Top 10 Stories, Developements During the 2010's in Elk Grove

Over the last 10 years, there have been several developments that have affected Elk Grove for years, in real-time, and, more significantly, will for years to come.

We have compiled our Top 10 stories over the decade and, in a few cases, have invited submissions for commentary from community members. Thank you to our contributors.

There were many stories and events that affected the city and residents that did not make our Top 10. For example, the foreclosure crisis that hit Elk Grove hard early in the decade has subsided and was not included.

In making our list, we considered those stories which spanned several years, stories that will affect the city and residents for years to come, or have not been nor will ever be fully resolved.


10. Three city council vacancies in a row filled by appointments

Starting in 2012, the Elk Grove City council made an unprecedented three appointments to the city council. The first came in 2013 when Bob Trigg was appointed to the vacancy created when Gary Davis became the city's first directly mayor in 2012. Trigg was appointed to the seat after he promised not to seek election in 2014.

In early 2015 Darren Suen was appointed to the District 1 seat after Jim Cooper vacated his seat upon election to the California Assembly. Suen's selection - part of deal-making between the city council members and others at the time - was pre-ordained even before Cooper beat Darrell Fong for the 9th Assembly district seat.

The next appointment came in 2017 when Stephanie Nguyen was appointed to the District 4 seat vacancy created when Steve Ly was elected mayor. Not surprisingly, Suen and Nguyen booth easily won their election to full terms running as incumbents in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

The argument used both times to fill the vacancies was the cost of holding a special election was excessive. With by-district voting now, if there is a vacancy, it will be noteworthy to see what justification will be used to make appointments in the future, and given the unabashed political ambitions of most current members, this cycle could happen in the coming decade.

The net effect is that two current council members did not have to earn the privilege of serving constituents; it was granted to them.  

9. Race-based hate problems in Elk Grove, area schools

Elk Grove has been recognized as one of the country's most racially and ethnically diverse communities. Most people are proud of this and embrace this characteristic, but nonetheless, there have been problems that surfaced.

The most prominent of these is the murder of two men of the Sikh faith (see below). Notwithstanding those horrific events, there have been other incidents that have shaken at the foundation of Elk Grove's reputation.

Among the incidents was the racially motivated hate graffiti at an Old Town Elk Grove beauty salon, a viral hate social media posting from students at Pleasant Grove High School, and graffiti painted on an apartment. Those actions spurred wider community discussions about things such as police allegedly racially profiling African American motorists and the lack of employment diversity within Elk Grove city government.

Additionally, the topic of classroom equality at Elk Grove Unified School District's schools was widely discussed at school board meetings. The City of Elk Grove and Elk Grove Unified School District held community outreach meetings to allow residents to engage with elected officials and air their concerns. 

Fortunately, those overt hate-based actions have subsided in the last year. Nonetheless, given Elk Grove's expected population growth and the rise of hate-based crimes nationally, they could return.

8. The hate killing of two Sikh gentlemen 

Perhaps the most heinous crime in all of Elk Grove's history was the March 2011 murder of two men of the Sikh faith,  Gurmej Singh Atwal, and Surinder Singh. The two men were shot as they walked in the late afternoon along East Stockton Boulevard in north Elk Grove. 

The crimes, which remain unsolved to this day and considered hate-based, shook Elk Grove and reminded people that in spite of Elk Grove's diverse, welcoming population, no community is immune from hateful behavior. 

7. Changes in the City of Elk Grove's governance - directly elected mayor & by-district voting.

In 2010 voters decided Elk Grove should have a directly elected mayor, and in 2019, under threat of a civil and voters rights lawsuit, the Elk Grove City Council, under threat of a civil rights lawsuit, changed how council members are elected from at-large to by district. These were major changes and will influence governance for years to come.

Below a longtime community activist reflects on these changes.

By-District Voting – A Study of Perseverance
By Connie Conley 

When Elk Grove incorporated in 2000, it was because “we” wanted local control.  Many active citizens took that mission to heart to chart our city’s future.  Local control has a different meaning to different people.  However, to many citizens it means there can be no daily democracy without daily involvement.

In 2005, a group of citizens wanted two things.  (1) to elect our own mayor; and (2) to change to by-district voting.  Citizens rallied at that time and the Elk Grove City Council formed the Charter Commission which included those two goals.  The result, five years later, number one was put on the ballot for the voters to decide.  Number two would have to wait.

With perseverance, a change in California law, the involvement of a new group of diverse and committed residents, who wouldn’t give up, with acts of deliberate, incremental action to safeguard voting rights, the Elk Grove City Council instituted by-district voting in 2020.

When thinking of the “local control” citizen-driven changes made in our city government over the years, the famous quote by Margaret Mead comes to mind, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

6. Southeast Policy Area

Adopted by the Elk Grove City Council in July 2014, the Southeast Policy area developed a plan for 1,200-acres of undeveloped land. The intent of the plan developed was to make the area into an employment center meant to correct Elk Grove's worst-in-the-region jobs to housing imbalance.

How this area actually develops will, in turn, determine quality of life issues in Elk Grove like traffic congestion and air quality. 

A longtime Elk Grove resident and humorist offers this view of the SEPA. 

Innovative, Visionary Community Of The Future, Or Just More Of The Same? Curing Our Jobs/Housing Imbalance With Sleight Of Hand!
By DJ Blutarsky

Whenever a particular policy is being implemented and we can't figure out why, just follow the money trail. The City Council Members have said that the City needs to plan for long term growth, Hume once mentioning even planning 50 years down the road. But the real reason is money. 

First in line for the money are the home builders. The business model of a home building company is like a Ponzi scheme. They must keep building homes in order to stay alive. Like locusts, they also need to gobble up land to build their homes on. So, smart home builders will try to lock into longer term land purchase contracts so they can buy the land at less than current market rates. The larger the company, the longer the holding of property is possible before they get their ultimate payoff--building brand new shiny stucco boxes! So the City pushes to expand its jurisdictional boundaries because the development interests tell them to. 

Second in line for the money are the land sellers. Long-time Elk Grovian landowners, mostly the family-owned ranchers, have for the most part grown tired of ranching as a way of life and wish for a better life for them and their heirs. I'm not talking about the so-called "rural area" of Elk Grove that is dotted with individual homes on a few acres, criss-crossed with shortcut roads leading to Sacramento. I'm talking about the huge landholdings of say the Mahon and Souza families. For them, getting a big fat payoff check for fallow, or soon to be fallow land is like hitting the lottery. For example, on December 20th, the Sacramento Business Journal reported that a Bay Area investment firm paid $17 million to the Souza Dairy for 369 acres in the Southeast Policy Area. 

Third in line for the money is the City itself. The City acknowledges that residential growth does not pay for itself in terms of the cost of providing services, such as road maintenance, police protection, etc. Developers must pay "impact fees", but those fees have been held artificially low by you guessed it, and so the City must make up the difference by assessing supplemental taxes to each and every buyer of those new homes. The impact fees and corresponding tax assessments help support the City's expansion policy (and those in the money line), which can also be described as a Ponzi scheme. Collect money today to pay for yesterday's growth.

And last not but least in line for the money are the many construction workers, real estate agents, retailers, auto dealers, gardeners, etc. who profit from growth. When we are surrounded by thousands of acres of undeveloped land, any person speaking of slowing down the growth or at least making it higher quality, is essentially lambasted and told to go live in Davis! So to everyone who is stuck in traffic or just ran over a pothole, I say to you, keep paying your taxes and be happy for your house. Of course, a lot of other people got rich in the process of making Elk Grove bigger!



5. Even with California's legalization of recreational marijuana, illegal grow houses persist 

If there has been one criminal constant since Elk Grove formed its own police department almost 15 years ago, it has been the proliferation of illegal marijuana grow houses in the city. 

Every year this decade, and in some years seemingly every month, the Elk Grove Police department served warrants on these illegal operations. In recent years the search warrants have been served by the department Street Crimes Unit.

Along with the illegal growth of marijuana, many of the operations were also arrested for the theft of electricity. The operations proliferated in the early part of the decade with the rise of foreclosures and vacated houses, and even though that housing crisis subsided, the criminal enterprises persist.

In some of the grow operations, the arrest went beyond the workers tending the indoor plants. In one 2017 case an Elk Grove real estate agent was arrested on federal charges for allegedly arranging the purchase of houses, some in Elk Grove, with foreign money with the intent of operating illegal marijuana grows. 

So while marijuana can be purchased legally now following the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016  - just not in Elk Grove - expect these illegal grow operations to continue to flourish as demand for the lower-cost black market product strengthens. And of course, considerable police department resources will be deployed breaking up the black marketers. 

4. City loses bid on 2013 SOI annexation, but expansion persist 

SOI Elk Grove study area map, 2017. 

In November 2013, after a several-year process, the City of Elk Grove's sphere of influence (SOI) application was withdrawn after the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission - LAFCo - initially denied the request. The city had sought to annex 8,000-acres for future expansion.

Although that battle was lost, the city's quest to annex land south of Elk Grove's current boundaries continues in different ways. A smart planning advocate involved in that battle notes the city's thirst for expansion goes unabated to this day and provides further background on the unending process that will affect taxpayers for decades to come.

City's thirst for land goes unquenched 
By Lynn Wheat

Elk Grove became a city to bring local control allowing residents to have a stronger voice.  Since the initial adoption of the General Plan in 2003, our elected officials have supported a pro-growth policy and city staff was directed to submit an application in 2007 to Sacramento Local Formation Commission (LAFCo) to expand the city boundaries by 10,000-acres. After strong opposition from residents of Wilton and others, the Cosumnes River floodplain was removed from the application reducing the plan to 8,000 acres. 

Meanwhile, environmental groups in the region along with local community members of Elk Grove (who mobilized under the name of Elk Grove Grasp)  organized opposition and adopted platforms of avoiding sprawl, urban decay, and preserving farmland and natural resources.

The 8,000-acre Elk Grove Sphere of Influence application to expand the city’s boundaries was denied by Sacramento Local Agency Commission in November 2013. Before the second and final reading of the denial, the City of Elk Grove withdrew the application to avoid having to refile a new application in the future. Following the 2013 LAFCo denial for the 8,000-acre expansion, the city shifted its strategy to break the land grab up into smaller chunks and to have the applications filed by the property owners themselves.

One year later in 2014, the Mayor and City Council authorized the $4.4 million purchase of 100 acres outside of the city limits for a possible professional soccer stadium and fields (Identified as the Elk Grove Multi-sports Complex).

In 2015, the City submitted the Elk Grove Multi-sports Complex Sphere of Influence Application for 579 acres east of Grantline, which included 479-acres of surrounding properties for future commercial and industrial development.   

Also in 2015, the Mayor and City Council voted to update the 2003 General Plan to further strengthen the growth polices supportive of expansion beyond the city boundaries.

Two developer/property- owner-driven Sphere of Influence applications approved in 2018 were the 1,156-acre Kammerer Road SOI and the 479.86-acre Bilby Ridge SOI. It is assumed that annexation applications are being prepared at this time.

In May of 2019, LAFCo approved the Elk Grove Multi-sport Soccer Complex Sphere of Influence application. According to documents received under the public records act the city is actively preparing an annexation application and expects to submit it to LAFCo sometime in the next few months. 

It will be interesting to observe whether this land is ultimately developed with residential rooftops and retail after LAFCo approves the annexation. 

3. Wilton Rancheria proposed casino resort

In July 2016 the Wilton Rancheria unveiled plans for a $500 million resort casino. The facility, which is supported by the Elk Grove city council was touted at the time as a jobs magnet and part of the city's push to transform Elk Grove into a major tourism destination.

After some initial skirmishes initiated by the casino watchdog group Stand Up For California (SUFC), the Rancheria, with the help of Boyd Gaming, purchased land at the now-demolished unfinished Outlet Collection at Elk Grove, was able to place it into federal trust and negotiated a state gaming compact.

Even though the land was placed in federal trust, SUFC has subsequently litigated each action along the way. While tribal leaders said the casino construction was to have stared in 2019 with a 2020 opening date, the start of construction on the proposed casino is at a standstill because of the litigation and, more significantly, no identifiable financing source.

Even though the casino will probably be developed at some point, it is stalled with an uncertain construction start date and will be an ongoing story for years. 

2. Proposed California Northtstate University hospital 

In December 2018 an announcement was made about what would be the largest project ever proposed in Elk Grove - a 12 story, $900 million teaching hospital. That announcement was made by California Northstate University.

Even though this story broke near the end of the decade, it continues to develop, it will be around Elk Grove for years to come.

That announcement spurred widespread opposition to the project from nearby residents in the Stonelake, Lakeside and Laguna West neighborhoods who object to the demolition of the Stonelake Landing shopping center to accommodate the construction of the hospital. The opposition led to the formation of the group called Neighbors Ensuring Stonelake Transparency, NEST.

Below is a view of the CNU project submitted by NEST

CNU offers unrealistic timelines for a project that faces multiple obstacles 

CNU proposes to build a $900 million hospital and medical center on the site of the existing Stonelake Landing Center (Elk Grove Blvd at I-5). The project will require the demolition of existing small businesses who have invested their savings and passions into providing services to the community.  

The CNU website states, "Delivering in 2022" with construction beginning in 2020. They continue to promote this unrealistic timeline. CNU has received no approvals. The CNU Application is still incomplete, the draft Environmental Impact Report is just underway. There has been no traffic study, no Elk Grove City Council approval, no application to the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD). Furthermore, CNU's financing is questionable. The OSHPD approval alone can take several years. It is impossible for CNU to "deliver" in 2022.

Moreover, there are many obstacles that sit in the way of CNU building a hospital. Here are a few.  First, CNU wishes to build a 12-story building, larger than the California State Capitol, directly across from the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several environmental organizations have raised major concerns about this building in relation to the wildlife refuge and other environmental impacts. Second, the hospital sits in a 200-year flood plain and Elk Grove's General Plan and Municipal Code prohibits locating critical health facilities in such a location.       

These are obstacles that do not affect Dignity Health, which has announced that phase one of its hospital is scheduled for completion in 2025 at Elk Grove Blvd. and Wymark Drive near Costco.  Dignity's hospital project has already been approved by the Elk Grove City Council and Dignity has experience building hospitals. On January 8, 2020, Dignity Health will have an unveiling ceremony at its future hospital site and the Elk Grove City Council members should be there, having reason to celebrate a fully developed plan for a hospital the City approved.       

1. Elk Grove Promenade - End of an era

The story of the Elk Grove shopping center that was known in chronological order as the Lent Ranch Mall, the Elk Grove Promenade and the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove finally had a closing chapter this year. This was no short story either - it is a story that predates Elk Grove's incorporation and moved through Elk Grove's almost 20 years as a city.

The crux of this story actually begins when things stopped, as in the stop of construction of the shopping center first developed by General Growth Properties. In late July 2008, just as the economy was entering the Great Recession and the worldwide credit crunch, construction at the shopping center came to a halt never to resume.

Following that GGP entered bankruptcy and ownership transferred to the Howard Hughes Company. Even though HHC and just about every member of the Elk Grove City Council member repeatedly promised the imminent resumption of construction, it never happened. 

Early this year, HHC announced what everyone knew for years - the center would be demolished. Although it is not known what will become of that property, which is adjacent to the Wilton Rancheria's proposed casino report, this chapter in Elk Grove's history is closed. 

The only question left is what will be in the next proposed use for that commercial parcel.

We bid adieu! 

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2019. All right reserved.

Post a Comment Default Comments


D.J. Blutarsky said...

Good wrap up on the decade Dan!

Your choice of the Promenade mall as your #1 event of the decade left off a few important lasting benefits though...

After the stillborn mall was partially constructed and the buildings sat there looking like Stonehedge, the site served as a huge parking lot of unsold inventory for the nearby auto dealers. Given a few too many drinks and the sun being at just the right angle, one could have been easily fooled into thinking the mall was open for business!

Finally, let's give kudos to the one job that was created by the mall, and to this day earns my title as the "Loneliest Job in Elk Grove". I am referring of course to the roving security guard who continues to patrol the vast expanse of the decaying asphalt parking lot.

The auto dealers have long cleared out their inventory, but day in and day out, that little white subcompact patrol vehicle buzzes around the site like a giant Roomba robot vacuum cleaner. And not all was lost when the mall was demolished--that earth-tone brown porta potty sits in the lot to remind us of what coulda been!

Happy New Year mall security guard--we applaud you and for having the loneliest job in the city!

Josie said...

Actually it could have all been summed up as SYSTEM FAILURE!

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