After the Gold Rush: Elk Grove Celebrates Ten Years of City Hood

Ten years ago today, it became official: Elk Grove had officially attained city hood. As California’s first new city of the century, ther...

Ten years ago today, it became official: Elk Grove had officially attained city hood. As California’s first new city of the century, there was a feeling of optimism throughout the community.

For those of us who attended the swearing in of our newly elected city council members in the school board chambers of Elk Grove Unified School District, there was a buzz in the air. People were excited that the destiny of Elk Grove could be determined by local officials who would presumably better reflect the needs and desires that the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors had.

The expression kicked around by just about every candidate and supporter of city hood was “local control.”

Not unlike American revolutionaries who tired of taxation without  representation, the people of Elk Grove were tired of the housing developments imposed on them by the Board of Supervisors without recourse. We paid our taxes, but our voice didn’t seem to be heard.

City hood was the obvious answer.

So it was voters approved the city hood initiative in March of 2000 and selected five council members to wrest control from the county and give meat to the “local control” mantra of Elk Grove.

Two Economic Events Define Decade
It didn’t take long for several people in the community to realize that “local control” was in the eyes of the beholder.

During the early years, much of the development that took place was the result of developments approved by the county. Such was the case of the East Elk Grove area.

After a few years though, projects that had moved through Elk Grove’s home-grown planning process sprang up and to many peoples dismay, things had not changed much.

If anything, the city planning commission and city council seemed to pre-channel Sarah Palin, who at the time was a small town mayor.

Their mantra was “Build, Baby Build!” And built we did.

Houses, strip centers, apartments, schools all went up at a breakneck speed. The one component not included in the “Build, Baby Build” was “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.”

While thousands of houses were built only to have many fall into foreclosure and strip centers popped up that would be occupied, if they were lucky by the end of decade, by smoke shops, liquor stores, nail salons and usurious cash checking centers.

Building and expansion of the city’s populations was done with the philosophy that real estate prices would continue to expand and economic growth would continue uninterrupted. Seemingly the laws of economic cycles was not given any consideration.

"Build, Baby Build!"

While the picture started getting murky in early 2007, by the late summer of 2008 the bottom had completely fallen out. Reality bit.

By that point Elk Grove had been besieged by housing foreclosures and construction of the city’s then marquis commercial property, The Elk Grove Promenade fashion mall, had completed stopped. Months later its developer, Chicago-based General Growth Properties filed the largest ever real estate Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Today the half-built mall sits on the city's south side as a testament to the hubris of ther era. 

The city’s signature master planned development, Laguna Ridge, came to a screeching halt with the collapse of the real estate market and several local developers. The city’s next marquis property, the much touted Civic Center would have to wait.

While there were many other events that shaped Elk Grove over the last ten years, it is our contention that the two most significant developments that have influenced and put Elk Grove where it is today is undoubtedly the real estate boom and subsequent collapse.

We’ve had our Gold Rush and now its over.

Now is time to pick up the pieces and move forward in the next ten years with the wisdom of this experience and not make the same mistakes…again.

Let’s hope our current and future elected officials learn from these mistakes. If they don't, we won't have a proud past nor a bright future.  

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