Shooting challenges downtown Sacramento rebuilding efforts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The mass shooting that police say was a shootout between rival gangs that left six people dead and 12 injured earlier this month rocked downtown California’s capital — and created a another challenge for a city trying to redefine itself as a destination for more than government workers.

In recent years, downtown Sacramento has benefited from billions of dollars of development but has been rocked by rising crime, protests leading to property damage and an economic beating caused by the pandemic. Today the city is reeling from the aftermath of the April 3 shooting, when at least five gunmen fired 100 shots as people left bars and nightclubs.

The violence just blocks from the Capitol highlights the successes and challenges many American urban centers face as struggles with crime and homelessness persist despite revitalization efforts.

Although Sacramento is home to over 500,000 people, it is considered sleepy by California standards. The derisive nickname “Cowtown” arose from his farming roots.

Today, downtown is at the center of the city’s efforts to become an entertainment and dining destination. Local officials have worked to rebrand the town as “America’s Farm to Fork Capital,” a nod to a slew of acclaimed restaurants that source ingredients from the area’s many farms.

A major part of the revitalization is a six-block strip of K Street anchored by a renovated convention center and the Golden 1 Center, home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and a regular stop for major concert tours. The shooting happened in a block that is home to high-end nightclubs but also dotted with vacant buildings that once housed cafes and restaurants.

Police have made two arrests in connection with the shooting, but no one has been charged with homicide. The violence “came at a really pivotal time for downtown,” said Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, who represents the area.

“It gets me thinking about where we’re going from here – and as a city, not just as a downtown,” she said.

A century ago, K Street was a bustling and diverse center of activity. But the strip struggled as people moved into the suburbs, giving way to decades of failed revival efforts, including the construction of a mall in the late 1960s and the launch of a light rail line in the 1980s.

A new wave of investment arrived in the area a decade ago, with new businesses opening on K Street as part of an effort to revive the city center after the financial crisis. The opening of the Golden 1 Center in 2016 was intended to build on that, helping to generate $6.7 billion in nearby investment and spurring the opening of 150 new businesses, according to business group Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

Then the pandemic hit, sending many of the 100,000 downtown workers home and forcing some businesses to close. Today, around 45,000 people work downtown daily, according to the partnership.

As employment declined, crime increased. Aggravated assaults, burglaries and vandalism increased in 2020 and 2021 from the previous five years for an area of ​​about 100 square blocks that includes the Capitol and the arena, according to Sacramento Police crime data. .

The city’s central hub has also served as the epicenter of protests focused on racial justice and police misconduct. In 2018, protesters closed a downtown freeway entrance and blocked fans from entering the arena after Sacramento police shot and killed a young black man. Then protests in 2020 over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis swept the city. Many downtown properties were vandalized and some ransacked.

“We’ve had a lot of different realities hitting downtown in different waves,” said Dion Dwyer, director of public space services for the business partnership.

Now, Sacramento is among the cities recovering from the recent mass shootings. Since 2017, there have been 133 mass shootings in the United States, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.

Dayton, Ohio, in 2019 was rocked when a gunman killed nine people and injured 17 just after midnight at a bar in the city’s main entertainment district of 140,000. Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said officials implemented an “intentional strategy to reclaim the neighborhood” after the shooting.

Within three weeks of the violence there was a free performance by Dave Chappelle, who lives out of town. The community rallied to support local businesses, but it took time for people to feel comfortable returning to nightlife. The pandemic hit just as that activity was rebounding, Gudorf said.

“In people’s minds and hearts, they knew that didn’t define who we are. It was an incident, it was a tragic incident where we lost lives and people were injured,” she said. “I think it just took time to process all of that.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg has repeatedly said people should continue to feel comfortable going downtown.

“It’s not one or the other ‘when it comes to taking advantage of the city’s entertainment offerings and feeling safe,'” he said last week.

Rachel Muro, director of Capital Books, a local business several storefronts away from the shooting, said the downtown area had problems like any city, but people shouldn’t avoid it. The owners of the bookstore recently opened a board game cafe just around the corner.

“We believe in this part of town enough to keep it thriving,” Muro said.

Elsewhere on the block, the area’s problems are evident, with many office and restaurant spaces vacant. Homelessness downtown and elsewhere in Sacramento has been a vexing issue.

Last week, the city council voted to place a measure on the November ballot requiring the city to build more shelter beds and ban camping on public land. Councilor Valenzuela opposed the plan and said it was inappropriate to debate the proposal so soon after the tragedy.

Crystal Sanchez, president of the Sacramento Homeless Union, said homeless people lived downtown because the neighborhood was lit and there was a lot of activity and lots of alcoves near businesses. where they could take shelter.

“People are here because there are creeks for shelter,” Sanchez said.

At a brewery a few blocks from the filming site, co-workers over drinks wondered if filming had changed their view of the city.

Braden Kolb, who was at a downtown bar for a friend’s 30th birthday party the day before the shooting, said he hangs out downtown about once a month and the shooting “won’t change my behavior”.

But his friend Jason Slieter said the incident left him wondering if Sacramento was the right place to raise his family, saying he felt a heaviness downtown coming to work after the six died. people.

“It really felt like something had changed,” he said.


Associated Press reporters Adam Beam in Sacramento and Camille Fassett in Oakland contributed.

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