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Thread: Portland planners heading to Sacramento - is Sacramento the next Portland?

  1. #1
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    Portland planners heading to Sacramento - is Sacramento the next Portland?

    A touch of Portland in offing for capital

    By Mary Lynne Vellinga -- Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

    Sunday, December 26, 2004


    Call it the invasion of the planning warriors from the north.
    These migrants from the misty, "smart growth" mecca of Portland, Ore., seek not to ransack California's sunny capital, but to build loft-style apartments downtown, make the region an easier place to walk and relieve its traffic woes.

    Although the evidence is strictly anecdotal, people working in the urban planning and building arenas say they've noticed a recent influx of people who've made their mark in Portland and now seek to do the same thing here.
    Last week, on the same day that it adopted a ground-breaking, 50-year growth vision for the six-county region, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments named recent Portland emigre Mike McKeever as its new executive director.

    The choice of McKeever to lead Sacramento's most influential regional planning institution came just two weeks after the city of Sacramento chose Portland development chief Ray Kerridge to do the same job here.

    Kerridge will oversee the city's effort to streamline its building permit process and remove obstacles to urban "infill" projects.

    In addition to these high-profile positions, many more planners, architects and construction professionals who helped create the 1990s building boom in Portland's urban neighborhoods have set their sights on Sacramento, particularly downtown, midtown and the city of Davis.

    Five years ago, Portland-based Walsh Construction opened a Sacramento operation, called Walsh & Forster. The firm has since renovated a former car dealership at 16th and J streets into lofts, offices and restaurants, and is currently finishing up work on the new Safeway complex at 19th and R streets. It has worked on projects for the University of California, Davis, and renovated the Ping Yuen affordable apartments in Sacramento's old Chinatown.

    "There are a lot of good architects in Portland; I see them on the plane every week," said Randy Boehm, president of Walsh & Forster, who spends three days a week in Sacramento.

    The newcomers say they are attracted by Sacramento's potential. It reminds them, they say, of Portland 15 or 20 years ago.

    "There's a feeling about Sacramento that it's on the move; I feel it," Kerridge said. "When I first came to Portland in 1979 from London there was that same feeling of energy in Portland. There was a lot of development going on, a lot of plans. The city had defined a vision for itself."

    A quarter century later, the Rose City's bloom may have faded a bit. Portland is "getting built out," Kerridge said. Its economy isn't great, and state and local planning types face a political backlash from property owners, particularly those in rural areas. Anti-tax sentiment is on the rise.

    In November, Oregon voters passed a statewide ballot initiative, Measure 37, that some predict could gut the state's centralized approach to containing suburban sprawl and encouraging "infill" developments in existing neighborhoods.

    It requires local governments to reimburse landowners whose property values have been hurt by adoption of a new land use rule, or waive the rule.

    Recent arrivals from Portland say they're not sure what affect Measure 37 will have on the state's ballyhooed efforts to steer growth to cities while preserving valuable farmland and open space vistas.

    "The worst case scenario is that it will completely undermine the state land use system," Kerridge said.

    Kerridge and McKeever agreed that Oregon's growth control measures have become too Draconian for many people to accept.

    "I do think in some respects the Oregon system has gotten too legalistic and overregulated," Mc-Keever said.

    It's a scenario, he said, that is unlikely to be repeated in California, where local control is king.

    Sacramento has thus far taken a more ground-up, voluntary approach to regional planning. SACOG played host to more than 5,000 local residents at workshops before its Dec. 16 approval of a new 50-year blueprint for growth for the six-county region - a vision that has no actual binding authority over local government planning decisions.

    "I definitely think this project will avoid a backlash because we've worked so hard at the grass-roots level," McKeever said.

    Whether it will produce anything resembling Oregon -style results remains to be seen. While Portland is about the same size as Sacramento, it feels much more like an eastern city, with a densely built core.

    Its light-rail corridors are lined with new offices and housing. The river is connected to downtown by a park. About 15 miles from the city's heart, buildings abruptly give way to farm fields.

    Boehm, of Walsh & Forster, said the city of Portland remains far ahead of Sacramento when it comes to encouraging urban development.

    At this point, he said, the much-smaller city of Davis more closely embodies Portland-style planning principles.

    "When I cross a street in Davis, I'm not going across a one-way street with four lanes of traffic and wondering if someone is going to run me over," he said.

    In Portland, Boehm said, the city spends huge sums of tax money to get development moving, usually by building streets, trolleys and other infrastructure. The city is currently planning a streetcar line extension and an aerial tram to serve a new campus of Oregon Health & Science University planned for an old industrial district.

    "The city will pick an area and throw money at that area," Boehm said.

    Kelly Robison, 27, a Portland transplant who works in Walsh & Forster's Sacramento office, said she still prefers Portland, even though Sacramento's urban scene has gotten livelier since she arrived five years ago.

    "I miss the friendliness and openness of the people, and the geography up there is prettier," Robison said.

    Not everyone shares her perspective. Mount Hood may be stunning, but there is that little matter of constant rain. Portland gets more than twice as much rain as Sacramento, most of it in the fall, winter and spring.

    "It rains all the time," Mc-Keever said. "The chamber of commerce wouldn't like me saying that. When the sun's out, it's a little slice of utopia. But then there's the other 300 days."

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Sacramento will be Sacramento, not Portland. It is one of several cities around the country with some history of leadership in sustainability and smart growth. The market will drive the city's future development patterns, and it is very different than Portland's.

    It is interesting to note the comments from Portland planners that regulations were becoming overly burdensome in Portland. This is common in the cities that have very strict growth management policies, and it is good to see them recognize it. I would disagree with the point that it couldn't happen in Sacramento.

    So do I take it there are job openings in the Portland-area planning offices?
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  3. #3

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    Sorry. It's way too late for Sacramento to be "like Portland." Sacramento is one of the true kings of sprawl-miles and miles of suburbs, and now the Sierra foothills for people with urban jobs and professions pretending to "live in the country" while complaining about the very traffic their own monster SUVs create.

    (Note: I really like the city of Sacramento, I think it's very similar to Denver: quite appealing city surrounded by miles of absolutely abyssmal "National Automotive Slum" suburbia. Ugh!)

  4. #4

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    The core of Sacramento, to the extent I have seen it, does not need to imitate Portland's downtown - they are both quite pleasant, with Sacramento's having the twist of being the state capitol. And, as BKM notes, it is way too late for an urban growth boundary around Sacramento. The game there is going to be infill.

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    Off-Topic Sacramento Description

    That 40-mile long bicycle path along the American River is pretty darn nice.

    Sacramento's downtown is a little odd in that it has a quite successful tourist "Ye Olde Western Towne" area (the former Skid Row, now "Old Sacramento") a reasonably pleasant, if predictable regional mall that is part indoor/part enclosed (they privatized K Street, the main commercial corridor) and then a lot of the rest of it is a mix of offices and the remnants of skid row. There is a pretty big population of the lost in downtown Sacramento, and there are sections of downtown that need an injection of life.

    The "hipster" part of Sacramento remains not downtown but "Midtown," located immediately east of the Capital area. There's been a lot of investment, sometimes controversial, by a State-City-Private Partnership (Capital Area Development Authority) that helped stabilize the neighborhood for years, and with new aggressive infill, the neighborhood is really quite pleasant and interesting.

  6. #6
    Member japrovo's avatar
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    Can't we just let Sacramento be Sacramento and Portland be Portland? I find reading these superficial "be the next" Austin/Portland/Silicon valley stories in the media fatiguing...

    Now the giant whoosing sound you hear is my hypocrisy rushing in

    I suggest that everyone dying to know what's up in Portland should check out our new book "The Portland Edge" (Island Press, available on Amazon). No off the shelf models or pat answers...just some good stories about planning (warts and all).

    Happy New Year!

  7. #7

    A matter of style

    Call it the invasion of the planning warriors from the north.
    These migrants from the misty, "smart growth" mecca of Portland, Ore., seek not to ransack California's sunny capital, but to build loft-style apartments downtown, make the region an easier place to walk and relieve its traffic woes.

    I attended the national EPA Brownfield's conference in Portland last year where the Mayor greeted us and shared the City's latest ad campaign to attract the up-and-coming twenty to thirty year olds to the community. The ad goes as follows:

    PORTLAND
    Dark
    Dreary
    Just like a bar...(pause)
    but you never have to leave!
    PORTLAND
    Baaaaad!
    but in a good way.

    Somehow I don't think that would go over real well in Sacramento.
    Last edited by Follow the $$; 31 Dec 2004 at 5:10 PM.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    That 40-mile long bicycle path along the American River is pretty darn nice.

    Sacramento's downtown is a little odd in that it has a quite successful tourist "Ye Olde Western Towne" area (the former Skid Row, now "Old Sacramento") a reasonably pleasant, if predictable regional mall that is part indoor/part enclosed (they privatized K Street, the main commercial corridor) and then a lot of the rest of it is a mix of offices and the remnants of skid row. There is a pretty big population of the lost in downtown Sacramento, and there are sections of downtown that need an injection of life.

    The "hipster" part of Sacramento remains not downtown but "Midtown," located immediately east of the Capital area. There's been a lot of investment, sometimes controversial, by a State-City-Private Partnership (Capital Area Development Authority) that helped stabilize the neighborhood for years, and with new aggressive infill, the neighborhood is really quite pleasant and interesting.

    I used to live in,or near, downtown Sacto, across the street from Capital Park (about two blocks from the Capital) in an old three story high pre-WWII apartment bldg. called The Thayer.

    The Thayer was in the CADA district, but wasnt managed or affiliated w. CADA. The building was absolutly funky..it had this small "phone booth" elevator, and was a mix of apartments and offices for lobbyists and political groups. My neighbors in adjacent "apartments" where a gaurd who worked at the capital, the California Coastal Comittee, The Indpenent Oil Producers, and this little punker girl.

    Loved it!

    This was in the mid to late 80s and the area around Capital Park was already pretty neat, with alot of infill going on, little outdoor restauants, a community garden (where I had a plot),

    Sacramentos' "Old City" (The original plat of relenetless checkerboard streets and blocks now pretty much bounded by the freeways, the river, and the levee) was great...a real mix, with no obvious neighborhood boundrys (there were vague subneighborhoods like Alkalai Flats..the latino area shaded into the oriental area and the gay area ("Lavendar Heights") shaded into the yuppie area. And at every couple blocks a block would be taken out and used as a big park, plus bigger parks like Southside Park south of the capital area, Sutter Fort, and Capital Park itself. The Old City, though, was heavily wooded, lots of street trees, a true urban forest. Really really nice.

    Downtown was part of this "Old City and sort of shaded into adjacent residential areas...there was no industrial wasteland surrounding downtown like there is in midwestern citys...Sacto was more like, say, Lexington KY or Macon, GA this way.

    When I was there in the '80s the city was sort of European in feel...sort of like a provincial European capital (like one finds in Germany) in that it didnt have this big cluster of skyscrapers downtown like typical US citys have..the skyscrapers where sort of spread out around the downtown area. ...and the capital and the boulevard leading up to it sort of gave a "baroque" feel to the place...

    Suburbia, though, was really really dismal and sprawly. The older pre WWII suburbs from the 1920s and 30s, like 'The Fortys" and Land Park where great, though. Land Park and the boulevard leading to it..Land Park Drive... was a great urban set piece...and The 40s would be akin to a wealthy first ring suburb..like Oak Park or the Cherokee Park area in Louisville. Adjacent McKinly Park was really nice too, tho closer in..more on the bungalow/tudor revival style, but the park itself was great, w. its rose beds.

    Sacramentos older areas are real lesson on how to do a very pleasant city. The suburbs are awful tho...The North Area is just a grid of commercial strip streets with residential infill..with concentrations of intensity at certain intersections ...like Watt & Marconi, Madison & Sunrise, etc (the area was orginally an old rancho, first subdivided into mini-farms and agricutlural "colonys"...very little of this era is left) The South Area is similar...and now sprawl has hit the Sierra foothilss.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally posted by Trinity Moses
    I used to live in,or near, downtown Sacto, across the street from Capital Park (about two blocks from the Capital) in an old three story high pre-WWII apartment bldg. called The Thayer.

    The Thayer was in the CADA district, but wasnt managed or affiliated w. CADA. The building was absolutly funky..it had this small "phone booth" elevator, and was a mix of apartments and offices for lobbyists and political groups. My neighbors in adjacent "apartments" where a gaurd who worked at the capital, the California Coastal Comittee, The Indpenent Oil Producers, and this little punker girl.

    Loved it!

    This was in the mid to late 80s and the area around Capital Park was already pretty neat, with alot of infill going on, little outdoor restauants, a community garden (where I had a plot),

    Sacramentos' "Old City" (The original plat of relenetless checkerboard streets and blocks now pretty much bounded by the freeways, the river, and the levee) was great...a real mix, with no obvious neighborhood boundrys (there were vague subneighborhoods like Alkalai Flats..the latino area shaded into the oriental area and the gay area ("Lavendar Heights") shaded into the yuppie area. And at every couple blocks a block would be taken out and used as a big park, plus bigger parks like Southside Park south of the capital area, Sutter Fort, and Capital Park itself. The Old City, though, was heavily wooded, lots of street trees, a true urban forest. Really really nice.

    Downtown was part of this "Old City and sort of shaded into adjacent residential areas...there was no industrial wasteland surrounding downtown like there is in midwestern citys...Sacto was more like, say, Lexington KY or Macon, GA this way.

    When I was there in the '80s the city was sort of European in feel...sort of like a provincial European capital (like one finds in Germany) in that it didnt have this big cluster of skyscrapers downtown like typical US citys have..the skyscrapers where sort of spread out around the downtown area. ...and the capital and the boulevard leading up to it sort of gave a "baroque" feel to the place...

    Suburbia, though, was really really dismal and sprawly. The older pre WWII suburbs from the 1920s and 30s, like 'The Fortys" and Land Park where great, though. Land Park and the boulevard leading to it..Land Park Drive... was a great urban set piece...and The 40s would be akin to a wealthy first ring suburb..like Oak Park or the Cherokee Park area in Louisville. Adjacent McKinly Park was really nice too, tho closer in..more on the bungalow/tudor revival style, but the park itself was great, w. its rose beds.

    Sacramentos older areas are real lesson on how to do a very pleasant city. The suburbs are awful tho...The North Area is just a grid of commercial strip streets with residential infill..with concentrations of intensity at certain intersections ...like Watt & Marconi, Madison & Sunrise, etc (the area was orginally an old rancho, first subdivided into mini-farms and agricutlural "colonys"...very little of this era is left) The South Area is similar...and now sprawl has hit the Sierra foothilss.
    I live 30 miles away, so visit quite often. You lived in the Thayer-that's pretty cool.

    I agree regarding the dismalness of suburbia in Sacramento County. Just like Denver,. another mid-sized western Capital (they remind me of each other a bit, although Denver is farther along in downtown revitalization in some ways)

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