SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Mack Road in south Sacramento is a three-mile stretch synonymous with crime. In the last year, the Sacramento Police Department has been called out to investigate nearly 1,000 reports of theft and burglary alone.
But Mack Road Partnership executive director Bill Knowlton sees things through a different lens — one of hope and success.
“I think what’s true in this community is that people are very, very optimistic,” said Knowlton. “I think that we also understand that the heavy lifting, we're going to do it as a community. I really believe that… I think the cavalry is us.”
The Mack Road Partnership is a property-based improvement district formed by the city in 2010. It goes from Stockton Boulevard to the west, a little past Franklin.
Knowlton spent about 28 years in the private sector and in his late 40s decided he wanted to be of service to his community.
“When I came here, we went and got 500 business cards with my cell number on it, and I went to every single business. I said hello to introduce myself and gave him my card and said that if they needed anything to call me, and they politely nodded their head and kind of rolled their eyes. I said, ‘no, no, no, give it a try,’” he said.
The mission for Knowlton and his team is to make the Mack Road corridor a place where people want to live, work and shop. It’s something they take seriously.
“We use the word around here a lot, ‘impeccable.’ Is our behavior impeccable? Is the way we behave impeccable, are we being impeccable with our work? Someone asks us for help, are we doing it immediately and to the best of our ability,” he said.
Among the services the partnership provides are armed security guards, maintenance services and advocacy for businesses like Another Look Hair Salon.
“Bill doesn't want to take any of the credit. He's a hard worker. He can get along with the politicians, the barbers, the hustlers, the unhoused. He gets along with everybody, PD. He's like our neighborhood Superman I would say,” said salon co-owner Rob Brown.
Two of Knowlton’s biggest fans are Rob and Tracy Brown. They grew up in the neighborhood and own the salon on Mack Road.
“I went to Valley High School and when it was time for us to open a salon, this was the perfect area for us. And I don't know what happened… all of a sudden, it just kind of went down,” said Tracy.
Enter the Mack Road Partnership.
“They made sure they involved the community and I think that's what I loved about it. We have a phone number we can call now. Before it was like you're on your own, you do your own thing,” said Rob.
Hotel owner Anish Prakash also grew up on Mack Road and now owns the Quality Inn. He says if the partnership didn’t exist then he probably would’ve sold the business a long time ago and left.
The hotel was a hub for prostitution and drugs before he bought it in 2011.
“We put in policies that made it really difficult for people to do those things here. We’ve had human trafficking agencies that came out and educated us and trained us to what are the telltale signs,” said Prakash.
The partnership provides pride of place for business owners and a vision with endless possibilities. Bill and his team know it starts with the kids.
“We want our young people to be here and want to stay, and for us to be able to provide those opportunities that make it attractive for a young couple to say, ‘I want to raise a family or I want to raise kids here,’” said Knowlton.
Terrell Olive is the program coordinator for the partnership and he runs the Mack Road Valley Hi Community Center. It’s the only community center around for miles and it acts as a hub for kids who need help with their homework, want to learn new hobbies or are looking for a meal.
“The biggest need for our kids along with food — of course our kids love to eat — they want to be seen, they want to be heard, they want to feel important,” said Olive. “They just want a mentor; they want an adult who cares for them.”
For Sanita Lawrence, the community center is a place where her 8-year-old son Tazayawan can be himself.
“It really helps the kids because there's not a lot of things for them to do… more of a place that makes you feel welcome… they get to get a chance to meet people and keeps them off the street,” said Lawrence.
For Bill and his team, the future of Mack Road has never looked brighter.
“I think that as we look forward and we look at our leg of this journey, I think we have behaved honorably and behaved in a manner of service. And looking back, hopefully, we will say, ‘you know what, we left it better than we found it,’” said Knowlton.