The 3.8 miles of Sacramento County levee improvements between San Juan Road and Gateway Oaks Drive will impact 33 privately owned properties, as California Globe reported in November. According to Jay Davis, ombudsman for the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA), 10 of these private properties “require full acquisition” for purposes of demolition.
The project manager for the Natomas Basin Reach A project is John Powderly of the US Army Corps of Engineers, also listed as an associate planner for the city of West Sacramento. In response to questions from the California Globe Mr. Powderly explained, “First and foremost, decisions to acquire real estate (i.e. people’s homes) are not taken lightly, and an action we try to avoid to the extent possible.” That claim raises doubts among those on the demolition list.
Homeowner Katherine Dixon recalls that around 2010, “levee flood protection repair work was done adjacent to my home for the better part of a year or more.” Construction crews were staged adjacent to and behind her home while the “slurry wall” was constructed in the Garden Highway and work conducted on the pumping station behind her home on the Natomas Main Drainage Canal.
“These projects were done to protect the public from a 100-year flood,” Dixon explains. “At this time we were told our home would be fine.” In the meantime, another costly levee fix has been in progress for years, and “permits were issued to build our home over 30 years ago knowing this may be the case and we were never once invited to a meeting for our input.”
The USACE invited questions for Mr. Powderly and on December 2 the California Globe asked if the 2010 levee fixes, including the slurry wall, were somehow inadequate and required the current project to acquire and demolish property. The Globe also asked if there had ever been a levee breach in the area from San Juan Road to Gateway Oaks Drive.
Some 30 years ago, the city of Sacramento granted permits for houses now on the demolition list. The Globe asked Mr. Powderly if, at that time, any of the various government agencies raised the prospect of the current project that requires demolition of those same homes.
In the area slated for renovation, the river side of the levee hosts the offices of the Reclamation District 1000 on Garden Highway and various private residences. The Globe wondered why no properties on the river side of the levee had been slated for acquisition and demolition.
As Mr. Davis told the California Globe, the potential for such impacts was identified in several studies and environmental documents issued by USACE and SAFCA between 2007 and 2015. In July and August of 2019, the impacts were determined to be “unavoidable” and SAFCA began contacting property owners in September, 2019, 12 years after the project began.
The Globe wondered why property owners such as Katherine Dixon had never been invited to a meeting to give their input. On December 2, the Globe also asked if it was possible that the property acquisitions were driven by spending or budgetary concerns. At this writing the USACE has yet to respond, but some earlier questions have been answered.
Squatters have set up a number of illegal encampments along the levee. The Globe wondered if any of the squatters would be evicted and their hovels demolished. “No,” Mr. Davis replied, “USACE doesn’t notify or remove any encampments along the project area. The Corps and our contractor will work with local authorities to notify the transient population of their requirement to vacate the area.”
As area homeowners are aware, current levee work near Discovery Park has left longtime squatters in place. On the other hand, longtime legal homeowners will be evicted, and some have already given dates by which they must be out.
As Mr. Davis told the California Globe, SAFCA did put the “relocation services” out to bid, selecting the Overland, Pacific & Cutler, firm as fully qualified. OPC will be paid an amount not to exceed amount of $150,000 to provide right-of-way services “on a time and materials basis.”
Part l, Sacramento Housing Demolition Crisis: Government levee project will oust longtime residents from their homes near Garden Highway.