Equity in the Capital: Kacey Lizon and Kendra Macias Reed on transportation equity and what it takes to get from point A to everywhere else

Sacramento Public Transportation is the focus on Solving Sacramento's latest podcast. Photograph by Parsoa Khorsand

By Nick Brunner

We can see how Sacramento gets to work. We get to school, we get to the grocery store, or conversely, we have the groceries get to us, and on and on and on, innumerable examples. Ubiquitous doesn’t begin to describe the need for transportation in this country, in this region.

While there’s no shortage of options on how we get from point A to everywhere else, access and opportunity can vary wildly, depending on where you live. That’s why we brought together Kacey Lizon, deputy executive director of planning and programs for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, and Kendra Macias Reed, deputy director with the Franklin Neighborhood Development Corporation.

This conversation is from Solving Sacramento’s Equity in the Capital podcast.

Lizon: You don’t have to go back very far in our society’s history — maybe a couple generations — to see how the way that our country has grown has not been with the goal of helping and accommodating everyone. The automobile was invented, it was an amazing thing. … That’s been great in a lot of ways. But there were also intentional policies, at the same time, that not only prioritized automobiles, but also actually actively tried to keep different parts of our society from benefiting from all of that government funding and policy — both transportation, but as well as just the American Dream of owning your own home and gaining wealth and opportunity and all that for your family. 

Starting back from the early 20th century, we had neighborhoods that the federal government actually drew lines on a map around; they were literally identified as places that would not be insured for properties there because of the amount of people of different races [other] than white who lived there. What does this have to do with transportation? Well, fast forward, and that eventually was abolished, but then it was turned into racially restrictive covenants. So those areas that were formerly redlined were still economically held back, and the people in those areas could not automatically move into areas that were not redlined. 

Over time, what you have is there are people who lived in — and raised their families in — areas where they did not have the same access to economic opportunities as those who didn’t live in those areas. Over time, those areas became identified by the government as slums and worthy of clearance. And you have this urban renewal program that came online in the country, later in the 20th century, and those areas became designated as blighted. And we had this thing [called] the Interstate Highway System that the federal government was trying to build; a lot of those communities got totally demolished for the cutting of highways.

When it comes to transportation, if you don’t have the same opportunity for economic growth, and development, and we have a community society that is largely developed around the car, you have very few options for transportation, which is a basic necessity of life. We can’t stay in one place. We have to be able to get to school and to work and to doctor’s appointments and feed ourselves, etc. So that’s the backdrop or the history that leads to the transportation planning and funding work that we do. 

A question might be: How do you rectify all of that? That’s where this place-based [approach], looking at places and communities and trying to start to work with those communities comes into play. That’s where my work and SACOG’s work with Kendra and the Franklin community started to come up, because we suddenly started to have state programs that acknowledge this history of disenfranchising people and kicking them out and ignoring them, and relegating them to communities that were physically hostile to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Macias Reed: The Franklin community is historically [one of] immigrants. It’s historically a sort of entry way for immigration in Sacramento, and I would say specifically for the Latino/Latina [population]. So we have a huge Latinx population in Franklin. Historically, we’ve had those immigrant populations — people who are undocumented, or don’t have access to wealth, or own their properties in that district. … We have been bisected by Highway 99, by them building that highway directly through the South Park and North City Farms and South City Farms communities; splitting those communities and their access to education, their access to goods and services that they need. 

In the late ’50s, early ’60s, when Highway 99 was built, you started to see these … communities start to really struggle. If you know anything about Franklin Boulevard … sometime between the 1970s in the 1980s, it was deemed the ugliest street in Sacramento. It did have a lot of signage, it had really old power lines, and there were no sidewalks. It was just not a pretty street. But it’s surrounded by communities of color [and] without sidewalks, they don’t have anywhere to walk safely to get to the supermarkets that are located on Franklin. No bike lanes, no trees, we have very little tree canopy, which also contributes to the poor air-quality issues in our district. Being directly adjacent to a major highway also causes some pretty severe air-quality issues that I think many people in the community don’t really think about on a day to day. They don’t think about how that impacts you because they’re worried about how they’re going to pay their rent.

When you have a community that is so disenfranchised … it really [takes] strong leadership … that are doing on-the-ground work to really start to advocate for these communities. What we started to see was when Mayor Joe Serna was mayor, he was from Curtis Park, which is really adjacent to the Franklin District. … He had built a relationship with some of the property and business owners on Franklin Boulevard. And in the early ’80s they really decided that, hey, we want to change the look and feel of Franklin and we don’t want to be the ugliest street in Sacramento. … Serna and some property and business owners on Franklin Boulevard … made a concerted effort and walked in, knocked on doors and talked to business owners. In 1985, they formed the Franklin Boulevard Business Association. … FBA was formed to start taxing the property owners so that they can generate some revenue to start cleaning up Franklin Boulevard.

Lizon: Let’s talk about what transportation equity is. What we are saying right now is really … trying to bring fairness back to this basic right of being able to get to where you need to go. So you can think of it as fairness or justice. On Franklin Boulevard, there’s this community that was impacted by so many decisions and investments that did not take into account the people in the businesses that live there. So they suffer disproportionately from that. Now transportation equity is trying to rectify that. It’s trying to really level the playing field so they do have the ability to do the basic thing they need to do, which is to get to the things they need to get to. 

Kendra Macias Reed is the deputy director with the Franklin Neighborhood Development Corporation (Photo courtesy Kendra Macias Reed)

Macias Reed: There was a really concerted effort without any government funding involved … between 2010 and 2015 … to really dive into some of these transportation equity issues and these community issues that the Franklin District was having. There was a huge report … and we were able to take that report and that work — years of research — and basically leverage that into an application with SACOG. It was around 2015, 2016, when the Franklin Boulevard Business Association … applied for a planning grant, it was just under $500,000. … That pre-planning grant is really what spurred this decades-long investment in advocacy and movement. We finally have momentum over what this community is trying to rectify from all these years of disinvestment. Now we can continue to leverage from there.

I cannot leave out the importance of community outreach. That planning grant is really what helped the district start [to have] the capacity to be able to do extensive community outreach. Not just knocking on doors and talking with the community in the businesses, but also going to where the community goes. … We started putting up tables in front of the [La Esperanza] supermarket to capture the traffic and get feedback from the community.

Kacey Lizon is the deputy executive director of planning and programs for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. (Photo courtesy of SACOG)

]Lizon: I actually think the community engagement [the] grant enabled was beautiful. … One of the first things in trying to rectify these transportation inequities that we have is if you’re dealing in a community that has been disenfranchised and not heard, it’s not just about deciding, oh, we know the solution, as government or some anchor institution. But it’s trying to build a relationship with the people who have been affected, and then to understand what their needs are and what they like, and engage … with them. 

That’s what we’ve seen come up out of all this work that Franklin CDC has done and it’s been an example that SACOG has held up. We created a grant program, actually, our board of directors … this was in 2020, during COVID, all of the social and racial reckoning that was happening in the country. They recognized, as we all did across the country, the inequities and the injustice that exist. So they took an action to … create a grant program for engaging with communities — for government to be able to partner with community organizations, to work with community to design whatever the solution is that they need. That program is now called the Engage, Empower, Implement Program. …

Macias Reed: I think the biggest takeaway from that community engagement process [for us] was … the importance of in-language support. I was actually a young planner at the time and volunteered — I wasn’t even working for the district at the time, I’ve definitely come full circle. I was volunteering … we were having a celebration for the SACOG planning grant. I was out there talking with the community and realized, we need more Spanish-speaking people out here on the street talking to them. … We need to have in-language support to really be able to engage with them. .. That was a primary thing that we learned through that process. And, then, oftentimes we say, meet people where they’re at. We really took that a step further, and really started to go and engage people at community clinics, where they were getting some of their dental work, or their physicals, and La Familia Counseling Center … and going to the grocery stores, going to the veterinary centers where people are taking their pets. I mean, you name it, we were trying to get creative. …

We have fatal accidents on [Franklin] Boulevard every year — multiple. I want to say it was 2021, one of our business and property owners on the boulevard lost his daughter. There was a car speeding going northbound on Franklin, and she was pulling out of the property, because Franklin is built very much like a highway where you’re pulling out of a property and there’s no buffer in between that entrance into the property and that street. You just have people speeding down Franklin. … She was hit by a speeding drunk driver, and she died on impact. Her 2-year-old son was in the car. Obviously, we were horrified and distraught. But I think the message I want to send — trying to respect the family — [is] really trying to shed light on this is why we’re we’re doing this work on Franklin. Because we don’t want this young 2-year-old boy who is now, well, his grandparents are raising him. But he’s essentially orphaned. We can’t have this, [this] is not right, we cannot have this happen anymore. We shared that message, but also being respectful and mindful, of course, the tragedy that everyone on the boulevard experienced. …

This community who oftentimes walks to the grocery store, or bikes to the grocery store, they don’t have a safe place to do that. We’ve heard that from the community. … They want to be able to feel safe walking on the boulevard. They want to be able to feel safe walking at night. They want to be able to ride their bike safely. They don’t want to see any more fatal accidents. …

Lizon: That’s the challenge of it, isn’t it? It’s a statistic when I say it, but there’s a person who’s behind every single one of those. And a family … 

Macias Reed: As a mother, that story hits me. Because you don’t ever want that to happen. So I think just that message is really impactful.

Lizon: We’ve been talking a lot about driving, walking, and bicycling. … Another important mode of travel, when we talk about transportation … is the way people access opportunities. It’s how they’re able to strive to try to thrive. Transit is actually one of those key modes that people can take. When I say transit, I mean, it can be the regular bus, it can be rail or train. There are other types of transit, like micro-transit, just that mode of travel where you don’t own or have to use a personal automobile. …

The challenge in our region is that using transit can sometimes take four to six times longer than driving to a place. That is a big disparity. It’s a big challenge, if you can’t afford to own a car, if you don’t have the physical [or] biological ability to drive a car, if you don’t have a license, because you are very young, or you’re very elderly, or you just don’t drive. That is still a really important piece of it. One of the challenges for the Franklin community is there used to be transit there, and there is no longer. There are a couple light rail stations — they are challenging to get to, again, because the physical environment makes it really hard to get to. … 

How do we help bring that mobility option to people? Because let’s face it, the Sacramento area is really big and it’s really spread out. So you can walk and bike to some things, but you ultimately have to be able to get to other things, and how can you be able to do that without the burden or the luxury of having our own automobile?

Macias Reed: The closest light rail stations [we have are], one at the Sac City College, and one on Fruitridge. Fruitridge, if you follow the Vision Zero goals for the City of Sacramento, it’s definitely deemed one of the more dangerous streets in Sacramento. So even traversing off of Franklin onto Fruitridge to get to that light rail station is incredibly challenging. …

We have been able to raise a little over $20 million to break ground on our Complete Streets Project that we’ve been working on for over a decade. So I’m really excited that we’re actually going to be breaking ground on this project [this year] because, again, with the years of community outreach, we’ve heard they want tree canopy. The community wants tree canopy, they want lighting, they want bike lanes, they want to slow down traffic, they want to feel safe on Franklin and that’s their only connector within the North City [Farms], South City Farms community. …

Lizon: Some things that I am excited about are that SacRT, along with a lot of other transit agencies in the region are … just trying to rethink: What does transit look like? Because it is different after COVID. And they’ve been working on this regional transit network. So the idea that there are some … routes that are really key and critical routes. So a person doesn’t have to think about these invisible lines that we call city limits and county lines, because those can be really challenging for people — their jurisdictional boundaries. In real life, they don’t matter. 

There’s a vision that’s being worked on to try to allow for people to be able to make those inter-community trips. The other thing, though, is that SacRT has been working on standing up a bus rapid-transit route, the first one that this region will have. Light rail is awesome. … It is very expensive to build. … Clearly, there would be demand for high-frequency transit. Bus rapid transit is a bus within the road right-of-way, but it has its own kind of dedicated lane. It’s allowed to go outside of the speed of traffic, to reduce that disparity right between how long it takes to transit somewhere versus walk or drive. So I’m really excited about that. Stockton Boulevard, right now, Route 51, is the most productive route in the whole SacRT system, and they’re working on bus rapid transit there, which would be just amazing for this region to see. 

Macias Reed: Great. Hopefully, we can get something like that on Franklin someday. 

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

1 Comment on "Equity in the Capital: Kacey Lizon and Kendra Macias Reed on transportation equity and what it takes to get from point A to everywhere else"

  1. SACOG never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They’ve had more than the decade cited to hold the region’s governments feet to the fire. Finally, the State is requiring all new development to have “Complete Streets” (that accommodate modes of transportation other than autos).

    Local governments have know about this for decades too, generations, even, and persistently ignore it. The County even adopted pedestrian-friendly, mixed use development as part of its general plan (LU-44)…and then completely ignored it when actual development came along.

    SACOG just promotes more half-assed, generation-long puffery. It manages federal transportation money for the region. Withholding that money (as a regional council of governments did in Maryland) unless regional governments make pedestrian-friendly, mixed use the default rather than auto-centric sprawl would be a start. Naturally SACOG isn’t doing this.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.