Lying vacant for over 20 years, the area surrounding the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light-rail station in downtown Sacramento was known for crime, blight, and contamination. Former auto repair shops left the area polluted with dangerous amounts of arsenic, mercury, and lead, and development in the area had all but stopped. In 2007, a public-private partnership between the city of Sacramento and Domus Development brought together community groups to address neighborhood concerns and create a new vision for the area. From that vision came a 100 percent affordable, mixed-use complex of two buildings next to the light-rail stop using cutting-edge, energy-efficient features—La Valentina and La Valentina North.

When redevelopment planning began in the Alkali Flat Neighborhood, residents were initially skeptical. Years of crime and blight left many doubtful that any plans for revitalization would be successful, particularly investments in affordable housing. However, the city and Domus engaged residents in a series of community meetings, explaining the project's goals and potential. Eventually, it was residents' preference for a mixture of housing, commercial, and retail space that became the basis for La Valentina's design.

Planning and zoning posed significant challenges for La Valentina. Sacramento's zoning laws had not been updated in nearly 50 years, allowing very limited residential infill development. The developer worked with the city to obtain dozens of permits and variances to legalize the project. The city, in turn, took what it learned from La Valentina and changed its zoning code to permit and encourage infill around the entire city.

Brownfield cleanup, energy efficiency, and environmental health were priorities for community residents and therefore key factors in the vision for La Valentina. The project site was a decades-old brownfield, and its contamination had to be fully cleaned up before any development could begin. Domus used green technology and design in construction, installing energy-efficient heating and cooling systems and appliances and open-air breezeways and staircases, to cut down on energy consumption in the buildings. Permeable paving and native, drought-tolerant vegetation reduced storm water runoff. La Valentina North contains 18 highly energy-efficient townhomes, with almost all of the energy required by residents and common areas generated by the rooftop solar panels. Proximity to transit, schools, parks, and a weekly farmers market let residents get around without having to drive, further reducing energy consumption, air pollution, and traffic congestion while saving people money and encouraging healthy living. Located near Sacramento's central business district, one-third of La Valentina's 170 residents walk, bike, or take transit for their daily commute—more than three times the national average.

La Valentina is truly changing the Alkali Flat Neighborhood. Crime is discouraged through an increased pedestrian presence, new businesses are opening, and residents benefit from on-site social services like free after-school care and adult continuing education classes. Strategically placed windows and balconies put eyes on the street around the clock, preventing much of the criminal activity that had been prevalent in the area. Surrounding lots are already slated for redevelopment, heralding more economic vitality and bringing new amenities and residents to the neighborhood. With its focus on affordability, energy efficiency, transportation choices, and brownfields redevelopment, La Valentina is a model for sustainable growth in a neighborhood with more than its share of challenges.