Sacramento, a Destination City & The Parkway’s Skid Row

American River Parkway Preservation Society

E-Letter #180, April 6, 2017

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Sacramento, a Destination City & The Parkway’s Skid Row

Over the years public leadership has spoken about making Sacramento a destination city, including our new mayor; but perhaps, given the realities, that is a stretch too far and Sacramento would be better served focusing on what type of city it now is—good for families, good as the capitol of California—and improving on that.

And for many Sacramentans—those who live close to the American River Parkway—fixing the current non-family atmosphere of the Parkway might be a darn good place to start improving on our family-friendly city.

Instead, what has happened over time is that, if you judge policy according to actions, the city of Sacramento and Sacramento County have apparently made the decision—though not stated publically but publically evident, and certainly probably not intended—to allow illegal camping by the homeless in the Parkway.

The Sacramento Bee has helped by normalizing illegal camping along the Parkway, as evidenced in this March 19, 2017 editorial where homeless illegally camping in the Parkway are described as:

“Just when Sacramento seemed to be on a solid path to reducing the number of homeless people living under highway bridges and along the American River Parkway, the federal government has come along to inject uncertainty into the situation.”

Retrieved March 22, 2017 from http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article139313213.html#storylink=cpy

The editorial is topped by a picture of a contented illegal camper in his tent in the Parkway with the caption reading:

“Danny Rasmussen, 69, has lived along the American River for 15 years. Sacramento is on the verge of implementing a new plan to address homelessness, although it would depend heavily on uncertain pools of federal funding. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com”

Retrieved March 22, 2017 from http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article139313213.html#storylink=cpy

None of the neighborhoods in the Woodlake/Cal Expo area of the Parkway are surprised by this as they have known about this apparent policy decision by the city and county for years as they have seen their repeated pleas for help with the related crime and Parkway fires, pollution, and devastation either ignored or met with a brief period of stepped-up enforcement of the existing laws making camping in the Parkway illegal, but soon things return to the norm.

It is understandable (as residents in the impacted neighborhoods assume) why public leadership has taken this position privately, though certainly not publically, as the Woodlake/Cal Expo area of the Parkway is a better option for illegal camping by the homeless—from the perspective of public leadership—than further upriver.

There was a story in the New York Times about a town next door to a major Indian Reservation—where liquor sales are banned—that seems to exist primarily to sell liquor to Indians who travel there from the Reservation. The story focuses on the deep tragedy of alcoholism and the struggle to remove the stores from town.

In the story, the local sheriff had an insight perhaps applicable to the containment of illegal campers in the Woodlake/Cal Expo area of the Parkway:

“Sheriff Robbins echoed a common sentiment heard from both Nebraskans and Native Americans: If the stores lose their licenses and close down, people in search of beer will just drive farther to get it, endangering themselves and others on the roads. He favors containing the problem in Whiteclay, rather than allowing it to spread out over the county’s nearly 2,500 square miles.

“The people that want to drink are going to drive and get alcohol somewhere,” he said. “What I’m thinking is that it’s going to put more drunk drivers on the country roads.”

Retrieved March 26, 2017 from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/25/us/whiteclay-nebraska-liquor-reservation-south-dakota.html

This is much the same attitude taken by public leadership in relation to allowing skid rows to continue to survive, containing the behavior not wanted in the rest of the city or the suburbs.

What is truly tragic about the entire situation is how virtually everyone suffers, and perhaps most of all, the homeless themselves, who are left to try and live with some sense of safety and security in an environment that is anything but.

Containing the problem does not solve the problem.

Let’s make, for all the neighborhoods surrounding the Woodlake/Cal Expo area of the American River Parkway, a destination again rather than the Parkway’s skid row it now is.

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About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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