Bougie Nights in Tacky Sac

This essay marks Murica Derp’s entry into contention with the Sacramento News and Review as a source of serious Sactown reportage.

How can I say such a thing? Look, I didn’t say that I’m a contender against the Bee. Nor did I compare myself to my fellow Central Penn homeboy gone west Scott Dettrow. No, I compare myself to this. Consider that this article, cutely titled “The Kay After Tomorrow,” is this week’s feature piece in the News and Review, and then read bits of clumsiness like this:

It costs $2.50 to ride the light rail for five blocks on K, but the journey offers a front-row seat to the street’s challenges.

If that sentence meets the News and Review’s editorial standards, I have some stories of my own to publish. It cost me $58, or maybe a different amount (damned if I’ll fact-check this shit), for Amtrak fare from Los Angeles to Sacramento, but I had to listen to the conductor on the 703 San Joaquin tell passengers to “exit where you see a nattily attired conductor” and make a really bad CCR reference that, among the three dozen passengers on the train, only I got, to wit, “we wouldn’t want you to be stuck in Lodi–AGAIN!” Similarly, it cost me $1.85 to buy a coffee at a Starbucks in Brea, but one of the cutest baristas I’ve ever met seemed to have a crush on me.

What the hell does any of that have to do with anything? Hey, I’m writing for the News and Review, bitch!

Actually, it gets worse. In that pointless aside, Nick Miller managed to badly misrepresent Regional Transit’s fare structure by omission. That same $2,50 would have taken him from his paper’s office in Del Paso Heights clear down to St. Rose if he’d had the presence of mind. If he’d wanted, that same $2.50 ticket could have taken him all the way to Folsom, a trip of over twenty miles, with no zone fare surcharges. For $6.00, he could have traveled all over hell (except for the part west of the river) all day long. Regional Transit is a rip-off only for morons who use it to travel distances that they could comfortably walk in fifteen minutes and then bitch about the price. Its base fares are steep compared to most agencies, and a lot of things about its fleet, service levels, and clientele suck balls, but it’s a pretty damn good deal for longer-distance travel.

That clumsy, accidentally misleading writing offers an idea of how the News and Review franchises discreetly suck. It’s true of most other free city weeklies, too. Rarely do they publish four articles in the same issue about anything worthwhile, reserving the rest for cryptomarketing plugs about nightclubs and shitty local bands. Actually, the ads for the massage parlors in the back are pretty useful, although it would be nice to see more for establishments whose masseuses can be expected to speaka thuh Engrish.

These are the “alternative” papers, the ones that are supposedly taking on the thorny problems that the big corporate papers won’t touch. Read it and weep.

Still, the alt weeklies aren’t as bad as the marketeers that they cover. Nick Miller tells us that the downtown boosters have started promoting K Street as “the Kay.” Ooh, yeah, just add a definite article at the front and spruce up the spelling for cutesiness, and you’ll transform a strip of check-cashing joints, bail bond offices, intractably seedy bodegas, and SRO’s into a nightlife destination! Shit, let’s just add definite articles to everything and fix everything. Just look at all the places where it’s worked wonders: New York (the Bowery, the Dirty Thirty), Philadelphia (the Badlands), Miami (the Pork ‘n Beans), New Orleans (the Lower Ninth Ward), Chicago (the Robert Taylor Homes, the South Side), Los Angeles (the South Bay), Santa Rosa (the welfare block), San Francisco (the Castro, the Mission, the Tenderloin). Damn, that’s three seedy neighborhoods in ONE CITY that were straight-up cured of all their brokenness by a single definite article! Magic! Dude, Napoleon, thanks for letting us borrow the liger! You did us a solid, man!

Yet we discover that one does not simply rid downtown of the junkies. They’re entrenched. They’re self-perpetuating. Thank Satan and Greyhound, if you wish, that they’re not gone. Definitely thank Regional Transit. On the other hand, Regional Transit also runs its freak trolleys to places that the CBD boosters would certainly consider a better fit for the losers of the inner city, as I know from personal experience, having stayed a stone’s throw from both the Power Inn and Sunrise stations. It’s the European model of administering the bum’s rush and getting the grungies the hell off the quaint high streets. This being Sacramento, however, the American model of aggregating the gnarliness around city hall and the train station is also indispensable; there’s just too much home-grown wretched refuse to do anything else. Sac has gnarly shit going down in the eastern suburbs, the southern suburbs, downtown, along the rivers, in the western suburbs (Sac and Yolo Counties have excellent cultural continuity), and on the mid-south side (there’s a de facto police station at the Broadway light rail stop). Midtown is nearly the only mixed-use neighborhood that is kind of spared.

The sociology around here is really enigmatic. Over the past few years, as I’ve spent more time in Sacramento and, crucially, less of it on and directly around the transit system, I’ve repeatedly revised downward my estimate of the percentage of locals who are junkies, scooter-bound trailer whales, thug-life homeys, irredeemable wiggers, and fellow-traveling drains on society. For a while, I was seriously worried that a small majority of Sacramentans were fucking their town up, but these days I’d say that it’s more like five percent. Even starting at some of the sketch-ass light rail stops, including both Broadway and Sixteenth, it takes only a short walk to discover that Regional Transit and Yolobus are attracting an unrepresentative sample of uglies. I started to notice, for example, that a lot of fully functional and respectable people appear never to set foot on Regional Transit or Yolobus, choosing instead to use their cars as hermetically sealed cultural bubbles. Antonio Villaraigosa and Michael Bloomberg may blame them, but I’ve done a lot of bus and light rail travel around here, so I certainly don’t. I’d love to have them on board to outnumber the thug life asshats, but I’d also like Regional Transit to clean its fucking rail cars. I suppose what this means for the downtowner is that valet parking you will have with you always.

Weirder, though, is the exceptional respectability of the downtown nightlife scene. I don’t see meathead club security goons around here, and the clubgoers don’t look like bunch of vapid morons. The bullshit of other cities’ drinking districts–Hollywood Boulevard, the Gaslamp Quarter, Manayunk–is absent. The locals seem to enjoy non-stoopid drinking venues, like pubs where one doesn’t have to yell over an industrial din to carry on a conversation with someone two feet away. Or maybe I’m just not venturing far enough from the light rail system to see the shitfaced social-climbing idiocy. If so, I’m certainly seeing plenty of downmarket garbage behavior to compensate for it.

The problem that Downtown and the fringe parts of Midtown still face, as Miller discussed at length in his K Street article, is developing an organic, self-sustaining social fabric at the neighborhood level instead of importing people from bedroom communities for a few hours at a time. The answer, his interviewees told him, is housing. Midtown has pulled off mixed-use development pretty successfully, but downtown residential life remains mostly a mix of rescue missions, flophouses, and junkies pissing on the street. Specifically, on the Kay.

Cleaning that shit up would be great, but the problem is finding something to do with the down-and-out. The boosters’ approach to this dilemma has all the moral rectitude of the Paris police loading all the bums along the Seine onto buses and driving them into the banlieue. To wit:

***Qualifications For A CADA Rental***
RENTAL HISTORY: CADA gives preference to applicants with three years of CURRENT stable, positive, rental
history. Less rental history may be allowed if combined with strong qualifications in other categories, such as stable income equal to three times the rent, plus good credit. Rental history generally does not include living with, or renting from, friends or relatives. Unexplained gaps in rental history, conflicting rental history information, eviction or negative landlord reference will
disqualify you from renting with CADA.
INCOME: CADA gives preference to applicants who earn three-times the monthly rent of the chosen apartment.
Applicants must be able to show stability in the receipt of this income (i.e. long-term receipt of income from employment or other verifiable source). Two-times the monthly rent may be allowed if other rental qualifications are strong. Additionally, applicants must show a history of paying the same rent-to-income ratio that will be in place when renting from CADA. Applicants to CADA’s rental-assistance programs must meet the minimum income guidelines set by the rental assistance program. See CADA’s website for more information on CADA’s rental assistance programs.
CREDIT: CADA gives preference to applicants who have current credit accounts with a history of on-time
payments. If current accounts are lacking, closed credit accounts with a positive history may still be considered with strong qualifications in the other categories. Lack of credit or negative credit history (bankruptcy, late payments, and unpaid accounts) will not automatically disqualify you from renting with CADA if you have extremely strong qualifications in other areas (i.e. longterm positive rental history, several years of stable income, etc.).
A co-signer or increased deposit may be allowed in limited circumstances to make up for minor deficiencies in the above

In other words, all of your bougie is belong to us.

That’s official government policy, by the way. The landlord stipulating the conditions above, the Capitol Area Development Authority, is a municipal-state joint powers authority.

This is explicit, government-sanctioned redlining. That’s all there is to it. Yet somehow this shit made it past the social justice community without being shredded, and past the courts. It was probably just a matter of political apathy, bourgeois contempt for the commonweal, and utter judicial disregard for equity as a compelling legal interest.

Think about these conditions for a minute. Who has unstable rental histories? The poor. Who gets evicted on unlawful detainers following job losses and family emergencies? The poor. Who has shitty credit? Sometimes the superficial middling and rich, but usually the poor. Who gets fired on pretexts by sadistic or spineless bosses? Disproportionately the poor. Who gets absolutely screwed over by predatory landlords? Overwhelmingly the poor. Who is forced to move in with relatives or friends as a stopgap to make ends meet? Once again, the poor.

Or maybe we should say: the poors. It takes above-median income to reliably avoid these circumstances. The contempt for the upstanding working poor and even the upstanding working lower middle class implicit in these rental conditions is plainly dripping. These conditions aren’t in place to keep the criminally deviant or the severely mentally ill from overrunning CADA’s apartment buildings. They’re effectively a form of rent-seeking by keeping out the kind of people who can’t always make rent on time. This kind of people happens to overlap rather completely with the kind of people who are not loaded, either personally or by proxy through generous wealthy relatives.

Arguably, they’re also a form of proxy rent-seeking on behalf of neighborhood business owners. Who’s more likely to drop the big bucks at Ma Jong’s: an attorney or a hotel housekeeper? A marketing account executive or a 7-Eleven cashier? This is more than urban renewal; it’s codified graft on behalf of companies whose business models depend on rich customers.

It might as well be soft ethnic cleansing. Of course, all kinds of evil that might be mentioned in the same breath gets a political and judicial pass because the draconian terms at issue are written in accordance with laws against discrimination (except against the poor) and applied uniformly (i.e., against the poor like John Henry’s hammer against the granite of North Georgia). CADA isn’t trying to bar the door against career criminals or the hopeless bottom five percent or so who inevitably destabilize everyone around them and therefore need social services intervention, if not institutionalization; it’s more accurately barring the door against the bottom two thirds of society. They’d get into a world of trouble for erecting a “Nigger Be Out By Sundown” sign, but what they are doing with their rental standards is arguably no better morally.

Race turns into a red herring in situations like this. There is doubtless a disparate racial impact to these policies; it’s unimaginable that the average upstanding resident of South Sac trying to escape the disorder of the ghetto would have as easy a time qualifying for a CADA apartment as the average resident of Pocket or Fair Oaks; but the racism is completely incidental. CADA would obviously much rather rent to a black nurse, state office worker, or even bus driver than to an unemployable wigger from Rancho Cordova who beats on his baby mama for a living. In fact, in a pinch, it would much sooner rent to a respectable black who consistently holds down the most menial sort of job without massively fucking up his or her credit than to a swaggering pants-on-the-ground foothill cracker or his tramp-stamped sister, forever in sweatpants. What CADA really wants, however, is bougies. It’s cool with diversity of race, but not with diversity of socioeconomic status. The poors might be, shall we say, a bit too vibrant for its tastes.

As I’ve written before, Whitey doesn’t always exist everywhere that he’s seen. Sometimes he’s there, for example, in the “war on drugs,” but even CADA’s rental application question about drug convictions is certainly classist, not racist; the goal is equally to screen out whites who have ever cooked meth in Rancho Cordova and blacks who have ever worked a hella Southside crack territory. The monster here isn’t Whitey. It’s Bougie.

But hey, wholesale SWPL importation into the Downtown/Midtown interface (settlement, in the Old West and the Israeli sense) allows a proliferation of wicked cool club and restaurant bathrooms, like the one at Ma Jong’s, where the boys and the girls can see each other washing their hands. It isn’t a window, and it isn’t a mirror; it’s simultaneously neither and both. The two sexes can also eavesdrop on each other’s sinkside conversations, the ladies’ contribution including a lot of “awkward.” Kind of like the very design of the bathroom. When Europeans do that kind of thing, they just straight-up build a co-ed bathroom. So do insufferably progressive American colleges, but really, if everyone’s going to be that prurient anyhow, it makes a certain amount of sense. Putting a half-frosted window between the two bathrooms is just weird, although not so much Charles Cullen weird as Rod Serling weird. It’s like being at an old diner where you see a busboy clearing tables in the mirror, and then you look the other way to see where he’s really working, and he isn’t there.

The equivalent for the intractably down-and-out, the ones who will never rent from CADA in a million years, is happening upon one’s neighbor popping a squat by the American River. Whether what is seen is seen by design or by happenstance, the construction costs are a lot lower than they were for that stupid glass panel, but the social services costs aren’t. And really, little shit is given about those who deposit theirs under the Business 80 overpass.


One thought on “Bougie Nights in Tacky Sac

  1. Pingback: Gentrifying Tacky Sac: not bad if you can stomach the corruption and iniquity | Notes On Liberty

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