Part Two: The Reality of Gold Rush Park

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(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Dreher Street is one block long, between the busy traffic on North 16th and the railroad tracks. It’s a pocket of older bungalows that most people never notice. For 42 years, Joe Taylor has lived there, and he likes the neighborhood just the way it is. “We don’t have the homeowners association, you can park your car in front of your house, you don’t have to worry about it. And they don’t tell you what color to paint your house. And if you choose to paint it green or purple, it may not fit with the neighborhood, but we’re still able to do it.”

Taylor is a little concerned about the proposed Gold Rush Park. “I don’t think I’d like to see it personally, because I feel we have adequate parks. . . Land Park, Miller Park, Discovery Park. . . You know, I think that the land could be utilized best for maybe homes, or still an industrial area, rather than a large park.”

Connie Miottel represents the Capital Station District, a business group in the Richards Boulevard area. Rather than a big park, she envisions new affordable housing, more businesses and smaller neighborhood parks – what planners call urban infill. “If we create a 900 acre park you’re driving folks out of the inner city for jobs and housing, because you’re replacing it with the park. That’s sprawl enducing.”

Miottel downplays the idea of something like Golden Gate Park or Central Park in the Richards Boulevard area. “Those parks were built a long time ago, and if this idea had come up 50 years ago, perhaps we would have changed our land use, growth, and so forth. At this point, putting a park that size in downtown Sacramento, in my opinion, is a waste of resources.”

Miottel says the Richards Boulevard area already generates more business than most people realize. “Right now we have about 1,300 employees who work out in the Richards Boulevard Redevelopment area, which might surprise some people. It is not at all a decaying warehouse district as some might say. It’s in fact a very vibrant business to business community, and we create quite a bit of sales tax for the City of Sacramento on a yearly basis.”

Miottel thinks the area could add thousands of new jobs. But lawyer Joe Genshlea, one of the leading proponents of Gold Rush Park, points out that there are lots of “For Lease” signs in the Richards Boulevard area. He says the existing businesses could be relocated, and a park that would be a much larger economic asset could be gained. “The businesses won’t disappear. I mean, for example, we understand that Downtown Ford, which is the biggest sales tax generator in the park area, is in the process of moving. But it’s moving someplace else in the city. So these other businesses, a lot of them are warehouse businesses or commercial businesses, where there’s plenty of vacant space, they would not necessarily move away. They’d just find another facility someplace nearby. In fact there are two buildings sitting on Richards Boulevard today that are new buildings that have been vacant for a couple of years. So the prospects of development out here don’t seem to be great.”

Cities like Indianapolis and San Antonio have created parks out of former warehouse districts. And Gold Rush Park would not encompass the entire Richards Boulevard area. The southern perimeter of the park would be an urban infill area where Genslea believes hundreds, even thousands of new housing units and related businesses would spring up, close to the park. Genshlea thinks that once Miottel’s group sees the economic benefits the park would generate, they’ll ultimately support his idea. The discussion ultimately comes down to two competing visions of the future, projected on the same neighborhood.

Connie Miottell represents the businesses in the Capital Station District. “Let’s be thinking as a community not just about monolithic massings of land uses, but how to truly integrate various different type of land uses into the area. Housing, jobs, transit, parks, recreation, entertainment.”

Professor Robert Waste of Sacramento State University supports Gold Rush Park. “The status quo right now in this area calls for a vision that people have hammered out for a long time. And it deserves a fair hearing. But really, it boils down to a marginal warehouse district, with a few vest pocket parks, or a park 25 times the size of Old Sacramento. To me, it’s a no brainer. Let’s take a look a this thing, and try to do it right. If this were a blank piece of paper, who in their right mind would paint a warehouse district and tiny little parks on it.”

Right now, Gold Rush Park is basically a big concept that includes many possibilities but relatively few specifics. A feasibility study is underway, paid for by the park’s proponents. Once that study is complete late this year, a more detailed proposal, including possible boundaries for the park, is expected to emerge.  Meanwhile, the Loaves and Fishes dining room, continues to serve the homeless who now live in the area, Loaves and Fishes neither endorses nor opposes Gold Rush Park, but executive director Tim Brown realizes that the area is already in transition, whether the future means urban infill or parkland. “We’re bracing for a lot of changes in this neighborhood. And again, I’m just concerned that if Loaves and Fishes is going to be parkland, then where are all the homeless services going to be?”