At an Old Sacramento State Historic Park General Plan meeting, which was held Tuesday, April 15, inside the Stanford Gallery, 111 I St., representatives from the department clarified an important piece of information. The part of the proposal to use the RT tracks has been cut from the plan, which will be voted on by the California State Park and Recreation Commission on Friday, May 2 at 10 a.m. at the State Natural Resources Building auditorium, 1416 9th St. What remains in the plan now is the potential use of the rail line right-of-way from Old Sacramento to the Sacramento Zoo and from Pocket/Meadowview roads to the town of Hood, with views along the way of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
In an interview with this publication hours before the April 15 community meeting, project manager Steve Musillami said the plan will include improvements to the railroad museum, depots, as well as the rail yards and “some property state parks owns around the Sacramento River. It’s a visionary plan for next 20-plus years, but all proposals are based on funding issues. As far as between The Zoo and Pocket Road – we don’t own (the railway). That’s up to Regional Transit. It could be reintroduced as another rail line again. It could be paved a trail line. It could be a rail trail.”
According to RT spokesperson Elaine Masui, RT acquired said property in the 1980s from Southern Pacific and there have been no recent discussions about selling the land, though RT is open to the idea because of ongoing maintenance costs. “It was purchased at the time because RT didn’t know where the lines were going to go, but we expanded the lines (south to Meadowview) running on Union Pacific tracks.”
Councilmember Steve Hansen told Valley Community Newspapers removing the RT right-of-way from the Old Sacramento State Historic Park General Plan “seems to be an appropriate response to neighborhood concerns.” Hansen said the project still needs to be studied in detail, which would happen when, and if, the General Plan is adopted. “We are following the process closely and will continue to do so,” he said.
Hansen said that since this issue was initially brought to his attention, he has advocated for better outreach to the community and appropriate opportunity for public input.
But, during the interview before the meeting, Musillami expressed some frustration about the public’s confusion regarding the proposed plan.
“A lot of people are commenting on things without reading the plan, without gathering information from State Parks. We’ve had three public workshops, three commission meetings. We sent out mailings to about 2,000 people in the area. Unfortunately, people are still confused. We have tried to do the best we can. We have met with neighborhood organizations, including The Land Park Community Association in 2010. At the time, we did not meet with South Land Park organization. We thought they were all working together, but we found out they were not. (The April 15) meeting (was to give) the public another opportunity to voice concerns,” Musillami said.
However, prior to the meeting, neighbors were rightfully concerned about that land they feel so strongly about, especially since the State Parks website still as of Friday, April 18 hadn’t been updated to inform them that wasn’t part of the plan anymore.
So, while the meeting’s purpose was to inform the public about the scope of the entire general plan for the Old Sacramento State Historic Park, the South Land Park community has been focused on the section of the rail line owned by RT.
During the public comment period, which followed Musillami’s presentation, Julie Morengo, a resident of South Land Park Terrace, said she was appreciative of the promise by State Parks to remove the RT property from the language written in the General Plan proposal, however, she expressed her dissatisfaction of the process of how neighbors were notified, as well as the environmental impact it could have in the neighborhood, including the uses of pesticides, asphalt, and other potentially hazardous materials. “I was disturbed by the secretive and exclusive nature (of the process. Don’t confuse history with the current condition. You could achieve the same things with other options,” Morengo said.
Terry Oehler, a homeowner in Park Village, an upscale 2000s subdivision located south of 35 Avenue near the tracks, described the nature of his neighborhood in juxtaposition to the images shown during Musillami’s presentation. “This is a beautiful, pristine neighborhood. Your pictures don’t show houses. The track is 46 feet from my master bedroom. This proposal is not a situation of a compelling government need; it’s just for leisure. When we bought our homes, we did not think they’d pave over the tracks and have trains on them.”
Neighbor Adele Ose agreed, adding that the lien benefits tourists and not any of the neighbors. “Many ecosystems have developed into an urban woodland enjoyed by many. Additional rail crossings would further impact local intersections, and there’s no demonstrated financial benefit.”
Summing up how many South Land Park neighbors felt about the idea of trains running on those tracks again, Janet Gaithre said: “My father is a veteran and deserves peace and quiet. He is 89 years old and deserves to have peace in his old days. This is different from when trains ran on the levees and (conductors) threw candy; no more trains behind our homes, please.”
Upon discussing the speed of the excursion trains that are part of the proposal, Musillami told the Land Park News, “If you go up on the levee in Old Sacramento, the trains run so slow. These aren’t big freights. They’ve only got four or five cars and they’ll be historically designed. They’re only going to go 15 miles an hour. This would be better than having a light rail go through here because they have to run at the posted speed limit. Because it’s a historic train line, the intent is to link a real significant time in history. It was called a Walnut Grove Branch line and we’d like to link the line with Railroad Museum, which is the most popular (railroad museum) in the country. A lot of people come to Sacramento to come to the Railroad Museum. The Polar Express gets sold out in hours and the ones in the spring, summer, and fall are very popular also. They fill up very quickly.”
During the interview and at the meeting itself, Musillami explained the importance this plan has for the furthering of the State Parks’ mission to reenact the history of the Gold Rush era. “The Gold Rush era and interpretation is very important to this plan as well, but, all elements and proposals are based on funding. The grassy area in Old Town – we have a proposal to reconstruct 1849 buildings in that area. New structures will be historic replications of what was there at the time. It was a city block and there were different buildings (over the course of the) different eras. In 1849, the city was 8 feet lower than it was today. There were buildings at one level and higher levels in 1860s and 1870s, which varies with the era. But there were stables, and a hotel. As funding comes available, we’ll do more detailed studies.”