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Forty Second Street—Sentimental Journey



You can go home again. I’d often passed the house on 42nd street and wondered who lived there now. Contractors and carpenters had plainly been at work because the place had had a magical face-lift, the kind I want. Then came the invitation. A City Council candidate would speak there. We arrived early. The exterior features of the place were hugely improved, but I knew in thirty seconds that its pulse remained the same. It felt the same–airy and bright; kids ran in and out. I glanced at a door in the hall. When we lived here that would have been the Dorm. A memory came, as real as today.

In the Dorm, in two sets of bunk beds, slept Pat, Kathleen, Moira and Sheila. Our toddler bother, Danny, had a little bed in our parent’s room. Moira, whose curly red hair fluffed up like Little Orphan Annie’s, had a top bunk. This particular night she woke in the dark and saw in the moonlit window the face of a woman. The woman stared into the room. She had black hair, wore a ragged, black coat, had a pale, sunken face and smoldering, black, black eyes. Her teeth were yellow, lips black. Her fingernails were black. She closed and opened her mouth slowly, over and over.

In the morning Moira burst with the story. Our mother, vastly pregnant, listened while pouring orange juice. The rest of us gazed at Moira, then at one another. Sheila asked, “Who was that bad lady, Mama?” Our mother said Moira had had a nightmare. Moira shook her head. No, she was wide awake. We ran into the bedroom to see where it had happened. Our mother came too, adding importance to the investigation, and tested the window lock. Everything worked, so she returned to the kitchen. We ran outside to look for footprints. By the window lay a strip of weedy ground between our house and the Toniola’s fence next door. Kathleen found the prints, odd indentations in the dirt. “Boots,” Kathleen said. “Pointy boots.” We ran back in to tell our mother. She listened, then said solemnly, “Ah. It must have been a secret, black and midnight hag.” I remember the chill the words brought: a secret, black and midnight hag. Sheila said immediately. “A witch.”

This set us on a mission. What do you do when a witch looks in your window at night? You feed her. I don’t remember whose idea it was to bribe the witch by setting out a feast, but it seemed brilliant. And the witch was hungry. Why else had she opened and closed her mouth so often? We found a cracked plate in the garage. Witches like horrible things, so Kathleen scooped handfuls of wormy dirt onto the plate. We cast about for more disgusting items. Sheila found curled-up lemon peels from the trash under the sink. We headed down the street. Kathleen had to carry the plate now because I didn’t like holding something that had worms moving in it. The Stevenson kids joined us and provided a red wagon, so now the plate could be wheeled. Mrs. Stevenson said, “A witch pie?” and poured a cold cup of coffee over the dirt to give it mushiness. “Now you can knead it,” she said.

It was Moira’s shining day.  She repeated the story and with each telling the yellow  witch canines grew longer and more wolfish, the black eyes bigger and blacker. I held Danny’s hand as he hurried along because Moira, who usually performed this office, had risen in stature and now walked at the head of our small procession. We wound around the block, picking up anything unsightly and inedible. When we got to Warner’s Market Kathleen found a popsicle stick with a glob of ants on it. Into the pie it was thrust. My friend, Mark, ran to join us. He said, “This is the greatest mean pie I ever saw.” We came to a stop. Kathleen looked down. Dried, whitish dog poop. “No,” I said. Kathleen said we had to give the witch what she wanted. Using twigs, she scraped the poop onto a withered, cracking leaf, lifted it slowly. We watched with near reverence. She dropped the serving into the pie. I’d lifted Danny up so he could see the whole thing. His pale blue eyes filled with wonder. “She’ll love this,” Kathleen said.

It was a good day. We brought the pie back to the window, carefully set it on the ground. Moira told Mark how hungry the witch was and how her black eyes were filled with fiery spit. When our father came home he said the witch had met her match in the kids of 42nd street. So yes, a good day, but a bad night because our mother made us all take baths. We vowed to stay awake for the return of the witch but nobody made it. In the morning we raced outside to the window. The plate was gone. In its place lay an X–two crisscrossed sticks, a broken crow feather nearby. We flew into the kitchen, dragged our mother out to see. She said with great seriousness that this was a thank you from the witch. It meant no witch would ever again bother any of the children of 42nd street or any other children for miles around. “You kids have saved the whole neighborhood,” she said.

This house. Here’s where our parents drove to Mercy Hospital, our father returning alone. He said when our mother came back she would bring our new baby, another boy, named Michael. Everybody clapped. Here’s where our mother started the family Mardi Gras: the day before Lent began we got to have ice cream and candy, all we wanted. Every Mardi Gras we turned on the phonograph and jumped around in a sugar-induced frenzy. This is the house where she taught us the Bunny Hop and we “danced” in a crooked cavalcade from room to room and out into the yard, falling down, laughing. Even grumpy Mr. Freligh, who said Halloween was invented by Irish hooligans who lived for mischief, laughed at the bunny hop.

When we lived here Kathleen staged an outdoor puppet show between the apricot tree and the clothesline in the big back yard, and I began digging a hole to China near the hydrangeas. The Easter Bunny and Santa came to this house every year, and after a time the Tooth Fairy began showing up. From this house we walked to Sacred Heart School, and to this house we brought our books from McKinley Library. Something was always going on; there were always running feet and excited voices. But in this house you could climb to the top bunk and quietly read all of Louisa May Alcott’s and Mark Twain’s books, and more, always more, through those long, delicious summers.

Now, so many years later, I stroll out to the long back yard. Kids of different sizes scurry around. There’s a big, peaceful dog. A bright, enthusiastic eight-year-old named Lily fills me in on things. As noted, the pulse of the house beats true. I tell Lily that the back yard next door used to be a giant garden, covered with vines, towering corn, vegetables of every kind. We called it The Jungle. Almost weekly in the summer and fall Mr. Toniola would bring our mother armloads of fresh produce, and she would laugh and thank him and tell him the kids had no idea how lucky they were. Looking over where Mr. Toniola’s yard had been, a different recollection surfaced. I was in college, reading Macbeth, and discovered the phrase, “secret, black and midnight hags.” How much lore and language had our mother given us, and we not realized it?

I went back inside to thank the present owners and say good bye. A final memory. Six years after Michael’s birth another baby, a surprise, came home from Mercy hospital. It was a girl, Eileen. We sat on the couch in birth order, and the baby was handed down to each one of us, from me to Michael. She was so little and she had hardly any hair. We loved her utterly, from the start. She was the only good thing that happened that week. Five days later we moved to the suburbs and left the little house forever.

Pat Lynch

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East Sacramento Preservation Welcomes Councilmember Cohn’s Help

East Sacramento McKinley Village Community Meeting

McKinley Park, Clunie Club, 601 Alhambra, 6pm, April 21st, Monday

East Sacramento finally does have Steve Cohn’s support. We now must communicate to other council members our strong objections to the project as proposed. East Sacramento Preservation has not changed it’s position, Opposed to the Project as Proposed. This project remains riddled with serious problems, about which ESP has deep concerns.

The developers have consistently refused to mitigate this project to help the neighborhood. ESP does not support McKinley Village. However, if council votes yes on this project a vehicular/bike/ped tunnel at Alhambra must be a mitigating component. At today’s community meeting, ESP will stand with neighborhood groups to support this mitigation. However, ESP does not approve any mitigation that the tax payers pay for, and we insist that the DEIR must be recirculated. Below is our Q and A on McKinley Village:

Why does the project propose to funnel East Sacramento traffic only on to C Street between 40th and Tivoli and not add a second access at Alhambra Boulevard?

The developer presently claims that technical and engineering problems prevent the Alhambra solution. But in several earlier meetings he declared openly that this solution was “not economically feasible.” That is, it would cut too heavily into his very substantial potential profit. The Alhambra option is real. In an editorial the Sacramento Bee declared it worth studying. Freeway access is not a pipe dream. The previous Centrage developer said he had in his hands plans for the off-ramp and a city permit. It would alleviate the ruinous traffic invasion of East Sacramento. It may cost the developer more, but that is the price paid for not destroying classic, fragile neighborhoods that add great value to the city. Responsible development would undertake the Alhambra exit.

What will be the traffic impact on East Sacramento?

McKinley Village drivers will exit through a tunnel blasted through our secondary levee at C Street between 40th and Tivoli Way. This car influx will transform quiet East Sacramento streets into traffic-clotted thoroughfares. It will imperil the safety of pedestrians, greatly increase our auto exhaust pollution, decrease home values and erode the neighborhood fabric.

What are the project’s environmental impacts?

As previously mentioned, the project will have a negative impact on air quality, both in the project itself and in nearby neighborhoods afflicted with its traffic. The developer refers to the project’s Draft Environment Impact Report, which claims “less than significant environmental impacts,” but the report bases its assessment on defective models. For example, the traffic study uses an outdated, faulty, driver-centric instrument that does not consider traffic impact on residents, but evaluates only how often drivers are forced to slow down in their progress. This “traffic study” does not “study” or even consider traffic impacts on nearby neighborhoods, residents, or pedestrians. Safety is not a concern. Health is not a concern. The sole concern is driver convenience. It is absurd to predicate an assessment on such a narrow focus. Yet the developer touts this as validation.

What will McKinley Village be like?

If it is built, it will be a car-centric replica of suburbia squeezed between a railroad and a freeway. It will consist of large houses on streets with no retail, no public transit or shuttle service to bus lines, and will daily funnel thousands of cars into East Sacramento.

What is its size and what kind of homes will there be?

If built, it will occupy 49 acres with 328 single-family detached houses. The plan ranges from 1,300 square feet houses with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths to 3,100 square feet houses with 5 bedrooms and 4 baths. Plainly, the plans create a heavily populated project.

Is McKinley Village consistent with City plans?

No. The developer argues yes it is, mostly because it “adheres to the region’s blueprint to reduce vehicle miles traveled and improve air quality.” Instead, and ironically, it worsens air quality, both in the proposed site itself and in East Sacramento, where residents exposed to McKinley Village car exhaust and other traffic hazards will experience collateral damage.

How does McKinley Village worsen air quality?

Proposed residents will live in a bowl-like location between the freeway and railroad tracks. Combined diesel and auto exhaust will significantly contaminate the air they breathe, so much so that Physicians for Social Responsibility have issued a letter expressing grave concerns about the proposed project’s air quality. To mitigate some of the hazard the developer plans to install a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Absorption) filter in every house. But HEPA filters will not improve air outdoors, nor will they aid East Sacramentans who will bear the brunt of McKinley Village traffic exhaust.

If McKinley Village is not built, what could be built on the site?

The developer frequently asks this question in an unsubtle effort to suggest that his project is the best we will get. But there are numerous other possibilities, among them a nature reserve, a solar farm, a community Soil Born type farm with an educational component, a park, a light industrial project. Even a lower density, better planned development, similar to the plan for homes on the Sutter Memorial site, would be preferred.

What about flooding?

The developer falsely claimed that, “McKinley Village will have the same level of protection as East Sacramento, Midtown and Downtown.” But McKinley Village would actually be a “flood rescue site” (meaning people can’t drive out), like in River Park. The project would puncture two holes into our secondary levee, increasing flood threat to East Sacramento. The developer states that the Union Pacific Railroad embankment is “not a certified levee.” But, “certified” or not, that embankment has given Sacramento  years of flood protection as a secondary levee. A levee system is only as strong as its weakest points: the floodgates (which must be operated manually). Adding the proposed two additional breaches (at Alhambra and 40th Street) will greatly degrade the system’s flood control performance.

How will the project affect local schools?

The developer says “there is capacity at local schools to accommodate students from McKinley Village.” But the fact is that students pouring in from McKinley Village will crowd Theodore Judah, the public school in direct line of impact, absorbing classroom space and forcing detrimental changes. Programs that use classroom space, like Science, Computer Lab, Library and Music, may be cut back or eliminated altogether. The space and facilities provided for Special Education students, a vulnerable population, will be at risk. The school would have to be expanded to absorb the McKinley Village influx, and without developer-provided special busses, 576 more car trips would clog East Sacramento streets.  It should be noted that Theodore Judah will also be expected to accommodate the student population increase from the neighborhood-approved Stonebridge development at the Sutter Memorial site.

Who opposes McKinley Village as planned?

ECOS (the Environmental Council of Sacramento) has concerns about the current plan and its environmental impact, Physicians For Social Responsibility have issued a letter expressing “grave concern” about air contaminants in McKinley Village. More than 1000 East Sacramento residents have signed a petition opposing the project. Former City Councilman, Terry Kastanis, strongly opposes the project as do the following established groups: East Sacramento Preservation Neighborhood Association, Boulevard Park Neighborhood Association, I Love East Sac action group, Neighbors United for Smart Growth, Friends of the Riverbank, Friends of Sutter’s Landing, Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk, and Save the American River Association. Additionally, during the comment period for the Draft Environment Impact Report, the City of Sacramento received 100s of comments and questions, more than most projects ever receive at the City Planning Department. As it becomes more and more clear that the developer has no intention of altering his plan to help traffic congestion, air pollution or flood concerns, opposition to the McKinley Village project will continue to grow.

Are our elected representatives helping the neighborhoods?

The city council vote on the McKinley Village project will make clear which of our elected officials truly represent the citizens and support neighborhood services. We urge you to contact your representative to express your concerns about this project.

District 3–Steve Cohn, 915 I Street, Sacramento, 95814,    (916) 808-7003

This Q&A is made possible by East Sacramento Preservation, Inc. East Sacramento Preservation is opposed to the project as proposed. We hope the developer will work with the neighborhood to create a better proposal.

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