First Step Reached in Pulling Down “World’s Nicest Projects”

See, there are bricks, and trees.
See, there are bricks, and trees and stuff

If you’ve driven by the corner of Broadway and Muir (9th) anytime in your life and wondered what exactly the grouping of building was you were looking at, you know the ones, the one and two story brick jobs laid out in a wide open pattern, like some kind of Massachusetts militia base from the heady days of the war of British aggression, then I’m here to tell you that they are, and always have been, public housing.

The handsome brick structures surrounded by leafy old trees, green lawns, soccer and baseball fields, and a head start pre-school were built after WWII by a team of architects known for their impressive, enduring structures like the Elks Building, YWCA, and (less enduring) the Alhambra theater. To have such eminent architects work on public housing was no big thing back then, as public projects of any kind were ways to show American superiority and excellence on the world stage.

These days, the public housing project known as Alder Grove (they were originally called New Helvetia, probably because of all the poor Swiss people that lived there), boasts hundreds of residents, many of whom have lived there for decades.

Surrounding Alder grove on the South is the neighborhood “Upper Land Park,” a collection of mostly post-war houses, built to a slightly smaller scale than the larger Land Park homes east of Riverside Boulevard. Recently, this neighborhood has become one of the hottest real estate markets in the city, given it’s medium price range and proximity to downtown, as well as the charming nature and fine condition of many of its 70-year old houses.

But wouldn't it be great if it looked like this?
But wouldn’t it be great if it looked like this?

So, here’s the rub. The Sacramento Housing Authority (SHRA) wants to pull the Alder Grove residences down, run a bulldozer through them, rip them up, shred them to a pulp, and put up some multi-story cubes in their place. Put some commercial on the Broadway side and build some “mixed” housing including a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing behind the commercial frontage.

Yet, the main reason for the pull down given by the SHRA is “the housing communities suffer from severe physical distress, with outdated, 60-year-old building systems. Many of the 700 residential units are undersized and do not meet the needs of today’s families.”

It’s funny a bit that the surrounding neighborhood is also more than 60-years old, and was built with the outdated technologies of the time, yet it’s still one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town. Also, the families that live in the Alder Grove development haven’t complained at all about the living conditions and would have to be displaced for months if not years while their homes are destroyed and replaced. So, I’m trying hard to believe that this is “for the comfort of the residents.”

Instead, this seems like a project that, like almost any building project in the country, is designed to make developer, builder, owner, and politician a lot of money. It seems a shame, doesn’t it, to have this wide patch of land without something on it that you can gain a market income from. It seems a shame, doesn’t it, that there are wide open spaces wherein children can play rather than rent-earning apartments. It seems a shame, doesn’t it, that there is room to put up a Subway sandwich shop that doesn’t yet have a Subway sandwich shop occupying it.

Also, there’s always bound to be shenanigans. According to one frequent commenter and expertly knowledgeable individual that’s a personal friend of mine, “The weird part is that the city paid a consulting firm to determine if the buildings were eligible for the National Register, which is part of the environmental review process. The firm determined they were, so they buried the report and hired another consultant.”

Thanks, city council, for looking out for the needs of the citizens once again. Why don’t you work on the empty, I mean EMPTY, city blocks in Downtown and Midtown before you go ripping down perfectly good residences? Try finding a plan for the Ice Factory. Try building a public market. Work on that ridiculous rail yard boondoggle. Find some tenants for the empty buildings on K Street. Do something useful rather than what appears to be a naked grab for money designed to screw the lucky few comfortable, low-income folks in your town.

The most recent (Jan 21) city council meeting addressed the issue and the council voted to go ahead with a plan to acquire a plan to tear the thing down. They haven’t agreed to move ahead, just to develop a plan to move ahead. So there’s still time to stop the move if you, the citizen, so wants. Just sayin’.

5 thoughts on “First Step Reached in Pulling Down “World’s Nicest Projects””

  1. Is there a petition or a council meeting or anything like that to advocate for the people who live there? I, am lots of others, work with the families there and the local school and would be crushed if the Bricks were demolished and those wonderful people were gone…suggestions?


  2. Actually, the citizens stopped this from going forward in late 2012. It was supposed to be a done deal – with the usual suspects at the helm. The community complained about a lack of public involvement and inattention to how this plan would integrate with the NW Land Park development (Setzer lumber yard). So, it would seem, that this will move forward, we just pressed pause for a year.


  3. Great post Sac-Eats. Yes, if we recall back to 2012, our philandering councilman Rob Fong, weighted down with campaign contributions from the NW Land Park development group, tried to quietly ram this through city council in waning days of final term. When the word got it, the plan was just as quietly set aside.

    Interesting that the plan is alive again with the mute councilman Steve Hansen now representing our area. I assume he must be on board because it would be unlikely that it has been re-proposed without his support, and we certainly haven’t heard him state any opposition. While I have reservations about the city’s general policy and management of low income housing, I have greater concerns about the fishy political land grab which happening here.

    To add to your list of higher priorities for the city, how condemning and tearing down the bombed out dry-cleaning business directly across Broadway from New Alder? Post-Blitz London tore building like this down in weeks, but in Sacramento it takes years.


  4. This is a damn shame.

    I cannot imagine driving that stretch of Broadway and not seeing residents sitting outside their doors, little ones playing at their feet.

    When will city officials, builders, developers embrace the concept that “affordable” housing does not have to mean “apartment” housing.

    This from someone who grew up living in apartments.


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