Wednesday, December 11, 2013

blah blah blah

I had a really good dinner at hook and ladder yesterday. I'm not sure if the food got better, but I think a big factor is that giving up the food critic hat means I can just be ok with ok food if it's because it's a neighborhood spot (or in the case of h and l a pleasant 30 minute walk from my house). The kale salad was more than ok, with a ton of parm and whole boquerones on top, and the pizza was damn good too.  I'm guessing gas oven rather than wood-fired (I was chatting so didn't really examine it) but the burrata and fresh oregano topping is a really good combo.

I am not trying to stir anything up, but Bill Burg has been getting a lot of press for his assertion that what our central city needs is the return to the downtown dense population we used to have. To get back there we need what, like 30,000 people (I am having trouble finding the exact number that is being quoted). To put it succinctly: fuck that. I consider Bill a genius, but I would not want to live in that city. If it's sprawl or doubling the population of downtown/midtown I say sprawl, for yes, purely selfish reasons. I realize that.

Let's call a Sac a Sac and admit that there will be some awesome things brought in from growth downtown, but mostly lame lip service to smart growth and chains. Do you know how mad it makes me that BevMo is going in? (although I am less mad since they can't skirt the stupid single bottle law - hopefully they will push to end it. I assumed they would get a special exemption). Yeah, sure a cheap six pack here and there instead of the horrible selection at safeway, but will add nothing besides that.

 Are there a lot of people who live in sprawl areas who would love to live downtown or close in older, connected to downtown suburbs but can't afford it and would like to live in new apartments instead? I'm sure some but really how many? My experiences with coworkers in Davis is that they either choose Natomas or Woodland for cheap big housing and never come downtown except sometimes to visit the Mermaid Bar or Pizza Rock. I know there are reasons that people make these choices for schools and things, but if it's a family that wants a house, those aren't going to be built anyway. Dense housing is not going to make old downtown houses any more affordable.

Many many things were different in Sacramento at the time of this dense population including mostly local businesses instead of chains and no mall (and no big arena where the mall stands now). Will Sac really ever get smart about public transportation? Probably not. The other day I was over by Richards and watched the empty light rail green line come and go but we still don't have light rail to the airport.

Some of these points have nothing to do with the others.


Anonymous said...

Adding 10K residents to the urban core of the next 15-or-so years will not equal more chains. So many hurdles for chains to succeed in this central city; more people doesn't equal overcoming said hurdles.

BevMo sucks, agreed. But not a lot of local-business concepts would succeed in a 12K square foot space like the former Beat building. Is BevMo better than an empty storefront? Should we ask Detroit ...

Fortunately, there's very little existing real estate on the grid that's attractive to chains. The Beat building is one of those few spots.

Curious: Would you be opposed to a Whole Paycheck, err Foods, near the Bee?

My big worry are the new "mixed use" developments. I'm not one for "loft life," and the new Legado project on 16th Street is corny as hell. But the kicker for me is whether they will put chains like Habit Burger on the ground floors, or do what Bay and Ali are planning on their respective projects: locally run coffeehouses and restaurants. No chains, etc.

Is the Mike Heller model--chains mixed with locals--palatable?

This is a conversation that needs a brew or three.


beckler said...

I'm also against the McKinley village project in a totes NIMBY way
I'll never be convinced. EH as a planner gave me many logical arguments against sprawl and I just defaulted to thinking about it makes me feel upset and whines of "but whhyyyy do more people have to move here?"

His answer: because you live in California

Anonymous said...

Don't be a NIMBY. Always agree with EH. Ramped-up sprawl policy over the next decade will make Sacramento's urban core a MUCH WORSE PLACE than 10K new residents.


wburg said...

The number is currently about 28,000 (we had 58,000 people in 1950, 28,000 in 1970, 32,000 in 1990 and 30,000 in 2010.) The need is primarily for more housing in downtown, not necessarily Midtown, which doesn't need much more infill to reach its historic highs, mostly on those assorted vacant lots.

The central business district from the river to 21st Street from around H to Capitol Mall, used to be twice as dense as Midtown and currently has fewer people per acre than East Sac or Land Park. If you look at those old photos of K Street during its "glory days" where the streets are full of people, it is primarily because so many people lived downtown, in parts of the city where nobody lives now, not because they chose to leave but because they were forced out. Downtown as a place to live, not just a place to visit, supports a lot more business, small and large. It was the forced evacuation of downtown that killed not just business but also the nightlife, which we're still trying to approach 60 years later.

We had plenty of corporate chains here in the 1950s: Fox, Sears, JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, Woolworth's, Kress, Hale's, Roos Brothers, Ford, Chevy, Studebaker, Safeway, Cardinal, Piggly Wiggly. Until 1943, our public transportation network was run by corporate PG&E. Not to mention corporate employers like California Packing Company, PG&E, Bank of America, California Fruit Exchange, Western Pacific and Southern Pacific. But there were also a large number of small businesses too--serving a different segment of the market.

In terms of the market for downtown housing, it is already there. The folks who are looking at big suburban homes aren't the target market, but they are really only about a third of the market. Another third is looking for compact urban living in a city center, and another third can go either way as long as it's convenient for their workplace. That urban-seeking third tends to choose their city based on the availability of the product. If they can't find what they want in Sacramento, rather than move to Natomas, they will move to a city that provides what they want.

Patrick J. said...

I'm all for the 28,000 more people and the Whole Foods by the Bee. I'm down for all of R street being filled with more business's and residents. There is so much wasted deadspace Downtown for example between 3rd ,14th, S and N.

I'm one of the "Midtown has drastically changed for the positive the last 10 years crowd."

But that's just me.

wburg said...

Midtown/Downtown have drastically changed over the past 10-20 years, largely for the good but not necessarily all of it. I suppose I'd rather see a BevMo in the old Beat location and a Whole Foods in the old Crystal Ice building than two buildings that sit vacant for decades. I'd like to see people living in the apartments above the old Hof Brau, providing more customers for whatever restaurant goes in there, although I hope to heck it isn't a TGI Friday's or something. One downtown resident is economically equal to about 20 visitors from outside the city limits--and it's not a strict grid/not-grid relationship. A grid resident spends a lot of money downtown because they live there and it is their neighborhood. A resident of a "grid-adjacent" neighborhood comes to the grid a lot because it's nearby and odds are they visit friends who live here and vice versa. The farther away you live, the less likely you're going to visit downtown much and thus your economic effect is less. So 1000 new downtown residents will produce an economic effect equal to 20,000 arena visitors who drive home after a game and maybe spend a few bucks eating at Claim Jumper afterward.

Midtown housing probably won't ever be cheap again, unless something goes horribly wrong. But introducing a lot more housing stock means more price competition, and a more centralized and denser urban core has positive and identifiable economic effects (unlike, say, arenas.) So there are more economic opportunities in a bigger, denser core, that make it easier to afford that downtown home--and the opportunity costs and expenses of commuting to the suburbs make the lower price of a suburban home less appealing, except for those who like living in the suburbs, who will still have the option to do so.

beckler said...

Bill, you're the expert but I think maybe it comes down to pessimism vs. optimism. I don't think sac is capable of getting development right because of the leadership and lack of vision. I know there are many people with great visions working on the margins to effect change but I think they will just have small victories here and there and we will still give sweetheart deals to huge developers and have terrible public transportation, for example.

Natalie Rose said...

My feelings on this have changed so much over the years, but I agree with Bill. Working downtown for the past 8 years There should be more housing here. And infill. And less dark scary empty store fronts.

I would love to see the city friendlier to local businesses. The process seems pretty arduous to open a spot in sac (could be wrong on that, just seems like something I have heard)

The thing is I think Sac could do it. Something just seems to slowing it and I don't know what it is.

Obviously this isn't me saying I want a Grizzlebees on every corner.

And this isn't because I left the grid to the far flung suburb of south land park either, I want them to open some stuff over there to. Namely a coffee shop.

I am also becoming alarmingly optimistic in my old age.


wburg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wburg said...

#58000 is not a prediction of what I think will happen, it is a recommendation of what I think should happen based on the evidence and based on what many American cities are doing successfully. It would require a fundamental change of course, and do note that what I think the city should do and what thwy actually do ain't often congruent.

I don't see it as a lack of vision but an excess of it; a mid-century suburban vision where the automobile means freedom, and cities should be orderly, controlled, and quiet, but nobody should ever live there. The vision is one where everyone is expected to live in the suburbs and drive downtown to work or recreate. Those subject to this vision have enormous capacity to ignore the realities involved, including the environmental and economic costs of their very specific view of how the world should work. Downtown redevelopment was an enormous success from the point of view of the developers involved. Sure, it displaced tens of thousands of people and hundreds of small businesses, and destroyed entire neighborhoods, and downtown Sacramento still suffers from the effects. I assure you the ones who made the money lost no sleep over it.

Scott Miller said...

A bit of good development news: I just heard Piggly Wiggly is going in to the old Hamburger Mary's.

Anonymous said...

As someone who doesn't live in Sac anymore it blows my mind how empty it feels downtown/midtown when I go back, almost hollow. There's literally tumbleweeds sometimes. Greater population density would be a great thing.

Natalie Rose said...

Piggly Wiggly. my new artisanal charcuterie joint?


Anonymous said...

small note on the empty green line, but still no light rail to the airport: the green line is the first stage of light rail to the airport. who knows if it'll ever get extended (first it has to go out to the natomas nimbys, then the airport) but maybe someday.

Anonymous said...

I also would love to see more population density in DT. Having recently started working with a client in the Forum building, I hate how empty and eerily quiet K, L, and J Street feel during the day and even more so at night.

M and I are probably the anomaly, but we've talked about this since we moved back and we wouldn't have any issues as a family, living in DT, except for the one I just stated - it's so desolate. If there were grocery stores, more cafes, and simply more people walking around both during the day and at night, it would feel more like a place people would want to live.


wburg said...

I don't think you're an anomaly, a lot of people actively want to move downtown. The problem is, there are very few places to live in the central business district. A few hundred SRO rooms and a couple hundred old apartments, some vacant because the owner wants a tax write-off or to build an office tower, and a handful of for-sale condos, that's it. You can't just buy a plot of land on K Street and build a log cabin on it--a developer has to build housing first, or convert existing buildings to housing, which is how it's done in places like downtown Los Angeles. But banks want to see comparable properties first, and if there are no comps they are more hesitant to lend. And because the Sacramento developer party line (except a small number of forward-thinking ones) is "no housing downtown" they don't press the issue. It becomes a vicious cycle.

The other vicious cycle is the one you mention, DKK: downtown seems desolate because people don't live there, and stores won't go there if there are not customers to serve. When stores open, they either squeak by on the business they get from state worker daytime business and close at night, or they go out of business quickly. Which is why a coordinated, conscious effort to jump-start housing is so important. The kind of buildings we are talking about are mixed use buildings, with retail on the ground floor and apartments or for-sale condos above, so the idea is to build both the housing and the retail at the same time. That way, there are places for residents to shop, and a customer base to support the businesses--the 100,000+ downtown workers become a higher profit margin, instead of their only customers. Existing businesses could expand their hours, the way that Midtown businesses serve a lunch crowd and an evening crowd. Visitors come downtown to visit friends and check out the local cafe their cool downtown friend recommended. Suddenly that desolate feel has vanished. There may even still be homeless folks on the street, but they aren't the only ones on the street anymore.

And before anyone says it, arenas generally don't do the same thing. Try walking by any downtown arena when there isn't a game or concert going on, which is most of the time. It's about the same as walking by Downtown Plaza today. Not that they don't have their uses, but promoting residential development isn't one of them. Arenas aren't a cause of successful downtowns, but they are often a symptom.

Madeline Sabatoni said...

I agree on the empty storefronts... in the time where that we've lived in our current place, the grocery has closed, Capital Tea Garden has closed and the florist moved. Plus the former business below us and the cell phone place next door have been empty since we moved in. The result is that we get more graffiti, more people sitting on our steps and more people just "hanging" around (or that dude who was just singing at midnight in front of our window for an hour). It totally sucks and makes us not want to live here anymore. And we're not even in the central part of downtown, but we're ready to move to an outlying neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Bill is absolutely right on this- we, as a society, need to start focusing growth in urban cores and limit sprawl. There are many, many reasons for this, but one of the big ones is that we have to prepare for a time when traveling alone 15 miles to work in a single car is no longer going to be ecologically or economically viable for the majority of people.

And, yes, an echo for the people who would rather see a bevmo than a vacant building, although I'd rather see a post apocalyptic gaping hole in the ground than a Whole Foods - that company SUXXXX hard.


Natalie Rose said...

Good news, this post apocalyptic hole you are looking for can be found at the former future home of capitol towers.


Kate said...

Why is it a given that the square footage of the Beat building requires a chain store to support. This is an interesting model in Healdsburg:

That would be a great place for something like this.