Sticks and Stones
by Pat Lynch
In an open hearing on McKinley Village Midtown councilman Steve Hansen spoke dismissively of the sometimes heated nature of East Sacramento public discussions. “That’s not us,” he said sternly to the Midtowners. It reminded me of the way I used to talk to fourth graders. “We’re not like those noisy third-graders,” I’d say in yet another futile effort to establish dominance. Oddly, the audience made no objection to Hansen’s condescending manner. Maybe they were used to it. Maybe some of them liked it. Six or seven East Sacramentans attended but none of us jumped up and launched into any tirades. There were outbursts from others however. A couple of men blurted loud, hostile remarks about McKinley Village and one woman, when it was her turn to speak, tried to wrest the microphone from Hansen’s hand. He wouldn’t let go. “I hold the mike,” he said. “A control freak,” she answered, refusing to relinquish it. Both of them clutched it throughout her comment.
Later I asked a Midtown woman why Hansen spoke disparagingly, and wrongly, of East Sacramentans. We are indeed a free speech zone but he mischaracterized our public gatherings. She said it was Divide and Conquer. She maintained that developers and the city officials who collude with them don’t want neighboring groups to form effective coalitions. “It’s just politics,” she said.
Politics. And politics, of course, is about power and people’s relationship to power. The perceived power of even a city council office can make some citizens embarrassingly deferential. Worse, it can give the minor elected functionary an inflated regard for his significance and encourage him to publicly speak ill of other neighborhoods.
It’s worthwhile to note that nobody accused East Sacramentans, (East Sacramento Preservation members in particular) of inappropriate outspokenness when we had many conversations with Stonebridge developers about the project that will replace Sutter Hospital. Stonebridge solicited our input and received it. We forged a productive relationship, and on March 7th East Sacramento Preservation president, Ellen Cochrane, spoke to the Planning Commission in support of the project. Now Stonebridge will bring new and welcome residents to our community, won’t increase our traffic problems, will give new families a chance to thrive in a livable environment. We’re glad to have played a part in something that actually is good infill.
But when we opposed the McKinley Village proposal because it’s traffic invasion will ruin our streets and its other multiple hazards degrade the environment, the false judgments arrived. A few claimed we were “anti-growth.” This, after our productive commnication with and endorsement of Stonebridge, was mystifying, but we have learned not to expect high caliber reasoning from everyone. Then we have “radical,” the tag that we are supposed to refute by timidly allowing dangerous development. But if it’s radical to follow our charter, which tasks us with defending our neighborhood, then so be it. If it’s radical to stand with the Environmental Council of Sacramento and Physicians for Social Responsibility, both of which have serious misgivings about McKinley Village, so be it.
We will be certainly be subjected to even more imaginative misnomers in the future, but that’s the price of advocacy. We’ll survive. We’ll continue to try our best. And while some have attempted to dismiss or marginalize us, we have seen this: since we took a stand critical of McKinley Village our blog following has increased. Public meetings got larger. Our Save East Sac signs began popping up everywhere. An influx of new memberships filled the P.O. box. The phone keeps ringing. People show up. Now this is smart growth.