Community-led development in Sacramento CA’s Meadowview

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Drive-in movie theaters at a parking lot on Florin Road. A playground or exercise equipment at the 24th Street Bypass Park near the neighborhood library. WiFi with tables and chairs at Sacramento Regional Transit light rail stations.

Urban planners, health advocates, transit experts and residents have organized behind a burgeoning initiative in Meadowview to energize the neighborhood to think of development ideas and advocate for improvements in the often overlooked area of south Sacramento.

Armed with a $20,000 grant, a task force with the Urban Land Institute Sacramento is developing a handbook to be released in February next year that seeks to empower residents to get involved in local development planning and decision-making in south Sacramento, an area that represents both the city’s cultural diversity and historical disinvestment.

Organizers hope that the handbook will unpack opaque systems like how permits are processed, and will break down barriers preventing residents and local nonprofits from transforming empty lots and vacant parks in Meadowview with low-impact new infrastructure or programs or events — ideas that better reflect a community’s aspirations and needs, rather than the ones assumed by those from outside the neighborhood.

“The permitting process to do a one-day-a-month movie (screening) at one of the open lots is relatively easy if you have a community champion to come up with processes and guidelines to make sure it’s safe,” said ULI Sacramento chair Jose Bodipo-Memba.

Community development is often only discussed in terms of permanent buildings or structures created by local governments or private investors, Bodipo-Memba said. But short-term temporary projects that can be organized largely by community groups — outdoor art displays, food truck festivals — can both improve the quality of life in a neighborhood and attract interest from private and public agencies in the financial, health and housing sectors.

“There are a lot of empty lots down there, and community members can come together and pull these kinds of projects off with the right tools,” said Mary Sater Clementi, executive director at ULI Sacramento.

The initiative builds on recommendations a ULI panel made to local regional agencies two years ago about what equitable, inclusive development near two Sac RT stations in south Sacramento could look like. Supporting local leadership, building affordable homes, opening more retail spaces, creating more parks and healthy food opportunities could generate up to $300 million in new investments, the panel found.

Part of ULI Sacramento’s goal is to make revitalization in the neighborhood a collaborative effort between local nonprofits, residents, private investors and government agencies.

“Most people see construction starting on a retail store and they hear about it and say, ‘We don’t want it, it’s selling something bad for the community,’ and folks protest,” Bodipo-Memba said. “But it’s almost too late at that point.”

At the forum, nonprofit leaders in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood shared their own progress in leading new development that is oriented toward serving community needs. The Go Green on Racine coalition is in the midst of renovating a local landmark to become a new food co-op and grocery store — a catalyst project followed by mixed-use housing, a job training center and retail stores.

The group secured about $4 million in city funds and private donations, while working closely with local real estate developers, construction companies and universities.

“Residents are in the driver seat,” Sana Syed of Inner-City Muslin Action Network told the community forum Monday, “but we’re bringing in well-known entities who are interested in contributing to the project” with capital and resources.

Meadowview’s future

As for Meadowview, there are still no concrete plans on the table, Bodipo-Memba said. But “there is a sense of urgency among residents and community nonprofits,” he said. A new city council member representing the district is taking office soon and momentum is picking up to build new programs and services centered around health, housing, education, jobs and more.

And private groups and local agencies say they’re open to ideas to invest in Meadowview. SacRT spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said that the agency is working with ULI to “activate” unused parts of the Florin and Meadowview station parking lots and surrounding area.

“We hope that by activating space in our stations, it will help generate more transit ridership and provide benefits to the surrounding communities,” Gonzalez in an email.

For the last few years, the Sunrise light rail station has hosted a farmer’s market every Saturday, she said. And last year, the agency sold a portion of its 65th Street light rail station site to build hundreds of units of student housing.

“We’ve seen how a street fair or street market can turn into an active retail center down the line,” Bodipo-Memba said.

The coronavirus pandemic has made it harder for community organizations and residents to organize and meet with interested private and public partners. But inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 have only accelerated the need for community-oriented solutions, Bodipo-Memba said.

A survey of about 100 community stakeholders and residents conducted by ULI Sacramento this past spring expressed as much, Sater Clementi said.

“One of the things that resonated from that study is, ‘We’re tired as a South Sacramento community, and as Meadowview, of being planned for and not with,” she said.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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