Folsom Streetscape Concept Passes Council Approval, Unanimously


On Tuesday 23rd October, Folsom City Council considered a resolution approving the streetscape concept plan.

Amy Feagans, Director, City Redevelopment and Housing, first presented the how and why we reached this point of presenting the Folsom Streetscape concept. The reason for doing this was to improve the economic vitality of historic Folsom. A retail study was commissioned, which identified a lot of opportunities.

Feagans said “We could be viewed as lacking in arts and entertainment.” and there were “Lots of comments on traffic and circulation, pedestrian, vehicular – all could use some improvement. We’ve got issues with the trees, particularly in the 700 block. We’ve got a median built on top of old highway 50 where theres 18 inches of concrete and the trees are on top of that. They are very unstable, their roots are in very shallow soil and the roots haven’t been able to go down, they go out. The arborist has said over and over they are at the end of their lifespan, they aren’t healthy. The other thing, accessibility improvements. We’re all familiar with the high sidewalks and stairs and lack of opportunity for anyone with any minor disability to get around down there … and it makes deliveries very difficult.” Finally, the last two, fire suppression and sewer and water upgrades … this gives us a great opportunity to repair some of this old work,” referring to the deteriorating old clay pipes.

Michael Smiley, the Streetscape consultant then presented the plan, including many photographs and drawings. This was a similar presentation to the one delivered previously to the Historic District Commission.

Part of Historic Sutter Street, Folsom.
Part of Historic Sutter Street, Folsom

It was noted that in order to remove any individual shed roof, a demolition permit would be required from the Historic District Commission. Before that happened, City Staff would work with individual property owners to come up with a replacement, through the facade improvement program.

Glenn Riley spoke as a Historic District Commissioner. Glenn said he was keen to see safety improved, the streets enlarged to improve flow and was in favor of approving the concept.

Jeff Ferreira-Pro, FEDCorp Project Manager for Revitalization first explained the open process used to get to this point, beginning with the identification of the stakeholders with interest in the project. He said “There were many, including property owners, merchants, residents, historic preservationists, developers, city staff and elected or appointed public review groups. We looked for common ground and we found nearly universal agreement on two things.”

“First, the special character of the historic district helps define Folsom as something more than a suburb of Sacramento. And Sutter Street is the most significant defining element of that special character.”

He emphasized that “Everyone wants to retain that sense of character and this is reinforced by the retail study which emphasized this unique character as the critical asset that gives Sutter Street an advantage over the many other shopping options in the region.”

Jeff paused to say “I’d like to make a distinction here between character and history. The history of Sutter Street is of constant evolution. Very little remains of the original 19th century version of the street. It is not a snapshot in time from any one era. Nevertheless it is still appreciated because of that historic character. However, not everyone agrees on what defines that character, which leads to the second universal agreement which was … At the beginning, nearly everyone was skeptical of our revitalization project because they believed we’d have a hard time getting all the stakeholders to talk to each other, much less agree on anything. For many, the skepticism was so strong, they declined to participate in our public meetings because they didn’t want to waste their time.”

“We held 14 public meetings, averaging about 30 people per meeting, with at least a few from each of the key stakeholder groups present at each one. We’ve also presented the revitalization plans including the Streetscape Concept at countless meetings with individual stakeholders. In these discussions we’ve sought people’s ideas and concerns and tried to incorporate this input into the plan. In addition, we have well over 300 people on our email list. As we were developing the Conceptual plan, we formed a nine-member StreetScape Committee that included Bill Andersen from the FEDS Railway Association, Candy Miller from the Historic Preservation League, Charles McCann from the Folsom Area Bicycle Advocates, Dorothy Cormack a 700 Block merchant, Gail Mathey from the Arts and Cultural Commission, Jennifer Clemens from the FHDA Design Committee, Lisa Denise, a local artist, Nora Robinson, past president Folsom Historic District Residents Association, Mike Readinger, a local architect, who unfortunately passed away this last spring.”

The Streetscape Committee unanimously endorsed the final plan now before the council.

Jeff issued an invitation to all those who declined to participate up to this point. “Join us now, the process is moving forward and some decisions are already needing to be made, however, there are many details to be worked out and many opportunities for your good ideas to be incorporated into the final solution.”

In closing he said “I believe we all share a love for this district and none of us wants to see it harmed.”

The mayor noted that there were 27 requests to speak.

Candy Miller, vice Chairman of the Historic District Commission was first to speak. She said “I am in full support of this concept. The design guidelines call for a pre-1900 timeframe, so all changes will have to be compatible with that. Regarding the shed roofs, under this plan, new shed roofs can be built, they would just be more appropriate to the building design. In fact, the owners of Emily’s have an approved new overhang that they are very anxious to build. Regarding sidewalks, as the consultant stated, the raised sidewalks will remain – they are necessary to access the buildings in the 700 and 800 blocks.”

Candy noted that it is the intent of the Historic Commission to incorporate the existing sections of the historically significant sidewalks wherever possible.

Regarding the median “I strongly feel that removing the median is the best way to restore our history and make Sutter Street a true destination for both residents and visitors. Phasing in these changes is vital to the success of this project. Candy strongly urged the Council to push the process forward.”

Madeleine Moseley said she spoke on behalf of many people who want to retain the median and said she thought the existing trees had plenty of soil and room to grow. Madeleine had many signatures from people who said they wanted to retain the median, based on questions she asked them.

Marty Stroud, who recently moved to Folsom from Virginia said his mother and grandparents were from Folsom, said “I am concerned about retaining the character.”

June Chan, concerned about her property at 917 Sutter Street said she likes the shed roof on her property, wants to have a cultural assessment of the property and would like it to be a Chinese museum. June said she has a photo of the residential building from 1965.

Byron Foster from B street, West Sacramento made the point that there are ways to make streets more livable and walkable and encouraged the city to retain the current concept, including the median, intact.

Andrea Barrows said her husband’s father was instrumental un restoring the Wells Fargo building where the Folsom History Museum is.

Katheryn Corbett, a resident of Figueroa Street spoke about Folsom being “one of the most enchanting places” she knows, and said she “went into shock when the revitalization fact-finding bus trip went to Walnut Creek” because it wasn’t historic. Catherine asked the City to listen to the consensus of the people and considers the removal of the median “defacing the street.”

Josh Margolis, whose family owns Folsom Hotel, one of the most historic buildings in the street, said he would like to see “removing the median and widening sidewalks to get more use out of the street.”

Dorothy Cormack, resident of Figueroa Street and owner of Rainbow Bridge Jewellers in the 700 block has been here for 30 years. Dorothy said the main thing that concerned her is that the properties are vulnerable to fire, that she didn’t care about the median. She said “The median could survive a fire but the buildings would not,” meaning that safety and the buildings are much more important than the median.

Bob Cullifer, a Sacramento resident has been in Folsom for 19 years as pastor of Landmark Baptist Church in Figueroa Street spoke against removing the median. He said that “from 1966 a section of Sutter takes on a new look that improved the street by adding a median, trees and grass.” Bob also thanked the City Council for coming to the aid of the historic District over many years.

Deino Trotta, a resident of Figueroa Street advocated a different direction. He praised Jeff Ferreira-Pro, who united many groups who were previously not cooperating with each other, and now there are consistencies between the groups. Deino said “I am concerned with traffic flows and their effect on streetscape.” He said a plan should “echo the concerns of citizens” and we should “look for a long term view.”

Deteriorating shed roof, Sutter Street Folsom.
Deteriorating shed roof, Sutter Street Folsom

Loretta Hettinger spoke in favor of revitalization but against streetscape, saying that traffic is a battleground and people coming back to the railroad block was the battleground. She was concerned that the design ideas shown in the conceptual drawing were not historic. She said she wants FedCorp and history groups to hammer out a historic design.

Courtney Puffer spoke about the street needing maintenance and infrastructure improvements in sewers and fire suppression. He said the key is to maintain historic integrity and that once history is gone, it can not be replaced.

Jim Snook owns a business and a property in Sutter Street. He said until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of city investment in Sutter Street. He said he was sure the Historic District guidelines can be used to make a street we can be proud of. Jim had praise for Jeff Ferreira-Pro and FEDCorp for the work they have done in such a short time. He said the street is in serious need of attention and that he expected the reuse of various median elements in a new design.

Ellen Hester, research director of the history museum informed the Council the museum has 234 research binders on Folsom, mostly historic. Ellen said she has walked Sutter Street for 65 years and has seen all the changes, saying she loves the history and the character. She noted that now we had the concept, after that comes the details and she urged the Council to vote for the conceptual design.

Linda from Sacramento, came to the microphone in her wheel chair. Linda said she comes to Sutter Street a lot and she likes the antiques and history. She is originally from Idaho and often stops at Folsom in her travels, especially to eat. She said that improvement needs to be made but don’t take away the history. While talking about her minimal needs for wheelchair access, she noted that it was difficult for people in wheelchairs to reach the traffic light button at crossing points and that we need slower traffic.

Jack Olson, from Folsom Lake Bank approved of the conceptual design and said Sutter Street changes should make it a draw for Folsom.

Bob Flautt, Folsom Lake Bank stressed the safety aspects that would be improved by removing the median.

Gary Richard, local resident, realtor and recently appointed chair of the FHDA design committee invited people to be a part of the design process and help move the design along.

Richard Gray spoke about the median trees because he was one of the volunteers who planted them, in 1966 in less than 10 inches of soil. Richard noted that in 1964, many of the Sutter Street properties were boarded up and were used as warehouses at the rate of 12 to 15 cents per square foot. The revitatilisation at that time increased the value by more than 100%. He said “I am in favor of the ‘second coming’ of the revitalization.” Regarding the construction of the median, he stated that the granite blocks were laid directly on the roadway and soil was added for grass. The trees were added later, in 1966, in less than ten inches of soil because there was approximately 12 to 18 inches of solid concrete under the roadway, so the trees were planted in the hole they had already dug.

Jerry Bernau said that he heard the concerns about removing the trees and the width of the roadway. The conceptual design showed many more trees than there are currently. The conceptual proposal called for a narrower roadway, from 32 to 26 feet, which should slow traffic even more and the six trees in the median would be compensated for by using approximately 20 large trees on the sidewalks. Gerry said he is in favor of moving the median into the sidewalks so better use can be made of the space.

Deborah Grassi, a local resident said she is excited about the revitalization. She said she was on the bus tour that visited other areas to get ideas for the conceptual design. Deborah said she felt this is the beginning of something really great for Folsom and invited participation from everyone.

Motor cycle parking on the Median in Sutter Street Folsom.
Motor cycle parking on the Median in Sutter Street Folsom.

Charles McCann, bike advocate and Sutter Street lover said he had been part of all the meetings leading up to the conceptual design and he considered it to be pedestrian and bicycle-friendly. Charles, expressing humor, said he saw the loss of the median only a problem for motorcycle parking and smoking. He advocated approval of the concept.

Dave Tanel, long term resident and previous design committee chair said the median was not designed well and expects that there can be changes for the better. As an example of a recent major improvement to a Sutter Street building, 807 Sutter was a nondescript shell that now has been restored and is home to The Black Rooster. Dave said the idea is to take the beautiful architecture and improve it by removing the neglected shed roof, which is a fire hazard and does not constitute a historic element. He urged the City Council to consider approving the conceptual design.

GF Cloud, property and business owner of 608/9 Sutter Street said he strongly in support of the proposed concept. Jeff said watching the details is going to make this historic. He also said that generally, he is not a big fan of consultants but the consultants did a great job of researching the area and coming up with great ideas. He closed by saying “take out the shed roofs and let the architecture show.”

Don Perkins, owner of 608 Sutter said he was impressed by the development plans but worried about fire in the district.

Larry Cateris of Pachangas said he is in favor of the concept. He said he can see the street deteriorating and that it needs the revitalization to go ahead. “I welcome the revitalization and I think it will bring in more merchants, with new shops, more tourists to Sutter Street and hopefully businesses that will be open past 5pm. I am in full favor of the revitalization”

Paul Kerfeld was on the circulation committee but no action appeared to be taken on their recommendations. Paul said he would like to see traffic calming, beautification and medians in other areas, such as Bidwell Street.

Jennifer Lane, a member of the Historic District Commission stated that she voted against the Streetscape Plan when it was proposed at the Historic District Commission recently. (the sole dissenting voice) She said she wanted to see the median retained because it provided shade and pause for pedestrians crossing Sutter Street. Jennifer posed the question “how is it that Sutter Creek has high sidewalks yet it is ADA compliant?” Jennifer urged a vote against the proposal.

Karen Holmes, of Karen’s Bakery Cafe, speaking for the proposal, said history is always in the making and that we are not talking about turning the area into a Sunrise Mall.

Ken Dixon expressed the concern that he didn’t know the whole plan for the area.

Joe Gagliardi, FEDCorp CEO talked about the short history that got us to this point. After the dam road closed, we followed the Main Street Association plan. He said they key to all of this is in the details, including tenant mix. He said everyone needs to look at all the elements in the conceptual plan.

Tony Powers, a resident of Forest Gate said he is in full support of the plan, that he loves the shed roofs and median and the idea of gateways. Tony suggested perhaps there could be a small median with a tree for shade, some sheds. He also suggested a small traffic circle on Sutter Street, at Reading Street. In addition, the process managed by FEDCorp was good and needs to continue to get more people involved.

Broken Median and rising roots in Sutter Street Folsom.
Broken Median and rising roots in Sutter Street Folsom.

The Mayor thanked everyone for speaking and contributing, saying the Council is very sensitive to and concerned about what we have in Sutter Street. “History is about preservation and appreciation and we want to make sure we capture both of those elements.” He said “We want to make sure this piece of Folsom is competitive for people’s attention. … I am convinced approving this concept is the right thing to do.”

Kerry Howell thanked Jeff Ferreira Pro and FEDCorp especially for the process they created. She noted that historically, there was a constant battle between merchants and residents and said she is thrilled we got to this point. “The medians and the roofs have been the major issue. There is a lot of logic on both sides of the equation. I am personally thrilled to see outdoor seating at Pachanga and Sutter Street Grill and I’d like to see more of it … I think a lot of the ideas presented here, most importantly the traffic circulation needs to go forward. I am anxious to see us move forward with the project.”

Steve Miklos said he wanted to see safety put ahead of practicality. “All liveable, walkable communities are designed around public safety.” He noted that some people complained there was no plan, but said that is exactly what we have – a concept plan, an idea on which to create a design. “Its been a total inclusionary, workable vision for the whole community, regularly advertised, one of the most remarkable processes the city has done. Sutter Street is such a spectacular jewel and we only get one shot at doing it right. I will cast an affirmative vote on moving this forward this evening.”

Jeff Starsky told us it is critical to change. “We need to revitalize this area. If you leave it, it will fail. The forces of competition are fierce.”

“Jeff Ferreira-Pro, you are a smashing success. I was one of those people who said you are crazy – it will never happen – and you have absolutely blown my mind with what you’ve accomplished here.”

Starsky said fire protection is a critical issue – we have to do everything to protect this valuable asset. “The Sutter Street infrastructure is failing – we have known that for some time. We have to revitalize the infrastructure itself. That alone creates an opportunity for us to invest some serious funds in how we can make this a better place.”

“This plan is absolutely a step in the right direction”

“I am very supportive of the plan because it is time for a change. It is also important that it be ADA compliant.”

Councillor Starsky moved resolution 274R, seconded by Councillor Miklos.

Eric King thanked the crowd for supporting the speakers. Talking about how we got here, he thanked FEDCorp for creating consensus. He then posed the rhetorical question “Is the median enough to throw this back into a loop?” and said “I believe the decision we are making today is critical to moving forward and making it viable. Its about bringing vitality to the area and keeping it vital.” … He said the City is investing heavily in Folsom – the railroad block is going to be incredible, and so is Sutter Street. “I hope that everyone who loves the history and really loves this area will get involved.”

King closed, saying “I am strongly in support of this resolution because I want to move forward with the redevelopment of this area and not lose this opportunity.”

The motion was put and passed unanimously.

Editor’s Note:

Together, we can make Folsom even better than it is now.

It is looking tired and we can make it retain its charm and character, not make it look like fake historic, but authentic historic and vibrant and useable again.

Even though we can’t see it, I think it is sick but hanging in.

There’s a lot of rot in the buildings and trees, problems in the sewers and electrics and I worry it is a disaster waiting to happen.

We’ve got a lot of work to do to design it right.

Nobody is going to allow this to turn into a modern mall – because we all love Historic Folsom.

Please email me to let me know a) what you think of this story b) if you’d like to receive alerts when new Folsom-related stories are published.

Alan Gray is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of NewsBlaze Daily News and other online newspapers. He prefers to edit, rather than write, but sometimes an issue rears it’s head and makes him start pounding the keyboard. Alan has a fascination with making video and video editing, so watch out if he points his Canon 7d in your direction.