Downtown Sacramento: 10 Thousand New Units Again?

New Apartments in “Township Nine” 

Last week, Mayor Kevin Johnson launches his “Think Downtown” housing initiative for Sacramento’s central city.

By Cosmo Garvin/Sacramento News and Review

( Original Title: Does Mayor Kevin Johnson’s new downtown-housing plan actually bring new housing to the central city?)

The mayor’s policy initiatives are always branded to the hilt. This one is no exception; the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency has agreed to foot the bill for a public-relations campaign led by 3 fold Communications.

A lot of marketing can make it difficult to tease out the actual substance of initiatives like these. But at bottom, the mayor’s housing proposal looks like a slightly downsized restatement of the vision city leaders have been kicking around for a long time.

The gist is that the mayor wants to bring 10,000 housing units to the central city in the next 10 years. (Central city meaning that area of town between the American River and W Street, the Sacramento River and Alhambra Boulevard.) Johnson also wants to put policies in place that will make building downtown housing easier. And he wants to sell central-city living to suburbanites.

What isn’t mentioned by the mayor and his surrogates is the fact that there are already 10,000 housing units or more planned for the central city.

In fact, the current plan for the downtown rail yards alone includes 10,000 to 12,000 housing units. That plan dates back to a pre-Johnson time, when Sacramento’s stated goal was to become America’s “most livable city”  and when city leaders and developers dreamed of soaring condo towers downtown.

Of course, that was before the recession. It was before the rail yards changed hands again, before we had to make room for a soccer stadium. Today, folks around City Hall say 5,000 to 6,000 homes in the rail yards is more likely.

But nearby Township Nine is under construction, planned for 2,500 units. Add in the ancillary development around the Kings arena, another 500 units. The Sacramento Commons project at Seventh and N is proposed for 1,000. Start adding in smaller projects Ice Blocks and the Midtown Whole Foods (with apartments on top), and 10,000 units doesn’t seem so bold.

So why the PR campaign? And why do developers need incentives to do what they already plan to do?

“Just because 10,000 or 20,000 units are proposed, doesn’t mean that’s what will get built,” says Bill Burg, president of Preservation Sacramento.

“City processes can be annoying and frustrating. There’s a lot of red tape,” says Burg, and that can put developers off.

So, as the mayor’s initiative gels this summer, look for efforts to streamline the permitting process and make development easier. (There’s a reason that Region Builders was tapped to lead the steering committee for the mayor’s housing initiative.)

There are few folks more committed to promoting the central city than Burg. He’s been a one-man marketing campaign, evangelizing grid living for years and talking about the “58,000.” That’s the number of residents the central city used to have back in 1950. Today, it’s around 30,000.

But Burg says we also need to be careful about what kinds of incentives the city gives developers, and what rules it throws out.

Burg is concerned that the mayor’s initiative will be presented fully formed with little input from community groups (a criticism aimed at many of the mayor’s policy initiatives). And he worries about streamlining the development process too much. “Is the process just going to get rid of rules that—though they may clog up the process—also protect neighborhoods?”

For example, the controversial Sacramento Commons project would add hundreds of units, but would also demolish 200 existing historically important garden apartments, in what Burg calls the “missing middle ” range of affordability.

He says new housing shouldn’t come at the expense of historic buildings and affordable housing that exist now. “We could double the number of people living downtown now and not have to demolish a thing. We definitely need more housing, but there are ways to get it right.”

The mayor has called for 6,000 “market rate” units, which would be attractive to wealthier residents, 2,500 of affordable “workforce” units, and 1,500 units for the very poor.

Affordable-housing advocates have said that they are cautiously optimistic about the mayor’s plan, but there will almost certainly be debate about the meaning of “affordable,” and how much is enough.

A recent article about the mayor’s housing initiative, printed in the Sacramento Business Journal, cited a study by the Midtown Business Association showing that 73 percent of housing in Midtown is affordable, and only 27 percent is market rate. But readers weren’t told that the study looked only at apartment buildings with 15 units or more.

A lot of numbers will be thrown around as the mayor’s housing initiative moves forward. It’s important to look beyond the marketing and the talking points and ask what the numbers really mean.


For The Love of Sports …… Sacramento is just another city that sells its soul for a Sports Franchise


Americans are passionate about sports.  In some small towns the most valuable building in the community is the local high school stadium.

This is NOT a National Football League stadium.  Its is the Allen High School football stadium, home of the Allen Eagles.   It can hold 18,000 people or more than a fifth of Allen Texas’s population.  It cost 60 million dollars to build.

As the Allen School district was facing a short fall ,resulting in over 80 layoffs,  construction continued.   The Stadium opened in 2012 . The Allen Stadium is currently the 3rd largest in Texas.

Across the country, cities have sold their soul to host a Professional Sport Franchise.

Flimsy financing ,ultimately seeping into the city’s  General Fund resulting in cutbacks in basic needs of the community.  Often long after the franchises have left town for greener pastures.


The City of Cincinnati’s Stadium Financing is called the worst in the nation.

( Click Link to see Story)



The Pitch is Economic Revitalization.  Promising thousands of jobs. The Reality is once the building is completed these building often employee less then 50 full time employees.  The businesses near these large structures receive a fraction of business, because the building are open a few hours a week.  To disguise the buildings short comings city leaders often offer subsidies to businesses adjacent to the arenas and stadiums,further draining the cities coffers.


10 Cities, 10 Arena Deals (Click Link to See Story)


The Sacramento News and Review is one of the few publications actually reporting about the Sacrament Kings money trail

The following was published 1/22/14


Recently released public records reveal Kings arena subsidy ‘sweetener’ request and paper-trail cover up

The lawsuit won’t change anything. But at least it will have produced information that ought have been disclosed to the public a long time ago.

One by one, the lawsuits against the city’s Kings arena project have fallen away. But one suit challenging the legality of the city’s $300 million-plus arena subsidy has quietly been working its way through the court for more than a year.

It’s hard to imagine at this point that a judge would do anything that would substantially affect the project, or make much of a difference to taxpayers who are on the hook for it. Still, as Bites has remarked before, these suits have a way of bringing important facts to light. Facts that should have been made public a long time ago.

This suit, brought by lawyer Patrick Soluri—on behalf of residents Isaac Gonzalez, Jim Cathcart and Julian Camacho—alleges that the city has been dishonest about the structure and purpose of the Kings arena deal.

“This is such an important and basic issue,” says Soluri. “Did the city use the framework of the arena deal to subsidize the purchase of the team? If they did, that’s fraud.”

Last year, Assistant City Manager John Dangberg and Mayor Kevin Johnson both took the stand and acknowledged that would-be Kings owners, including Vivek Ranadive, explicitly asked the city for a subsidy to help buy the team. The city’s financial help would make up the difference between the price Ranadive and company paid for the Kings, and the actual value of the team.

“Well, it was basically stated that [members of the Sacramento investor group] felt that the overpayment for the team might require the city to play a larger role in the financing of the arena because of the economics,” Dangberg explained to the court. Then adding, “We said, ’That isn’t going to happen.’”

But Soluri says that it did happen, and he says the city has recently turned over some important evidence showing that it happened.

In recent weeks, the city has dumped thousands of pages of documents on Soluri and his clients. “The vast majority of it is garbage. You’ll see the same document repeated hundreds of times,” Soluri said. A typical example: instead of turning over an Excel spreadsheet file, the city will print out the spreadsheet as 800 PDF pages.

But some of the documents are more illuminating. For example there’s an internal city memo that spells out what the Kings owners wanted: “Investor group wants $258 million plus additional City assets (land, entitlements, City loan forgiveness, etc.) to offset the difference in the purchase price of the Kings vs. their perceived value of Kings. They believe the difference is $150-$200 million. City is willing to invest the proceeds of the parking monetization. Investor group may want the 3,700 parking spaces at the Downtown Plaza.”

If those numbers sound familiar, it’s because that’s largely what the investors got. Soluri says other memos, notes and typed talking points show the city figured out, piece-by-piece, how to meet the ownership group’s demands, while publicly downplaying the value of the subsidy. One note, which Soluri believes is in Kevin Johnson’s handwriting, puts the value of the city’s parking garage under Downtown Plaza at $30 million to $40 million. “Can’t put in writing. Politically tough,” the note reads.

Another note from Johnson’s chief of staff Daniel Conway warns folks working on the arena deal not to leave a paper trail: “Dangberg recommended not sending out emails after the ad hoc meetings. He said we’d have to be sensitive about the info the email contained since they would just be fodder for PRAs.”

“PRAs” of course are records requests under the California Public Records Act. Bites is just going pause here a moment to marvel at the idea that Dangberg, who makes a base salary of $176,000 a year, believes he’s getting paid to hide public information.

Assistant City Attorney Matt Ruyak reiterated to Bites that the city’s significant financial help with the arena “had nothing to do with the purchase of the team.”

“The ownership group asked. And we rejected that request,” Ruyak added.

But what’s the difference, really, if the city calls it a “subsidy” or an “investment”? When you add it up, the Kings owners got exactly what they asked for.

And if the city manager’s office and the mayor really did the righteous thing, why wasn’t Ranadive’s demand ever disclosed to the public? Didn’t the public deserve to know this information while judging the prudence of the city’s “investment”? (And why is the city manager’s office telling staff to shield arena information from public records requests?)

This lawsuit may not change anything about the arena deal going forward. It certainly won’t change many minds. Arena fans will see it as a nuisance; skeptics will say it confirms what they already knew.

But at least it will have produced some information that ought have been disclosed to the public a long time ago.




The Great Flood of 1862 of Sacramento and why Meteorologist Leon Hunsaker says it could happen again.

Far away from Sacramento, outside a tiny town called Hugo in the Rogue River Valley near Grants Pass, Oregon, lives an old weatherman. Leon Hunsaker is his name.

If you go to visit the weatherman and you ask how he’s doing, he’ll likely tell you, “Not too bad, considering the mileage on the frame.” Then he’ll insist that you refresh yourself with a glass of “this wonderful Hugo water,” drawn from his well.

The weatherman lives in Southern Oregon, but he has a story to tell about Sacramento. It’s a bit of a scary story.

He and his brother built this house in Hugo in the 1970s. Inside, next to the stairs to the second floor, he keeps a little sign-in book titled Clouds and Quilts Tour.

In one of the upstairs rooms is a collection of beautiful quilts that the weatherman’s wife Margaret made. She was literally a champion quilter, and a “remarkable woman.”

She passed away two years ago, and Leon Hunsaker, now 89 years old, lives alone. Across the hall, another room has been turned into a sort of museum of Hunsaker’s long career in meteorology. It’s an atticlike space, the walls come together in an “A” shape at the top. All the way up, they are covered with weather maps, showing storm tracks on particular dates in history. There are framed newspaper articles, with accounts of historic floods or wildfires. There’s an old promotional photo of Leon during his TV weatherman days, drawing a weather map with a dark-colored marker.

The maps have started to take over other rooms in the house, too. Just a few weeks ago, Hunsaker had a giant map of California installed on a wall in his dining room. It’s laminated so he can draw on it with dry-erase markers. Tacked around the map are hand-drawn charts showing historic rainfall numbers and the position of the jet stream as it hit California on certain dates long ago.

All of the charts and maps in this room are telling the story of the Great Flood of 1862, in the Sacramento Valley. It happened some 150 years ago and 340 miles from Hunsaker’s house.

The flood was the biggest in California history. Actually, it was a series of floods. During December of 1861 and January of 1862, storm after storm pounded the state. Snow built up at unusually low elevations in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Then warm rain blowing in from the south melted all that snow and rivers swelled, and Sacramento’s undersized levees washed away.

California’s Central Valley became an “inland sea,” and by some estimates one-fourth of the real estate in California was destroyed. The state capital was temporarily moved to San Francisco. The streets of Sacramento were even raised to fight against future flooding.

It’s hard to imagine a more passionate student of the flood of 1862 than Leon Hunsaker. He’s thought about it for about 40 years and even written a book, called Lake Sacramento: Can It Happen Again?

If you’re familiar with TV show The Wire, you probably remember the detectives’ “murder board.” The board is where they tack pictures of the suspects, along with notes and scraps of evidence—all laid out on a giant board, which helps to visualize all the connections and crack the case.

His dining-room wall is his version of the murder board, and Hunsaker is doing a sort of forensic meteorology, trying to solve a mystery. Will a series of storms like the winter of 1861 hit Sacramento again? What happens if they do?

His conclusion: “When this hits again, and it will, it’s going to cost many times what Katrina did.”

The big one

Here in Sacramento, we’re all at least a little anxious about the big one. The idea is that when it comes, we’re all underwater like New Orleans, or worse.

A couple of years ago, scientists introduced the term “ARkStorm” to refer to a bibilical-style flood scenario that brings with it mass destruction, simultaneous flooding in Northern and Southern California, and billions of dollars of property damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the ARkStorm would likely wipe out one in four homes in the state. Sound familiar?

Call it “The Big One” or the ARkStorm, you’re pretty much talking about the same kind of scenario: California’s Great Flood of 1861 and 1862.

Every year there’s a big meeting for meteorologists and hydrologists and other scientists held at UC Davis, called the California Extreme Precipitation Symposium. The university is holding it again next week, and this year’s theme, naturally, is the 150-year anniversary Great Flood of 1862.

“We’ve never seen anything like it since,” says Marcia Eymann, Sacramento’s city historian and one of the folks scheduled to speak at the symposium. It’s sometimes called the “Noachian deluge” after the Noah of the Bible. And the storm and flooding actually extended not just throughout California but to Oregon and Nevada as well.

The city of Sacramento got 24 inches of rain in a three-week period. The average for Sacramento is 18 inches in a year. The storm affected troops fighting the Civil War as far away as Tennessee. Sacramento was underwater for three months. “The new governor—Leland Stanford—went to his inauguration in a rowboat,” Eymann noted. Then, the flooding got worse.

Eymann will make her presentation and meteorologists and hydrologists and other scientists at the event will talk about what lessons the flood of 1862 hold for our efforts to manage flooding in the modern era.

They will also note, as Gary Estes, the symposium coordinator, does, “The world is very different today than it was in 1862.”

The river has been straightened in places. Much of the mining debris has been removed from the riverbeds. The streets of Sacramento have been raised, and the levees and dams have been built high. Today, the flood-control system is designed to handle something “50 percent bigger than any flood we’ve ever seen,” Estes explained.

That’s based on estimates of river flows on the American River during January of 1862, gleaned from historic records and calculated by competent scientists from institutions like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

So, we’re good, say the government scientists. The flood of 1862 can’t happen again.

No, we’re not good, says Hunsaker, because those estimates are wrong.

“Realistic flood boundaries have not been set. There are houses built where they should not have been,” he said.

How Hunsaker got to this troubling conclusion takes some explaining, and starts back before he was diagnosed with “double cancer.”

By most measures, Hunsaker has been a successful man with a lot to be proud of, down to the good Hugo water in his well. When he retired from broadcasting the weather, the papers called him a local legend.

Hunsaker was a longtime TV weatherman in the 1960s and 1970s, who introduced viewers to the idea of the jet stream, and even predicted the Northern California flood of 1964.

He started his career in meteorology with a master’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was chief meteorologist for Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and for a time was president of the Northern California chapter of the American Meteorological Association.

While at PG&E, he successfully predicted the flood of 1964, which caused Yuba City to be evacuated. He was even the subject of a documentary on San Francisco station KPIX about the event called Head for the High Ground.

His TV career hit one of its high points at KPIX in the late 1960s. It was the No. 1-rated news show in the nation, and Hunsaker was the weatherman. Newspaper accounts credit him with helping to popularize the idea of the “jet stream,” an idea that was pretty cutting edge at the time.

In the 1950s and 1960s, meteorologists helped with PG&E’s “weather modification,” or cloud-seeding program. The utility shot silver iodide into clouds over the Sierra at certain times in order to cause more rainfall and in turn generate more hydro-power from its series of electric dams.

PG&E still does cloud seeding. It’s controversial, and it was back then, too. After floods on the Feather River in 1955, citizen groups sued the state of California and PG&E, charging that cloud seeding had worsened the flooding.

As part of PG&E’s defense, Hunsaker was tasked with finding out everything he could about historical floods in the area. He ferreted out watershed records and newspaper stories. “I spent two or three years digging, all over the Gold Country,” he said. Some of the most important data he turned up had to do with snow and how melting snowpack could suddenly release large amounts of water into streams and rivers.

PG&E ultimately beat the lawsuit, and Hunsaker believes his research helped strengthen the case. For his hard work, Hunsaker got to keep all the research. He was sure he wanted to do something with it, perhaps a book. The floods of 1862 especially haunted him. “I hauled those boxes around for 40 years,” and he kept coming back to the question: What would happen if California experienced a similar sequence of storms?

Lake Sacramento

In 2005, Hunsaker was diagnosed with cancer in his bladder and prostate. He had surgery to remove both, but the doctor told him he had only about three years to live.

Despite all that he had achieved, Hunsaker felt like some piece of his life’s work was not finished. He still had a story to tell about the remarkable floods of 1862.

His friend Claude Curran, a geography professor at Southern Oregon University came to visit him in the hospital. “I must admit that I put on quite a show. It was a real pity party. I said, ‘Will you pleased help me, Claude?’”

Curran couldn’t say no, and so the two launched a project that they’ve been working on ever since.

By November of that year, they had compiled many of those historic records and newspaper clippings, along with their own analysis, into a 140-page book called, Lake Sacramento: Can It Happen Again?

The opening reads, “We are two old men with something to say and not much time to say it.”

One of the quotes they came across in their research was from a man named W.T. Ellis, who they describe as a “longtime levee boss in Marysville.” In 1920, Ellis said of the 1862 events, “This flood is not generally taken into account in flood planning simply because to have done so, the expense would of been prohibitive.”

Indeed, the men found it impossible to pin down an accurate estimate of river flows.

There was a 1941 estimate by an engineer named L.E. Bossen, who figured the peak flows on the American River near Fair Oaks (where the gauging station is today) was about 265,000 cubic feet per second during the 1862 flood.

By the time Hunsaker put his book together, matters had not advanced much beyond Bossen’s estimate, and it seemed obviously too low to him now.

After all, the January storms of 1997 had caused a peak flow of 295,000 cubic feet per second on the American. There was major flooding along the Klamath, Cosumnes and Feather rivers, and local flooding throughout Northern California. Some Sacramento neighborhoods were voluntarily evacuated, some downtown and Midtown streets were underwater for a while. Communities like Wilton, Olivehurst and Modesto got it much worse as levees broke and homes were submerged. In all, there was about $2 billion in damage, and 46 counties were declared disaster areas.

The 1997 floods had just come on the heels of the 1986 floods of Rio Linda and north Sacramento, and in some places there was renewed interest in Sacramento’s historic floods. The California Department of Water Resources reviewed the literature and determined that the 1862 flood was probably similar to the 1997 storm, estimating peak flows on the American at around 295,000 cfs. He would later learn that the U.S. Geological Survey had come up with its own estimate of about 320,000 cfs.

There’s work going on now at Folsom Dam, including a small raise of the dam, construction of an auxiliary spillway and some levee work on the lower American River. According to the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, that should allow for peak flows during a 200-year flood of up to about 450,000 cubic feet per second to flow into the Folsom Dam.

The dam throttles that back to about 160,000 cubic feet downstream. But keep in mind that the typical flow down the American River on a summer day is somewhere around 2,000 cubic feet per second.

On paper, that 450,000 cubic feet per second is 50 percent greater than the biggest flood on record—the Great Flood of 1862. But for several reasons Hunsaker thinks that’s not good enough.

In their monograph, “The Great California Flood of 1862,” Leonard and Robert Taylor note that the flood flows coming through the Sacramento River Delta overpowered the tide at the Golden Gate strait. “For a week … there was a continuous and forceful ebb of brown fresh water 18-20 feet deep pouring out above the saltwater.”

Of course, that brown water also owed a lot to the hydraulic mining that for years had been clogging rivers and the San Francisco Bay with sludge, and had actually raised the bed of the Sacramento River by 7 feet.

Up and down the state there were other phenomena that haven’t been seen again in 150 years. Take the rainfall recorded by Dr. Perez Snell, a Sonora dentist, whom Hunsaker calls “Tuolumne County’s pioneer scientist.” Snell measured 30 inches in 10 days at Sonora, a number that for a long time seemed to Hunsaker to be unbelievable.

“You had to wonder if he had been tapping his own medicine bag,” Hunsaker cracks. In fact, Snell’s numbers are dismissed by many scientists today.

Where the December and early January storms were cold, and produced snow at unusually low elevations, the late-January storms were unusually warm and southerly.

Hunsaker notes there had been record flooding on the Santa Ana River that year, floods that haven’t been seen since. There was record rainfall in Arizona during that time, too.

Based on his research, Hunsaker was pretty convinced that people were underestimating just how much snow had fallen that year, how much had built up on the frozen layers of ice beneath, and how much runoff was created when that snow and ice was socked by the warm rains that followed.

‘What if’ scenarios

By 2010, Hunsaker and his friend Curran were certain that the flows at the American River, at the Fair Oaks gauging station had been at least 365,000 cfs—much bigger than anyone had estimated before.

The great flood of 1862 changed Sacramento forever. It is the model for the government’s ARkStorm scenario.

They hadn’t had much luck getting anyone to listen to then up until that point, but Hunsaker decided to attend the California Extreme Precipitation Symposium at UC Davis in June 2010. The theme that year was the ARkStorm.

This was just after Hunsaker’s wife died. Symposium coordinator Gary Estes wouldn’t put Hunsaker on the regular program. After all, despite Hunsaker’s long experience, he is essentially an amateur in this field. Avid and extremely well-read, but not a professional hydrologist.

Still, Estes relented and said Hunsaker could give a 15-minute talk at the end of the day, if anybody wanted to stick around. Estes later told SN&R that he thought it was good the man had something to occupy his mind “and not be lost in his grief.”

The presentation was recorded, and the audio is posted on the symposium’s website. On the audio, Hunsaker jokes about how one of his hearing aids went out when he hit the California border. Estes helps him by showing Hunsaker’s slides on projector controlled by his laptop. The old overhead projector Hunsaker asked for had been retired a year before.

But Hunsaker knew exactly what he wanted to say, and he made quick work of it. He talked about Snell. He talked about the frozen ground, and the heavy snowfall on top of it. He asked for help, for someone to take a close look and test out the theory he and Curran had put forth.

“As you can see, I’m not too far from grass. And I would like to see this information used. If you want to come and spend the day in Southern Oregon and look at the material, all are welcome. I might even give you a glass of ice water from Hugo, and it’s great.”

In fact, he got a warm reception from the people still in attendance at the symposium, whether out of respect for Hunsaker’s theory, or just his years and experience.

There were some supportive comments, too, during the question-and-answer period. In particular, Robert Collins, then chief hydrologist for the Army Corps of Engineers, where he spent 40 years, agreed with Hunsaker that the heavy snowfall in the winter of 1861-62 had been overlooked in some estimates.

Collins says he thinks the average flows on the American River that year may have been underestimated by about 30 percent.

Hunsaker never talked to Collins again, but the comment made a huge impression.

In his dining room, Hunsaker keeps a 3-foot-long rectangular chart that he’s adapted from a graph produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The vertical axis on the graph shows the average flows on the American River, at Fair Oaks, during heaviest three days of rain, every season, going back to 1905. The horizontal axis shows the peak flow during those storms. Every storm is represented by a point on the graph, and nearly every storm falls neatly into a line, including, the big flood years of 1955, 1964, 1986 and 1997. If you know what the average flows are, you can predict the peak flows and vice versa.

The flood of 1862 is not shown on the graph, because those measurements weren’t taken back then.

Hunsaker and Curran had the graph modified—and then printed onto a large board and laminated—by adding in data from 1862. They even paid a mathematician to do the calculation for them.

Take the three-day flood flows on the American River during the 1997 storm, then add 30 percent, per Collins, then plug that number in the Army Corps’ big graph, voilà, you get a peak flow of 414,000 cubic feet per second—far above what anyone else has estimated.

And that’s pretty conservative, said Hunsaker, when you take into account things like the Snell rainfall numbers. All told, he thinks there was a pulse of more than 500,000 cubic feet per second going down the American at its most terrible stage.

Sitting there in Hunsaker’s dining room in Hugo, it’s not always easy for a nonscientist to follow the trail of the meterologist’s evidence. By cramming his arguments into a few explanatory paragraphs, the author is probably doing the weatherman a disservice. Perhaps the best that can be done is point the reader to the source. Hunsaker’s book, the audio of his presentation and a couple of his key papers are all on the symposium website (the presentation is at, and the book is at

The upshot is it would be very bad for Sacramento if he’s right. Folsom Dam and the existing system are just not built to handle that much water.

We just want to be heard

Luckily, Hunsaker is not right, said Gary Estes. “He’s a special guy. I have a great deal of respect for Leon,” Estes said. “But he’s a meteorologist, not a hydrologist.”

For one, the Snell numbers really are complete “outliers” and can’t be taken seriously, he said. And even Robert Collins, the guy who agreed with Hunsaker that the snow fall in January 1862 had been underestimated, came up with his own estimate of the peak flow on the American that year of a little more 300,000 cfs. Maybe it could have been as high as 360,000.” But more than 400,000? “I have a tough time believing that,” Collins said. “The American River produced a lot of floodwater. But that’s an awfully high value.”

Then there are the swamp commissioners.

At the symposium this year, some long-lost records from the Sacramento County Swamp and Overflowed Lands commission are going to be revealed that Estes said will shed new light on the American River flood flows in 1862. “Here’s an actual estimate by people who were on the ground.”

At first, Estes was reluctant to reveal what the documents say ahead of the symposium. “I kind of don’t want to give away the punch line.”

But ultimately, Estes allows that the round number is about 320,000 cfs—just a bit higher than the 300,000 estimates that have been going around.

Asked why he thinks it’s important that this document is being revealed, Estes said, “Because it’s been the big bad flood of 1862. Leon is saying we’re going to have it again, and Sacramento is going to flood.”

“Well, we’ve already had another 1862: It happened in 1997,” Estes added. And we’re all still here.

Hunsaker isn’t at all convinced by this. For one, he doesn’t think much of the swamp commissioners’ ability to measure flood flow 150 years ago. He likens the argument to “a murder investigation, where the eyewitness accounts and the DNA evidence tell different stories.”

“Our argument is based on the DNA,” he added.

Even if Hunsaker is wrong, it seems his needling, and his persistence is shaking some things loose, getting us a little closer to understanding what happened in this terrible series of storms. And there’s the fact that the Estes has posted Hunsaker’s book and other papers on the symposium’s website for other scientists to see.

Hunsaker says he won’t travel to the Davis symposium this year. Estes wouldn’t put him on the agenda this time either and the travel is too difficult, he said. You can tell he doesn’t like the way it sounds, even as he says it: “Here they are having a conference on the 150-year anniversary of this flood, and they don’t want to hear from us.” It’s about the only time he sounded a little bit bitter, during this reporter’s visit to Hugo.

All this is no mere intellectual exercise for Hunsaker, or hobby to keep himself busy. He believes the difference between his estimates and those of the Army Corps is literally a life and death difference—between a relatively safe Sacramento, and one that is certain to be underwater again at some point.

“At least our conscience will be clear,” Hunsaker said. “We just want to be heard. We want to be on the record.”

By:Cosmo Gavin/Sacramento News and Review