Such Great Heights

A community push for revitalization efforts in one of Sacramento’s most historically troubled neighborhoods starts by identifying who, not what, Del Paso Heights is and wants to be

Back Web Only Oct 28, 2015 By John Blomster

The internet does not paint a pretty picture of Del Paso Heights.

When a national team tasked with proposing revitalization measures Googled the North Sacramento neighborhood, crime stories filled the screen:

“Three wounded in Del Paso Heights shooting; Coroner identifies 23-year-old man killed in Del Paso Heights; What can be done with Del Paso Heights?” headlines read.

But that’s not the whole story, and local leaders say it is high time the community changed the narrative.

The city has placed a renewed focus on revitalization of the long-troubled neighborhood with the designation earlier this year of much of North Sacramento as a “Promise Zone,” creating federal, state and local partnerships meant to improve quality of life in cities’ most vulnerable areas.

Del Paso Heights’ transformation starts this month when, with the help of the City of Sacramento and an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Sustainable Design Assessment Team, the first steps of a grassroots push to makeover Del Paso Heights kick off with the opening of a major supermarket and the unveiling of a landmark neighborhood branding initiative.

The market, Viva Supermarket on Grand Avenue and Marysville Boulevard, fills a major need in a food desert and could serve as a starting point for growth, says City of Sacramento senior development project manager Veronica Smith.

“Not only was it a big win to get a grocery store, but now that we’re going to successfully beautify it, that just makes it even better to be a catalyst project in the neighborhood,” Smith says. “This has been something that has been a priority long before the Promise Zone even came along.”

According to AIA Central Valley chapter president Mike Parrott, efforts to bolster Del Paso Heights have been simmering in the community for years and really took hold when Vice Mayor Allen Warren took office.

“It was really the city that took a leadership role in making this happen,” Parrott says .

Community leaders and city officials reached out to the AIA national chapter, asking the organization to assess ways to revitalize Del Paso Heights. Parrott’s AIA chapter hosted the AIA Sustainable Design Assessment Team, seven members from around the country whose findings cast a vision for the area’s future based on who, not what, the neighborhood is and where it is going.

“The process was very oriented around defining what were the positive aspects of the community,” Parrott says. “And in that community, diversity and community pride are very important.”

The preliminary AIA SDAT report outlined the strengths and needs of the neighborhood, then laid out potential for residential and commercial growth with an expanded emphasis on active transportation and accessibility.

“With an existing development, existing infrastructure, you have the past that you have to deal with, and in this case there are some positives and all sorts of negatives that have to be overcome,” Parrott says.

Del Paso Heights is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Sacramento, with an almost even demographic split among white, black, Latino and Asian residents. It is also one of the youngest neighborhoods, with a median age of 27-years-old.

The area has long struggled to shake the perception that it is crime-ridden. Crime statistics from a 2015 Realtor.com study  show that the neighborhood has 78 percent more personal crime than the Sacramento average.According to May 2015 data from the City of Sacramento, District 2 (which encompasses Del Paso Heights) boasts the second-highest crime rate of any district in the city by a wide margin.

In order to change perception, development and businesses must breathe new life into the neighborhood; in order to attract new businesses and development, perception about the area has to change. What comes first?

“Starting in the community comes first,” Smith says. “Before we can really get to the point of attracting new investment and new development outside of the grocery store, it really has to start within the neighborhood.”

This is where Del Paso has a distinct advantage: There are more than 100 nonprofits and churches, a young, passionate demographic who want to see change, and community groups who are fighting to make that happen. Both Parrott and Smith echo one another, saying that there is an overwhelming sense of pride and a wealth of opportunity via large available lots, affordable real estate and untapped market potential.

The branding initiative, which will include a website serves as the central hub for events and updates pertaining to the revitalization efforts, is a major step in that direction, Smith says.

A potential vision for the future of Del Paso Heights can be found in Oak Park, which faces similar struggles with perception and crime. Parrott likens the two neighborhoods and says Oak Park is a step or two ahead, featuring a profusion of trendy businesses (Old Soul, Oak Park Brewing Company), open-air street fairs and farmers markets, and a renewed energy.

“[Oak Park is] doing amazing things, and it’s coming down to young risk-takers that are creative combining with people that have capital,” Parrott says. “There is a great deal of pride, and everyone’s willing to take a little bit of ownership of ‘We can change.’”

Changing preconceived notions about anything is a challenge; changing the narrative of an entire area is daunting.

But ultimately that change starts from within, and Del Paso has a jump start. What lies ahead will determine which new heights it reaches.