Civil rights coalition calls for ‘preservation … before demolition’ in response to plans to revitalize New Helvetia

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Critics are pushing back on plans to revitalize the New Helvetia Public Housing project of West Broadway.

“It would be a big loss to the African American community,” said Clarence Caesar, a historian with the Nathaniel Colley Civil Rights Coalition.

Last week, the Sacramento City Council approved the West Broadway Specific Plan, a project aimed at revitalizing New Helvetia, a neighborhood built in 1941 for low-income housing.

New Helvetia has landed on the National Register of Historic Places and played an important role in Black history in the Golden State.

The area made history as the first public housing site to bring an end to racial segregation thanks to the leadership of Sacramento’s first Black attorney, Nathaniel Colley.

“He was a very significant figure in the history of civil rights in California and across the nation,” Caesar explained. “And this was, again, his first case fighting discrimination on behalf of the African American community and others.”

The newly-approved plan to upgrade the neighborhood includes the possible demolition of a long-standing public housing complex.

“We still firmly believe that the redevelopment project will want to demolish New Helvetia within three to five years,” said National Colley Coalition Vice Chair Dan Visnich.

But city leaders insist the site will simply be improved, with the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency renovating existing apartments while temporarily relocating families living inside.

City leaders also agreed to include an education center to honor Colley’s legacy.

They also said all redevelopment proposals are still being considered.

“This is still a plan and as things come forward we will have many discussions about this,” said City Councilman Jay Schenirer.

But not all city council members support the proposed project, with one calling it a “slap in the face” to the Black community.

“This, to me, is another example of the insensitivity of our city as it relates to people of color,” said Councilman Allen Warren.

Opponents agree that if the old buildings are eventually replaced with something new, the history and lessons learned from the neighborhood could be forgotten.

“Preservation should be considered before demolition. And we don’t think the plan addressed that and is instead going forward with the exact opposite intent,” Caesar said.

SHRA said renovations won’t begin for at least another couple years and any demolition would need to be approved by the Sacramento City Council.


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