Essay: Sacramento is no Portland

The goal of becoming America’s most livable city is a pipe dream

By Jeff Doll

I recently learned in the 2035 General Plan that it is the city’s goal to make Sacramento the most livable city in America. I have to say I laughed. It’s a worthy goal, but unfortunately, it’s a pipe dream.

By most meaningful metrics, Portland is one of the most livable cities and Sacramento is nowhere near Portland now and it would have to catch up and surpass Portland by 2035.

So why don’t I think Sacramento will be the most livable?

Public transit: Portland has five light rail lines, three streetcar lines and a commuter line. Sacramento has two light rail lines, no streetcars and no commuter rail to the suburbs. A third light rail line is planned to Sacramento International Airport, but only if funding sources can be identified.

Bicycle infrastructure: Portland is making protected bike lanes standard, while Sacramento has only built a few. Portland was named “platinum” by the League of American Bicyclists while Sacramento is aiming to be “silver.” While 31 of Portland’s intersections have bicycle-specific traffic signals, Sacramento has none. After 10 years, most of Sacramento’s master bicycle plan has yet to be implemented. I have nearly been run down several times this year, which makes cycling feel more dangerous to me.

Sprawl: Portland has instituted hard boundaries and greenbelts to force infill development while Sacramento has built a handful of ridiculously expensive condos. Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova are in sprawl overdrive and the Natomas area of Sacramento is no different. It almost seems as if Sacramento’s model is less Portland and more Los Angeles.

Parks: With the exceptions of maybe McKinley and Reichmuth, good parks in Sacramento are few and far in between. Most have no sort of nature area, preserve, or water feature that can be enjoyed by all residents. They’re just boring tracts of grass with a few trees and dated play structures.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even mentioned homelessness, housing affordability, economic equity and a whole host of other problems Sacramento must address.

Jeff Doll is a state employee and mechanical engineer who lives in Elk Grove and works in East Sacramento.

The reason why nothing will change is as old as the country itself—there’s just no money in it. If rich people can’t get richer, it just won’t happen. Every time residents ask the City Council why everything takes so long, it gives the same reply that funding is not available or needs to be identified.

It will take billions upon billions of dollars to catch up to Portland, let alone surpass it. But none of that will happen if the city refuses to fund the projects necessary—unless, of course, it’s a sports venue.

If the city can actually make something meaningful happen—such as protected bike lanes and bicycle traffic signals all over the city and all within the next few years—then I might be convinced.

Otherwise, I expect nothing more than the usual laundry list of meaningless accomplishments that change nothing. Talk is cheap. Only actions will convince me that the city is making Sacramento the most livable in America. I’m not holding my breath.

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9 Comments on "Essay: Sacramento is no Portland"

  1. Portland is a dump, overcrowded is the rule on streets and freeways very much overrated by those who don’t live in the City.

  2. Jeff action figure | November 29, 2019 at 6:53 pm | Reply

    Oregon is no california.

  3. maybe if he didn’t live in Elk Grove he wouldn’t be such a dink… Go back to Portland.

    • That’s the beauty of America. If you don’t like where you live, either work to change it or move. Stop complaining.

  4. California overall is just way way way too expensive to live in.
    BUT-you forgot something-WEATHER!!
    Portland is too wet!!! I’ll take Nor Cal weather any day over Portland’s.
    Also SACRAMENTO has mountains, Coast, wine country, American River/ bike trail all within a short drive.

    Also my nephew lives there-commutes to work on a bike and has been hit twice. He was in a bike lane and had the right of way. He is now in the midst of thousands of dollars of dental work and wracking pain. He is 35.

    Portland crime and drug running his high. Many run down areas. I think someone paid money to have it stated that Portland is most loveable!

    Sacramento has a chance at the title maybe if some greedy millionaires want to pay for the name ?

  5. Not to mention the lack of a freeway connecting 50 and 80 east of Watt somewhere. It makes it impossible to go from Roseville to Rancho.

  6. Homelessness in Portland is very high as well. Let’s get facts straight.

  7. I agree, the biggest gap between the two cities is bike-friendliness and walkability. Midtown is walkable, sure, but Sacramento doesn’t have the satellite urban areas outside of the city’s core, like Portland — places where residents are within easy walking distance of the grocery store, restaurants, and, ideally, places of employment. I love Sacramento’s downtown/midtown area, but the sprawl in all directions beyond that is just awful. It’s a city built to be driven, and it’s more than 15 years away from becoming a city that’s built for foot and bike traffic.

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