Sacramento: A City on the Verge?


Sacramento is a city on the verge. Over the last 20 years, I have watched it emerge from a "cow town" lassitude. This has been viewed as a well earned epithet by newcomers from either coast and a fond trademark to many long time Sacramento traditionalists. Although there was evidence of hyperbole in both camps, the city's lack of cultural and intellectual activities, its dependence on an economy driven by agricultural and state government has contributed to creating an often torpid local environment.

But much has changed in recent years. The city has grown both up, constructing several notably lofty skyscrapers, and out, growing ganglion like suburbs up and into the hills. The affordability of its housing has attracted entire towns of more cosmopolitan immigrants from the San Francisco area and beyond. This and a rising world class university at Davis have much enriched Sacramento society at all levels. Such emerging influences as the headquarters of Calpers and Calsters suggest a possible path to ascendancy as a serious financial capital of the west coast. Parallel to this, various other segments of the community, most prominently business, have taken a leadership role on land use, flood prevention and civic elevation in general.

Recently, the area's housing market, along with much of that for inland California, has gone bust. This ultimately may be beneficial, in that the rapid run up in housing prices threatened to subvert one of the region's core competencies --- affordable housing.

What will make the difference will be whether Sacramento successfully capitalizes on its assets as an affordable, economically dynamic place. Quite simply, this is largely a matter of local leadership. All the other ingredients are present to achieve the region’s ascendancy. But this can not happen without a substantial change in the local economic and political leadership.

Frank Washington is the Chairman/CEO of Tower of Babel LLC, which owns KBTV-CA, channel 8 in Sacramento, a multilanguage programming service carried throughout California’s Central Valley. He is also a past Chair of the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce and KVIE, Sacramento’s public TV station.