How I Met Your Reservoir

Joe Sacramento (didn’t you move? :)) has a great roundup of the Docks project on the riverfront near Miller Park and the I-80 bridge, including his discussion of what would happen to the Pioneer Reservoir, which I’m not sure I was entirely aware existed–it is apparently a massive sewage treatment plant across the street from the city animal shelter. Anyway it reminded me of when Marshall and Lily buy a house in the chic up-and-coming NY neighborhood of DoWiSiTrePla, only to find out it is a realtor nickname for “Downwind of the Sewage Treatment Plant” on How I Met Your Mother.

Joe claims Heather Fargo has advocated placing a Ferris wheel atop the plant, but I can’t tell if that’s a joke on his part. And that’s more a sad comment on Fargo and this city than it is a dig at Joe’s wry humor…

Author: CoolDMZ

"X-ray vision to see in between / Where's my kimono and my time machine?"

18 thoughts on “How I Met Your Reservoir”

  1. I can only assume that a “great” Joe Sacramento post is based on vitriol and not accuracy, as this post was…

    The Pioneer Reservoir is a storm-water runoff reservoir, not a sewage treatment plant. It doesn’t smell: I go by there frequently in summer and there isn’t a noticeable odor. It wouldn’t be hard to build on top of the reservoir, but of the various scenarios it makes a bit more city-design sense to move it and put the large open-space park in the middle of the new neighborhood (where it will have the advantage of centrality and more eyes on the park, enhancing public safety) than at one end.

    The real environmental cleanup issue in the Docks’ vicinity is the big gravel lot just north of the Pioneer Reservoir, former site of the PG&E natural gas tank and once the site of a coal-gas generating plant. Lots of toxic goo there that will need remediation, at a price tag that will probably make the relocation of Pioneer Reservoir look reasonable.

    The agreement signed by the governor was not to transfer those sites, but to make it okay to sell them to municipalities. Currently, State Parks owns a chunk of land in the middle of the Docks site, in the vicinity of R Street, that was once slated as the site for the California State Railroad Museum’s “Museum of Railroad Technology.” This was 25 years ago, when the Shops were still in active use and their conversion to a Bass Pro Shop wasn’t even a twinkle in Stan Thomas’ eye.

    So, in other words, the first thing the city of Sacramento would have to do is buy (or trade) the land for a park from State Parks.

    There are funds available for infrastructure in “transit-oriented” development via state bonds for just that: this year the Railyards and Township 9 got a big chunk, but the Docks might be a future project to receive those funds. In any case, it’s a few years off, as Sacramento has some other things on its plate first, and it’s tough to do a bunch of big redevelopment projects at once, even when one is not in the midst of the biggest economic kerfuffle since the Great Depression. So I wouldn’t worry about the progress of the Docks Project for a few years, at least, regardless of who is mayor.

    In terms of low-income housing, that isn’t the mandate of any particular city councilperson, that’s the mandate of city regulation. I’ve talked about low-income housing before, and how it isn’t the same as “welfare housing” or “section 8 housing” but nobody ever believes me so there’s no point in going into much detail about it.

    As to the Ferris wheel, actually that sounds kinda neat. It worked for Chicago’s waterfront, after all. Maybe not the most practical idea, but fun.


  2. WBurg: Slightly off-topic..Didn’t I hear you promoting your new book on Jeffrey Callison’s “Insight” program a week or so ago?


  3. Yes, she wants a ferris wheel there. Yes the reservoir STINKS. Yes, she a PROLIFIC promoter of low income housing and the subsidies that go with it. Tretheway same soup warmed over. I’m not worried about the progress of the docs. I want to see progress in North Natomas FIRST!

    No, I did not move… couldn’t sell the house… in time….


  4. joe, you do know that the Docks aren’t in Tretheway’s district, right? They’re in Fong’s. City and county low-income housing percentages aren’t a matter of “prolific promotion,” but of policy. Considering that this Docks project is within a few blocks of not just low-income housing but actual housing projects, I wouldn’t be surprised if the developer doesn’t try for an exemption, but hopefully someone will point out that the income levels of retail workers and office techs are well into the “low-income” range, and that’s who low-income housing percentages are intended to serve.

    If you stand by the reservoir and smell something funny, I suggest you consider changing your brand of deodorant. You’re either merely wrong about this or you’re lying, it doesn’t really matter which.

    And yes, we are aware that you paid fair and square for your first-class ticket on the “Titanic,” but at some point you’re going to either have to swim for a lifeboat or drown with all the dignity you can muster. Complaining about the other boats that might not sink doesn’t do you much good, although I imagine there is some cathartic value in it.


  5. I understand it is not in Tretheway’s district. I just state the fiasco that is Tretheway any time I have an opportunity to anyone who will listen

    Thanks for acknowledging the Titanic thing. Natitanic. I like it.

    Have good day all


  6. “Great” comment wburg! (sorry, wireless was out last night at home so I’ve been sitting on that one for a while…)

    Pioneer Reservoir does appear to be a sewer/wastewater treatment plant. I didn’t mention any smell from it. I hate to point this out but if you do have issues with Joe’s arguments you could always let him know about that on his blog. Though I am more than happy to host this discussion.

    I am swayed more by the argument about lack of police power for all these new neighborhoods. Also, despite the fact of the area in question being in Rob Fong’s district, I am pretty sure that city council members discuss and debate plans for each others’ districts. Is Rob Fong on record as not being a fan of low income housing? I’m one of those dolts who doesn’t understand how government works so I might be uninformed on this.

    How about that How I Met Your Mother though? Funny stuff eh?? Do you think he’s going to Meet your Mother sometime soon?


  7. I suppose I am criticizing Joe’s blog post by remote, rather than your response to it. He obviously reads this blog, so it seems like a nice middle-ground place to have the discussion, where there is a larger potential audience to join in.

    He mentioned a smell–in my own experience, both along the river side and along the Towe Auto Museum side, I’ve never smelled it. Maybe he stopped by on a bad day.

    It might appear to be a sewer/wastewater treatment plant, but it isn’t. It’s an overflow reservoir. During heavy rains, when our sewers are carrying too much wastewater for our sewer/wastewater treatment plant (the one north of Old Sac near Richards, with the big thingus in the river that looks like a giant mecha-bug) the water is diverted to Pioneer Reservoir, and then transferred back when flows aren’t as heavy. Apparently, at some point, it will have to be repaired or replaced.

    It doesn’t really matter whether one city councilmember is a fan of low-income housing or not: low-income housing percentages are a matter of city policy, not councilmember preference.

    The lack of police power is an issue regardless of where you are in the city. The Docks area isn’t some new chunk of land that was just annexed, it’s part of the oldest section of the city. Unlike Natomas, it isn’t a vast area, it is about four city blocks: a small neighborhood even by Midtown standards. So, it’s not like the Docks represent a vast new area being incorporated into the city…like, say, North Natomas or something.

    Yes, we need more cops–more cops total, and more cops per capita. But in order to get more cops we need more city revenue, which generally comes from property and sales taxes. The traditional method of increasing property and sales tax revenue in a city is new development. Building new sprawly suburbs hasn’t worked too well to reach that goal lately, like, say, North Natomas or something–but other cities have had better luck doing infill projects in areas close to the city center. There are also state and federal funds that can be tapped for such projects (brownfield cleanup, TOD funds, etc.) that helps the bottom line.


  8. FYI, since we keep talking about North Natomas – due to the changes in the federal standards for levees, there will be NO new development there beginning in 2009 until… well, until the levees meet federal standards. My professional guess is that this project will not be finished until 2012. This means one of the largest economic engines of this region for the last decade will be absent.


  9. wburg: Don’t you suppose Joe also disagrees with the policy of mandating low income housing percentages, as well as the preferences for same of Tretheway, Fargo et al? Just because something is settled policy does not mean it represents common sense much less the Right Thing To Do, wouldn’t you agree–in theory?

    You’re right that more cops means a need for more revenue. But by most measures crime in Sacto is a major problem. Throwing more neighborhoods at the problem does not seem to be working. Incidentally North Natomas is an example of this aspect of the issue as well.

    Is there hard data on why infill projects and lower cost housing lead to more property and sales tax revenue than building out?


  10. CoolDMZ: I know Joe disagrees with the policy, but he doesn’t even describe it as a policy–he describes it as a particular city councilmember’s personal preference. In addition to being wrong, it diminishes the legal standing of the regulation. If Joe thinks the policy is wrong, let him describe it as such.

    Nobody is suggesting that building more new neighborhoods will reduce crime, so nobody is “throwing more neighborhoods at the problem.” The problem is lack of revenue, and thanks to Prop. 13 (and other factors) the only semblance of a solution is new growth. It isn’t necessarily a good solution, but there aren’t many others to choose from.

    Low-cost housing doesn’t lead to more property revenue than market-rate housing, but then, I didn’t say it did. Infill housing/retail results in more sales and property tax revenue than a brownfield. Building out is becoming more and more difficult, as distances increase and neighboring municipalities limit potential growth. It’s a bigger moneymaker in the short term, but not as good for cities in the long term. Infill has its own challenges, but it mitigates some of the problems of new build-out.

    Natomas is a textbook example of this. By building out in a low-density suburban fashion, police and fire protection becomes harder because resources have to be spread more thinly, over a wider geographic area–thus longer response times and longer intervals between patrols. Infrastructure costs get higher because you need longer roads, more sewer pipes, more parks, etcetera, which limits available funds for expenses like police.

    So the city gets a big boost at the start of build-out, as developer fees come in but not much is built (and thus expenses for police, fire and infrastructure aren’t racking up yet.) After the initial rush, there’s a brief period of satisfaction, but it wears off as the revenue stream drops and the city has to pay for the new infrastructure. Eventually, there’s either a crash or a new dose of development has to be applied.

    And generally there’s a developer with a new plot of agricultural land just outside the city limits, waiting to turn that land into much more expensive residential development. That’s how they make money: turning low-cost land into high-cost land. The city needs the revenue, so they buy into it, even if it ends up costing more in the long run.


  11. I don’t want to put words in Joe’s mouth. I assume he knows that “low income housing” was not a concept invented by the Sacramento City Council. Maybe he’s more concerned with the fact that these council members are in love with something he sees as bad policy than he is with arguing the merits of the policy.

    “After the initial rush, there’s a brief period of satisfaction, but it wears off as the revenue stream drops and the city has to pay for the new infrastructure.”

    Is that unique to build-outs? Isn’t infill required when actually building “in” in the first place stops becoming a good idea in the long term?

    Is police response time in Oak Park faster than it is in Natomas?


  12. Is that unique to build-outs?

    Yes. The big bump in value (and thus tax revenue) happens when non-residential land (agricultural or countryside) becomes residential land. On infill sites, the land is already zoned (commercial, industrial or residential) and as a central city site is still already expensive–even if it’s a vacant lot, someone is paying central-city taxes on it. The differential (including cost of construction) between a new city building and vacant lot is high, but not as high as agricultural land vs. residential suburbs.

    A certain amount of build-out is expected as a natural process of city expansion, (I assume you meant “build-out” rather than “infill” in the second paragraph) but cities eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. The traditional suburban model is very inefficient in this respect: it’s great for the developer (land values go high quickly) but not so great for the city (low densities mean inefficient service delivery) and that diminishing-returns point is reached more quickly. The Natomas plan was intended to minimize that inefficiency for the city, but make less money for the developers. The developers asked for exceptions to everything in the plan, and got them, thus maintaining their higher profit and making the plan far less efficient.

    Interesting question about response time; I don’t know. Do you think it’s safe to assume that, given a fixed number of police officers, a smaller area is easier to police than a larger area?


  13. No, I meant infill … I was asking whether you think infill is sometimes required when there are empty areas in the city core because building there stops being a good idea, i.e. there is an initial rush (super old school in Sac’s case!) that subsides. For example, why was 800 J Street vacant for 25 years? What changed that made building lofts there such a winning solution? Not really applicable to this case though.

    Given a fixed number of police officers *and a similar crime rate*, perhaps a smaller area is easier to police.


  14. 800 J Street wasn’t vacant for 25 years. The 9th Street corner burned in the early 1990s, it was demolished over the next couple of years, and the last buildings were still standing (partially occupied) until fires in 2003-2004 took them down.

    Sacramento, like most American cities, saw a long period of growth from the mid-19th century until the late 1920s. A lot of Sacramento’s better-known landmarks (like City Hall, the Elks Building, 926 J, the Public Market, Memorial Auditorium) are from the 1910-1930 period, the end of this phase of growth.

    There was a long period of urban decline in most American cities–generally from the mid-1930s and World War II through the 1980s. Part of this was because of FHA housing policy: they allowed loans that needed only 10% down payment (prior to the FHA, home loans generally needed at least 50% down) but because of a policy called redlining (that considered neighborhoods inhabited by nonwhites a high credit risk) the only place home buyers could get loans was for new homes in the suburbs, not in existing neighborhoods in central cities.

    Now, this changed in the 1960s and 1970s (racial exclusion laws were finally declared illegal in the 1960s in California, redlining went out of use in the 1970s) but the damage was already done to most central cities, and another 20 years of doldrums passed before people started paying attention to urban cores again. Redevelopment efforts in the 1950s were focused around destroying non-white neighborhoods near downtowns in order to remove their “redlined” status and turn them into extensions of downtown, a process that required a lot of federal subsidy. They succeeded in raising property taxes (and thus revenues) but not in encouraging people to come back downtown, because they didn’t build much housing and there was still a ton of effort being put into expanding suburbs.

    Not sure if this answers your question either, because I still don’t quite understand the context you’re putting it in. 800 J was built because funding for a much larger project on that site (it was supposed to be about 25 stories tall, I think) fell through, and a mid-rise apartment complex with retail on the bottom was the best they could do.


  15. I’m not sure the context I’m putting it in either. 🙂 As usual we are all getting a very interesting history lesson in urban planning.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are good and bad things about building suburbs, and good and bad things about infill projects. It seems common to call all suburban growth “sprawl” and demonize it by for example claiming that proximity/pop. density alone guarantees rapid police response times.

    I’m pretty sure nobody thinks that 800 J street was a vibrant city block over the last quarter century. What I was trying to say was that infill is often needed because downtown blocks deteriorate. Infill projects fall through because of the difficulties and costs of building in the urban core. And I never hear any reasons for why that might happen, and how it is any different than “initial rush, eventual dissatisfaction.”


  16. I don’t call all suburban growth “sprawl,” but if it is based on entirely auto-centric, large-lot single-family homes on top of greenfield, it is by definition “sprawl.” And that’s most suburban growth these days.

    Thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. What we’d call “transit-oriented development” now used to be the way we built suburbs. They were built with gridded streets, fixed-rail public transit, small lots and a mix of densities. Once the automobile arrived, they were included in the mix but not given front row center in every development–until the postwar era.

    You seem a bit too impressed by my level of certainty. Generally (all else being equal) it takes police more time to cover a large area than a small one. Not a guarantee, just pretty likely.

    I didn’t claim 800 J was a vibrant city block–but it wasn’t vacant for 25 years either.

    In each case here, I’m taking a position in between extremes: suburbs aren’t all bad, but generally the way we build them is pretty bad. Small size doesn’t guarantee faster police times, but it’s a factor. 800 J wasn’t a super hopping party palace over the past 25 years, but it wasn’t a vacant lot the whole time either.

    We’re in full agreement on the need for infill (because of downtown deterioration), and the fact that infill projects have their own set of problems. But the main reason why those downtown blocks deteriorated in the first place is because of the suburbs, and land use policies that encouraged suburban growth and prevented reinvestment in downtowns. Another is because the owners of those blocks often let them deteriorate, because it was perceived as economically beneficial (for them, if not for the city) to do so.

    The other difference of degree, though, is the timeframe of the initial rush/eventual dissatisfaction. Downtown Sacramento got built in the 1850s and was emptied in the 1950s–partially by people leaving voluntarily, but largely by official decree (we kicked a massive number of people out.) Suburbs have a much shorter viable lifetime, and so far I don’t think anyone has tried to level a suburb to build an office complex the way we did what we did to the West End.


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