The Bee published an article today that looks at suburban areas in our region. The article went into some detail about various places around the region, including Arden Arcade. “Sadly, these once great places have declined since the 50’s and 60’s” seems to be one theme of the article, as is supported by data cited therein about home ownership rates, median income and the like. Regular readers of this blog have heard that before, of course. Yet there was another theme, along the lines of, “Look how these places have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps”. Lo and behold, the suburban areas that have moved forward are cities. Duh! That was pretty easy to figure out, wasn’t it? As this blog has noted, new cities in the region - West Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, and Rancho Cordova - listen and respond to input from their residents and businesses. Of course, the Bee had to find some reason to disrespect Citrus Heights, which disturbed Sacramento County’s power base by becoming a city in 1997 and thus opening the door for incorporation of Elk Grove in 2000 and Rancho Cordova in 2003. So the article focused on the demise of retail centers like Sunrise Mall, though in fairness, the article did mention the city’s intent to redevelop the site for mixed use (unlike the County’s auto-oriented retail approach at our similar malls). It’s a shame the article did not mention that Citrus Heights has run a tight fiscal ship during its entire history as a municipality. The city is almost done making its absurdly-high alimony payments to Sacramento County. Those millions of alimony dollars have propped up Sacramento County’s budget for almost a quarter of a century. Once the alimony monkey is off its back, Citrus Heights can pretty much do whatever its residents and businesses want. Finally, citing Folsom and Elk Grove but not mentioning the County’s rich history of approving far-flung neighborhoods, the article hints that sprawl into open land is the way to grow and prosper.
Sprawl messes up a lot of things, but it does indeed bring new taxpayers to a jurisdiction. And those new taxpayers do get to enjoy “fresh and new” minimal infrastructure such as streets, curbs, gutters and drainage. The unspoken challenge, though, is to operate and maintain that infrastructure on an ongoing basis instead of just kicking the can down the road for 30 years of so and then looking to even more sprawl to solve the revenue issues. Inability to sprawl is part of the knock against us here in Arden Arcade. Though it is true that our community cannot grow by sprawling into agricultural land like some other cities mentioned in the article, our community has an abundance of growth opportunities founded on our location in the center of the region. Those have mostly been missed opportunities due to lack of vision for the community. This blog has discussed the local land use mess, commercial retail property issues, housing problems, and mixed use. There are better solutions: we can repurpose struggling strip malls and shopping centers, we can grow upwards to capture real estate values based on vistas and views (the Sierras, Mt. Diablo, sunrises, sunsets, the glorious canopy of fall colors), and, starting with simple things like sidewalks along busy roads, we can work to strengthen local businesses and neighborhoods. What are the chances of improvements happening by petition to the County? Would those chances be enhanced if Arden Arcade was a city? According to the Bee article, the suburbs that are struggling are unincorporated areas, whereas the ones that are surviving are all cities.