The City of West Sacramento is almost 21 -- having been incorporated in 1987. I learned about some of its growing pains, and how it's now coming of age as a dynamic, growing little brother to Sacramento on its east.
Stephen Patek, the City's Director of Public Works & Community Development went over some history. West Sacramento used to be called East Yolo. For years it was an industrial area, considered by many the "dumping grounds" of Yolo County.
[photos above left & below right of a new development, the Ironworks, going up in an industrial section called "the Triangle" -- also home to the new Raley Field ballpark -- more on these projects in a minute]
After incorporating, one of the new city's priorities was to get a second bridge connecting the primarily residential Southport area with the rest of the city (the connection is over a shipping channel).
Once that bridge was finally opened a few years ago, growth in Southport took off. West Sacramento's population, which grew slowly from 28,000 in 1980 to 32,000 in 2000, is now -- just seven years later -- around 45,000.
Two other recent projects gave West Sacramento a shot in the arm -- and started changing its image as a grimy, industrial district.
The other is Raley Field, the new 14,000 seat home of the triple-A baseball Sacramento River Cats. [I have more to say about Raley Field in a separate post].
Chris Ledesma, Chair of the West Sacramento Planning Commission told me that he worked in the Ziggurat Building and watched Raley Field going up. It made him finally realize that "West Sacramento is really going places." In fact, Chris enjoys seeing the city grow. "It's a fresh, vibrant place," he told me. But Chris added, "we can't get complacent ... as we grow, so should our expectation of quality in what gets built here."
[a view of the Tower Bridge and Sacramento from inside Raley Field]
One example can be seen in two neighboring retail big box stores. The city succeeded in attracting IKEA to build in West Sacramento. It was a plum to get, especially since California cities are highly dependent on sales tax revenues. But the design is a typical, flat, big box style.
However, the next big box project got closer design scrutiny. Interestingly, it was a Walmart. City planners did a great job in pushing Walmart into a more creative exterior design. As Chris noted, "I never thought I'd say I'd be proud of a Walmart."
Les Bowman, Manager of the city's Redevelopment Agency agreed with Chris' assessment. Les said that getting the first major projects -- the Ziggurat Tower, the IKEA -- to locate in West Sacramento was key to changing perceptions of the city. "As we've been successful, we've been able to raise the bar for development," Les added.
[from left to right: Stephen Patek; Les Bowman; Jim Bermudez (Associate Planner); Steve Rikala (City Planner); and Chris Ledesma]
Steve Rikala took us for a tour of parts of the city. Next on the agenda for West Sacramento is focusing more on the riverfront. As Les noted, "over the years the community had turned its back on the river." In part, this was because the system of flood protection levees put the river out of sight.
The city is working on an extension of a riverfront walk -- 3 1/2 miles will be built atop the levee. This will also link to the new headquarters of the California State Teachers Pension Fund (see photo on the left).
West Sacramento is also working with it's cross-river neighbor (that is, Sacramento) under the umbrella of a single riverfront master plan. The plan calls for a pedestrian bridge over the river, and a new vehicular bridge -- as there are currently only three crossings over the Sacramento River linking the two cities. The cities are also looking into the feasibility of a streetcar line that would span the river and connect downtown Sacramento with Raley Field.
West Sacramento is also trying to encourage higher density housing. The city's planners are confident that there's a demographic trend toward higher density, infill housing. One successful project that Steve Rikala showed us, Metro Place, has 54 new units. It's not far from the river -- and across the street from Sal's, a local Mexican restaurant with a one-of-a-kind interior (as you can see from the photos below) and great food.
One other project important to the city is redevelopment of a large industrialized area called "the Triangle" that also borders the Sacramento River. Raley Field is located here, but other development has been slow to follow (though you can see one housing project, Ironworks, under construction -- see photos at the start of this post). Two big obstacles are the railyard and the presence of a number of petroleum storage tanks.
While the city is working on relocation ideas, for the near future, new development in the Triangle will be stymied.
Quite a lot going on a city that's not yet 21 years old.