically the dividing line. I would say (the line) is shifting further south, and it’s now around the deep water channel. It continues to be the big challenge for the community, how to integrate. People try. The farmer’s market is a great example.”

But in general:
“West Sac has been fortunate or blessed, lucky or smart, whatever it is, that there’s been an agreement between elected officials, the professionals who run the nuts and bolts, and the community. There’s more concurrence about the direction of the community than there is disagreement.”
  Next week: problems at the port, and more.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2014

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.


“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

Arrest made in yesterday’s shooting


West Sacramento police announced last night that they have made an arrest in the Tuesday morning shooting near Proctor Avenue and Sycamore Street.

In custody is Michael Reyes, Jr., a 24-year old from West Sacramento. He will be booked on attempted murder, reported Lieutenant Tod Sockman.

Further details have not been released.

An unidentified man on bike was shot from a passing car in the Tuesday morning incident. He was hit several times and his condition was not reported to the media.

Copyright News-Ledger 2014