Supervisor Phil Serna drives neighborhood improvements in south Sacramento

Jeff vonKaenel

There is a SimCity computer game where you act as the all-powerful city manager. You are an omnipotent official with total say over zoning, housing, police and virtually everything in your city. The computer game takes your input and then forecasts how your city does in the virtual world.

Then there is South Oak Park. It’s not a game, not virtual, but actual. A place where real people raise their families. Where real crime is happening. Actual trash is not being picked up. Carbon-based human lives are being destroyed because of a lack of governmental services.

And we have Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, who does not have SimCity powers but has elected official powers. The power to call attention to issues. The power to call for department head meetings. The power to grease the squeaky wheel.

Several weeks ago, Serna drove me around South Oak Park. We saw abandoned, boarded-up houses. We saw illegal trash piles. He showed me a crime report map for the area with numerous assaults and robberies marked on it. He told me that he was going to change things in the unincorporated South Oak Park.

Recently, I was back in South Oak Park again for the groundbreaking of Next Move’s expanded Family Shelter Campus. Working with North State Building Industry Association’s nonprofit HomeAid Sacramento, Goodwill Industries and various government agencies, Next Move will expand their facility by almost 50 percent. This larger facility will be able to house many more families. Families who would often be homeless without the shelter.

Serna then took me for my second drive around the neighborhood. He pointed out the LED energy-efficient, brighter streetlights. Replacing 150 old lights will certainly brighten up the neighborhood. He told me how the county department heads have been regularly meeting to discuss improvements for South Oak Park. He told me that there had already been an increase in sheriff’s patrols and building code enforcement.

Excited as young boy with a new baseball glove, Serna pulled up to a vacant lot. Several weeks ago, there was an unsafe house on the same lot. An abandoned house littered with drug needles. A house that stood in clear violation of code and safety regulations. Yet the building was standing. It was a gigantic billboard saying to the neighborhood, “We do not care about you.”

The newly cleared lot now says, “Give us another chance. While it’s true that we, the officials who were supposed to play SimCity South Oak Park, have been asleep at the wheel, we have finally woken up. And we will change things.”

Serna pulled up to another empty house with a chain-link fence. He asked me if I remember this house. He then pulled out his phone to show me the picture of this house the last time we visited. The entire yard had been filled with dumped garbage.

It was impressive how much had been accomplished in such a short period. SimCity South Oak Park. Playing for keeps.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.