On the whole, though, the river is a major plus. The neighbors acknowledged as much in 1970, when they lobbied the county to buy the area's informal river access before someone filled it in with a house. The county complied. Lyn Livingston, who took part in that effort, says it was supported by the Save the American River Association.
Through the '70s and '80s, Sarah Court Access, as the parcel is called, sometimes attracted raucous crowds that partied on the beach. Rafters and other boaters would launch from Sarah Court, parking in the neighborhood.
"They would park on weekends all up and down the street," says Carol Misquez, a longtime resident who founded the neighborhood crime watch because of the problem. "They were inebriated or in some kind of state." "It got to the point where people were spending the night here, right in their cars," says her husband, Will.
A nearby neighborhood asked the county to close Sarah Court, Livingston recalls. People in Shelfield Oaks objected. The county ended up posting 'no drinking' signs, put up a fence, closed Sarah Court to parking for most of the summer, and encouraged boaters to use the nearby William Pond Park instead. Also, over the years, several streets in Shelfield Oaks have been posted 'no-parking' to preserve the area's peace.
In 1997 a developer proposed turning Sarah Court into a lot for a McMansion. Most people in the neighborhood strongly opposed losing their river access and fought the plan, says Livingston, who joined the Friends of Sarah Court. Several county advisory boards and agencies frowned on the effort before the county Department of Parks and Recreation squelched it. "It was a huge community effort," Livingston says. "It was challenging to organize but well worth it."
Today, Sarah Court Park is lovingly maintained by Friends of Sarah Court, which Livingston chairs. "We have it," Carol Misquez says of Sarah Court, "and it's nice, and we care for it."
Today, Shelfied Oaks remains a sociable place. There's no neighborhood association, but Anne Klink serves as unofficial social director, throwing neighborhood solstice parties in the winter and summer. The Farrenkothens heard about the party when they moved in, and met all the neighbors there. Nancy Lust bakes oatmeal cookies for newcomers. But although there are some young families, Shelfield Oaks has more dogs than children.
The current worries in the neighborhood—and they are low-level—involve McMansions that have sprouted along the river (including one that Gilbert calls "the Motel 6"), and a long-tossed-about proposal to build another bridge just up the American River. The river only has four crossings, and some planners say that's not enough.
But if those planners act, they'll hear from Shelfield Oaks. "This greenbelt is so unique," says Anne Klink. "There are so few places like this to live. Why would you take the jewel of Sacramento and create a mess?"
Photos: David Toerge