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Distinguished Alumni: Retired city executive Francesca Halbakken’s 35 years of public service leave a lasting legacy

Francesca Halbakken's impact on the city of Sacramento can be seen in projects like the downtown Railyards, the SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts centers, and more. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

If you live in the Sacramento area, chances are you are familiar with Francesca Halbakken’s work and not even aware of it.

Though she has spent much of her career out of the public eye, the work of Halbakken, who graduated from Sacramento State with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 1979, will be a part of the city of Sacramento for years to come.

Halbakken served in project management roles on major developments and construction during her 35 years of public service, projects that include the Sacramento Railyards and the SAFE Credit Union Convention and Performing Arts centers, among others.

The Sacramento State Alumni Association will honor Halbakken, who will receive a Distinguished Service Award, and other noted alumni during a celebration and dinner Thursday, Oct. 13.

“I am a behind-the-scenes person and do not like a lot of attention paid to me,” Halbakken said. “When I was told that I had been selected, I was surprised, because I think of so many people that I know who have done so many things and I think, ‘Why would you choose me? I seem so ordinary.’ So, I still am surprised that I would have been selected for an honor.”

A Sacramento native, Halbakken originally planned to attend UC Berkeley and pursue a medical career, but those plans changed when she was 19 and transferred to Sac State from Sacramento City College.

“From the time I was probably like in kindergarten, up through my senior year of high school, I fully intended that I was going to become a surgeon,” she said. “There are some similarities (to civil service) in that it’s all about serving people, and they’re both math and science backgrounds.”

Halbakken worked for the state of California and later for the federal government as a civilian project manager in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After deciding the federal or state levels weren’t the right fit, she landed a job with the city of Sacramento in 1986, advancing and ultimately retiring as assistant city manager in 2018. She continued working part time for another 3½ years, extending her efforts on the downtown convention center and theater projects until fully retiring recently.

“We broke ground right at the time of my retirement, so it was a great transition to be able to work on those projects,” she said.

Halbakken’s advice for anyone who wants to work in civil service is to get into their desired agency and then focus on finding the job they want.

“The important thing if you want to be a civil servant is to get in somewhere, and once you’re (in), it’s easier to find jobs within the organization,” Halbakken said. “I highly recommend public service. You might be paid an increment more (working elsewhere), but for the satisfaction you get from being able to help people, in addition to the public benefits, it’s way worth it.”

Halbakken said retirement affords her more time to spend with her granddaughters, family, and friends. She stays active reading, cooking and baking, and walking her dog. She even recently took up pickleball.

She also recently began serving on the Girl Scouts Heart of Central California Board of Directors, and said she likes being involved with the organization because of her passion to help young girls engage with STEM and the outdoors.

“I feel like this is a way for me to continue my public service in retirement,” Halbakken said.

For Halbakken, it’s an honor to be recognized with an award from the University that has given her so much.

“I feel really fortunate that Sac State’s here in the town I grew up in and that you can get such a great education right here at home,” she said. “Not every town has a great university like this one does.”

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About Daniel Wilson

Daniel Wilson joined the Sac State communications team in 2022 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at the Sacramento Bee as an audience engagement producer and reporter. He graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2018. He plays video games, watches pro wrestling, and loves spending time with his wife and cat.

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