Small Town Preservation and Revitalization, Part 2: Isleton’s Downtown Corridor - CivicWell

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Small Town Preservation and Revitalization, Part 2: Isleton’s Downtown Corridor

Community Design

Livable Places Update


May 30, 2022

This is part two of a two-part series on the City of Isleton, and its exemplary community resourcefulness in pursuing downtown revitalization. The first part, focusing on Isleton’s new Asian American Heritage Park, can be found here

Isleton, a Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta community with a population of approximately 800, has a long and storied history. As with many small towns, it has faced the challenge of limited staffing and resources for community development. However, committed and passionate local leaders have overcome the obstacles to make Isleton a model of community engagement and collaboration.

Many Hands, Many Voices

Isleton’s historic Main Street served as the central gathering and business hub of the city’s Chinese and Japanese communities from the 1890s through the 1930s. In 1991, the area was designated as the Isleton Chinese and Japanese Commercial Districts and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The local community, interested in pursuing downtown revitalization to revive the district, attract business and visitors, and increase economic opportunity, has sought out and engaged a number of resources to make the goal a reality.

Old cars and balloons fill the road in an old photo of Isleton
Isleton’s historic downtown during the 1929 Asparagus Festival. Photo from the Isleton Chamber of Commerce.

In 2019, the Sacramento Area Council Of Governments (SACOG) invited Isleton to participate in its Civic Lab, Year 2 Commercial Corridors program, which provided an educational and interactive forum with other corridor communities across the Sacramento region to revitalize their main streets. Local stakeholders, along with members of the Planning Commission and the City Council, banded together to form the Isleton Advisory Board. 

The board engaged in community visioning—generating local ideas for beautification, sidewalk repair and activation, crosswalks, street trees, façade improvements, and highway signage in the town. The City then participated in SACOG’s Rural Main Street Technical Assistance project, which provided more detailed assistance. CivicWell joined the project to support community leaders around preservation and revitalization strategies, sharing best practices and listening to the community’s needs and vision. 

Clay Bodenhamer, Board Member for the Isleton Historic Preservation Review Board, recalls: “Over the course of the next 8 months, the Isleton [Advisory Board] attended numerous workshops hosted by SACOG, and hosted experts brought in by SACOG to analyze and provide guidance in the revitalization of the town’s corridor…A political will has developed through the union of ideal, all fostered by the work that so many have contributed to the betterment of this design and planning process.”

SACOG recommended several consultants to help the process. One of those consultants was Robert Liberty, Founder and Director of the Urban Sustainability Accelerator and Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. Mr. Liberty engaged two classes of architecture students from the University of San Francisco to develop a conceptual design for revitalization of the Main Street corridor. The project lasted through 2020, and culminated in four charrette events with SACOG and the students where designs were presented. After inviting public comment, the Isleton City Council and Planning Commission made a final selection that reimagines the streetscape while honoring the unique and powerful history of the community.

downtown Isleton filled with people for a local event
Isleton residents and visitors gather for the 2019 Summerfest. Photo from the City of Isleton.

Transforming Local Vision Into Action

In CivicWell’s 40 years of working with community leaders across California, we have seen time and again the persistent barriers to funding faced by under-resourced and marginalized communities. Due to many factors including limited staff capacity and often-complex application or program requirements, these communities are often out-competed for resources by more affluent areas.

To address these challenges, we developed Funding Navigation for California Communities. This funding and direct assistance platform supports local leaders in navigating the complex landscape of affordable housing, water and energy resources management, sustainable transportation and mobility options, and community greening to identify viable funding sources and develop competitive applications.

The next step for Isleton’s downtown revitalization project is to expand the community vision into a comprehensive, detailed implementation plan. To prepare to apply for large infrastructure grants, we will need to work with the community to develop cost estimates, conceptual designs, and feasible solutions.

We’re happy to announce that Josh Meyer, CivicWell’s Director of Community Design, recently wrote a successful application for a Caltrans Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant that will help the community continue this momentum toward a revamped Main Street and walkable and bike-friendly commercial district that reflects the rich history of Isleton and the Delta region.

Meyer states, “I’m thrilled with this opportunity to continue working side-by-side with community members to honor and build upon Isleton’s heritage with preservation and improvements that contribute to an authentic sense of place.”

SACOG’s urban planner serving the Isleton community, Greg Chew, adds, “CivicWell’s assistance in the project and the Caltrans grant is immeasurable to help reach the next steps in revitalizing Isleton’s Main Street. The grant will help develop planning and preliminary engineering documents that will allow the city a foot in the door when seeking regional, state or federal construction funding.”

A Model for Communities of All Sizes

This small town overcame the obstacle of limited resources by organizing downtown property owners, small business owners, and stakeholders; partnering with the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)—in this case, SACOG and its creative program for rural and small communities; and seeking out technical assistance from nonprofits like CivicWell. Towns and cities large and small can apply these same strategies in their own communities. 

The federal government will soon begin distributing $1 trillion in infrastructure funding over five years. These funds will be allocated to rebuilding roads and bridges, and to new climate resilience and broadband initiatives. As you prepare your infrastructure plans and budgets, think creatively about the projects you want to see in your community—perhaps an EV rideshare like the City of Huron’s Green Raiteros program, or Main Street revitalization like Isleton.

CivicWell is committed to helping local governments and community-based organizations optimize their infrastructure dollars and prepare competitive grant applications. Learn more at

CivicWell’s small-scale green infrastructure stormwater capture project in Morro Bay

Policy Corner

As the calendar turns to June, the Legislature turns its attention to finalizing the state budget which it must pass by June 15 and the Governor must sign by June 30. Taking advantage of an unprecedented surplus of $97.5 billion, the Governor has proposed a budget of nearly $301 billion. Two areas of the budget in particular provide focal points for the attention and advocacy of CivicWell.

Climate Resilience

While last year’s budget included multi-year commitments of $15 billion for climate resilience, extreme heat, wildfire prevention and forest resilience, and drought relief and water resilience, the existential crisis that climate change presents calls for additional significant investment. The Senate has released a Budget Plan that contains an $18.1 billion climate package. Among the items in the package are: 

  • $7.5 billion in state and federal funds for drought relief and water resilience. This amount includes: $500 million for the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program (MLRP) in the Department of Conservation (DOC) as part of implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA); $1.5 billion for safe drinking water; $1.5 billion for improving watershed climate resilience; and $1.5 billion for grants to assist water recycling, stormwater capture, and groundwater cleanup.
  • $6.6 billion over five years for wildfire prevention and forest resilience. This amount includes: $1.5 billion to reduce fuel reduction, $675 million for regional conservancies, and $220 million to expand staffing ratios on fire engines.
  • $3.3 billion over several years to address sea level rise. This amount includes funding to protect urban waterfronts, ports, public infrastructure, and ecosystems.
  • $1 billion to mitigate the impacts of climate change on disadvantaged communities.
  • $1 billion over several years to support biodiversity and outdoor access. This amount includes: $500 million for the 30X30 Goal to preserve 30% of state lands and coastal waters by 2030, and $200 million for urban greening and forestry.


Last year’s budget also held significant investments supporting housing production including $1.7 billion for a “housing accelerator program” so that ready-to-go affordable housing projects could proceed. That funding will yield approximately 4,000 low income units. This year:

  • The Governor’s budget calls for, among other appropriations: 
    • $1.3 billion for Project Homekey
    • $225 million for the Infill Infrastructure Grant Program (IIGP)
    • $60 million for adaptive reuse grants (and $600 million over five years)
    • About $1 billion for state and federal low income housing tax credits
    • $407 million for the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program
  • The Senate budget plan also calls for $2.7 billion for affordable housing and home ownership support including $1 billion for the new “California Dream for All Program” to assist first-time home buyers, and $500 million more for the “housing accelerator program.”

We support these proposals; however, we also believe that funding in both areas of climate and housing need to be even greater.

For example, with respect to climate, we believe an additional $200 million should be committed to address extreme heat, and $100 million should be allocated to a revolving loan fund to assist those who have lost their homes due to wildfire or other natural disasters.

In addition, we strongly support funding, not provided in any of the budget outlines, for implementation of state adaptation plans and to build local and regional capacity to plan, implement, and maintain climate adaptation projects. Committing up to $5 billion over the next several years for a redesigned IIGP would dramatically advance the effort to foster affordable housing, environmental benefits, economic development, and equity.

While the Assembly has not published its outline for the budget so far, we are encouraged that the Governor and the Senate appear to recognize the need for increased levels of investment to meet the enormous challenges we face. With the benefit of an historic budget surplus, we cannot miss the opportunity to take full advantage of this moment.


Board Highlight

Richmond Launches Electric, On-Demand Public Transit Service

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt rides in the new electric rideshare vehicle from Richmond Moves
Tom Butt and colleagues try out Richmond MOVES vehicle at the launch event

“Whether folks are visiting our beautiful parks or historic neighborhoods, traveling to BART or the Ferry Terminal, or engaging with other community members at the Richmond Civic Center, we want to make that as accessible and affordable as possible – and this is a step in the right direction.”

-Tom Butt, quoted in Mass Transit

City of Richmond Mayor and CivicWell Board Member Tom Butt recently took part in a launch event for Richmond MOVES, the city’s first citywide, on-demand shuttle service in collaboration with Via. The three shared, plug-in hybrid electric shuttles provide a sustainable, demand-responsive, dynamically routed, microtransit service to bridge transportation gaps and provide connectivity between services and locations in underserved communities.

Along with CALSTART and the Shared Use Mobility Center, CivicWell is part of the Statewide Administrator team for Clean Mobility Options, a program that funds local shared mobility projects. The City of Richmond is the first to launch a project with funding from the program.


Header photo by By Sarah Stierch – Own work, CC BY 4.0