Bringing Back Del Paso Boulevard

Daniel Savala is working to bring Del Paso Boulevard back to health.
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daniel savala speaking to revitalize del paso boulevard
Daniel Savala. Photo by Aniko Kiezel.

Drive down Del Paso Boulevard in North Sacramento. Ignore that abandoned mattress, the guy yelling at no one, and all those empty buildings. Imagine instead a once-bustling section of Route 40, angled parking for throngs of shoppers, quirky architecture, popular parades and a thriving blue-collar neighborhood. It’s a slice of Americana.

Daniel Savala, a North Sacramento resident and the executive director of the Del Paso Boulevard Partnership, calls it one of the “last great retail corridors.” It’s also a neighborhood and a community. In order to flourish again, it needs to attract and retain more residents, businesses and customers, which is only a part of Savala’s job, but an important one. He’s been DPBP’s executive director for about 18 months, and he’s managing several business closures brought on by the pandemic.

Despite visible losses like Uptown Pizza and Woodlake Tavern, there are signs the negative tide may be receding: Venues are opening back up; young entrepreneurs and artists, attracted by lower rent and that “funky” Boulevard culture, are moving in, he says. Add to that hundreds of units of proposed housing and new building projects rising “vertical” nearby and there’s reason for optimism.

He hopes to entice his new neighbors to head north, rather than drive downtown, to do their shopping, eating and socializing. “How do we get you to come back to Del Paso for the evening?” he asks rhetorically—maybe for sushi from Southpaw, a beer at King Cong Brewing, and later some line dancing at Stoney’s Rockin Rodeo. There are 400 to 475 businesses in DPBP’s district, Savala says, including Dawg Pound Skate Shop, where you can buy a custom-made skateboard, and TRS, a recording studio that attracts “artists from all over the world.”

DPBP’s assessment district, which contains about 315 parcels, runs along Del Paso Boulevard and Arden Way. Owners, who pay annual levies, formed this property-based improvement district to primarily provide maintenance, safety and security services, along with marketing and image enhancement.

While some people still connect Del Paso Boulevard with the arguably more troubled Del Paso Heights, they’re two different places (although both are part of North Sacramento). Changing that perception may be an uphill battle.

Besides the pandemic fallout, one of the challenges facing North Sacramento is an “abundance of affordable housing that’s not government regulated,” Savala says. “You have a lot of old, deteriorated housing stock.” Traditionally, it’s been a neighborhood for blue-collar professionals and working folks, and he doesn’t see that changing, in the short or long term, but he’d like the focus to remain on fostering “a healthier place for people to live.”

Savala was raised on Sacramento County’s unincorporated south side and attended nine different elementary schools. Later, he graduated from Cal State Northridge with a degree in urban, community and regional planning. He returned home and worked on Allen Warren’s election campaign for city council, then spent seven years on the city council staff. “I like to say for the last eight years, my entire life has revolved around what happens here in North Sacramento, Old North Sac, particularly the 95815 ZIP code, but I have a really good breadth of knowledge about the district as a whole.”

He receives calls from folks on his days off, which can be tiring, but he appreciates that people have faith in him. As a resident, he knows how tough it can be to get basic city services like street maintenance (he cuts the grass in the alleys next to his house) and prompt police response.

Bobbie Bray, the owner of Uptown Grounds on Del Paso Boulevard, is effusive about Savala and the work he’s done to help and promote her business since it opened in 2021. She even named a sandwich after him. The Savala comes with salami, arugula and lemon butter on a baguette.

Savala appreciates North Sacramento’s past and present, and he’d like newcomers to see it the same way he does. Affordability was the biggest draw when he purchased his first house here eight years ago, but he was already familiar with the area. His mother, a single mom, bought her first home in North Sacramento. As the father of a 5-month-old (he also has two teenagers), he is comfortable taking the kids for a stroll and walking the family’s dogs. “I feel best here,” he says. “And I want to be part of the resurgence.”