By Verbal Adam | OBSERVER Correspondent
Much of a triangle-shaped block on Third Avenue in Oak Park that has helped provide thousands of free meals and loads of fresh produce to needy families has been purchased by the University of the Pacific to expand its campus.
Without the community garden and the food bank – supplanted to make room for the renovation of three buildings – and with an increased campus police presence, the project has been sharply criticized by local residents who already see the mixed results of gentrification in the predominantly Black neighborhood.
Oak Park’s residents have an unwritten requirement for schools, businesses and commercial entities that want to set up there: contribute to the betterment of the community.
It’s an agreement that’s been in place since the Black Panthers made Oak Park their home in the mid 1960s. It’s an expectation placed on all nonresidents by the community. At a recent neighborhood association meeting, some Oak Park residents called foul on the proposed plan by University of the Pacific to convert the three buildings recently purchased from the Sacramento Food Bank into an extended campus.
Ken Mullen, chief operating officer for UOP, said the expansion will create 50 jobs requiring advanced degrees and training in the medical field – and that no preference will be given to current residents of Oak Park.
The proposal also establishes a community learning clinic that will accept Medicaid and Medi-Cal, but not uninsured patients.
“The clinic’s primary purpose is the education of our students, which we cannot do without the residents of Oak Park,” Mullen said at a recent community meeting. The statement was met with audible groans from community members.
Newly elected City Councilmember Caity Maple, who represents Oak Park, asked if the project would create any additional affordable housing for Oak Park residents. The proposed project would create housing for 180 students. Mullen replied, “I’ll tell you like I tell our seniors: Good luck with that.”
“The question becomes, how is it going to benefit the community?” Oak Park resident Michael Benjamin II said. “We want to make sure that if there are opportunities, the community can take advantage of them. We need positions where we can work inside [UOP] and benefit from them.”
According to census data, Oak Park is one of Northern California’s most gentrified communities, seeing more than a 30% decline in Black residency in the last decade despite a 2% increase in Black residents citywide.
Residents also expressed concerns regarding the proposed security plan that would allow UOP’s private security to patrol a residential section of Oak Park with the authority to detain and arrest individuals.
“I live next to the McGeorge [School of Law] campus and I already feel like the campus police profile me when I’m walking at night,” Kim Carter Martinez told The OBSERVER. “This project gives them more area to profile residents and make them uneasy. Oak Park is already overpoliced.”
Maple expressed optimism while sharing the concerns of her constituents.
“This is the very beginning stages of the process,” she said. “This is actually my first time seeing this presentation and the way that it’s being proposed. So, first, I look forward to actually meeting with the UOP and getting a full plan. My understanding is they actually haven’t submitted plans yet to the city of Sacramento and so that’s going to be a process where we can engage in this and understand better what can be done.
“What I heard loud and clear is, how can we make sure that there’s a direct benefit to our community other than what’s being said tonight? And I’m really interested in that. Are there ways that we can change some of the relationships between the UOP and the community to provide direct benefits other than the clinic?”
UOP expects the city to approve the plan and intends to begin construction in May. The buildings are expected to be in operation by July 2024.
THE PROPOSED PLAN
- Location one is a single-story, 30,000-square-foot structure at 3333 Third Ave. It would be converted into the Pacific Health Care Collaborative, a clinic offering dental services, medical services and oral surgery. An on-site mobile health care unit also is a possibility. This building will also serve as an expansion of the Dugoni School of International Dental Studies Program. The clinic will be open to the public and will accept Medicaid and Medi-Cal.
- Location two is a two-story, 22,500-square-foot structure at 3308 Third Ave. It would house students in UOP’s school of health sciences physician assistant program. The three-year program currently has 90 enrolled students. The proposal doubles enrollment to 180.
- Location three is a single-story, 1,800-square-foot structure at 3300 Third Ave. It primarily would house offices of UOP’s school of health sciences nursing program.
- The proposed plan is estimated to bring 300 additional students and staff to the facilities daily.
Security And Parking
- UOP proposes stationing additional public safety officers at the new facilities. The officers would patrol parking lots and the area between the main campus and the new buildings. This includes the residential area between 33rd and 34th streets and Third and Fourth avenues. The officers have been granted arrest authority by the Sacramento Police Department. New cameras will be installed inside and outside of the new buildings with key card access to employees and students. Each parking lot will have blue light emergency phones.
- To accommodate 250 new students and 50 staff, the proposal creates 200 new parking spaces by 2024 and an additional 100 by 2027. To accommodate this, the Sacramento Food Bank community garden would be demolished and converted into a parking lot and students living in the new facility would receive residential parking passes.