Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton: Sacramento needs to grow a political spine

Published: Sunday, Sep. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

Every year, Sacramento civic leaders take a journey of unfulfilled yearning. They travel to a different American city that is "doing it right" so that Sacramentans can "see how it's done."

Portland and Denver are particularly eye-opening examples of cities that have become destinations for flocks of tourists and that locals love to show off.

If only Sacramento could be that way.

You hear that lament all over town, every year without fail at Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce events or Downtown Partnership events or any number of rubber chicken angst-fests where locals search hotel ballrooms for answers that never come.

Why bother?

Just as you don't teach a child to succeed in life by trying to be someone else, you don't build a city or a region that way either.

You succeed by being the best version of yourself that you can be.

You identify your assets and you maximize them, and you identify your weaknesses and work on them.

You set specific priorities and you stick to them, even if they are hard and thorny, complicated and messy to deal with.

This is what is lacking in Sacramento, a region of assets yearning to be made priorities.

Sacramento doesn't need its influential people to seek inspiration in Denver. It needs its influential people to stand up for the American River Parkway, 23 miles of urban wildlife adjacent to downtown that could be a showplace – but is a dumping ground of illegal campers, felons and registered sex offenders.

Sacramento doesn't need its movers and shakers to soak up the coolness of Portland in the hopes it will rub off.

Sacramento needs its movers and shakers to pick a local cause, an undervalued asset, and rally behind it.

How about this one: Cesar Chavez Plaza.

It's right in the heart of Sacramento, across the street from City Hall. For the 22 years I've lived in Sacramento, Cesar Chavez Plaza has been a dump.

Talk to any cop who patrols downtown on a bike and he or she will tell you: The same street people who have been there for years populate Chavez park. Registered sex offenders who juice up their court-ordered ankle bracelets at the downtown library and then wait for free food to be handed out by one group or another too often populate Chavez park.

Why are Sacramento "leaders" looking for fixes in other cities when what needs to be fixed is right under their noses?

I'll tell you why – because it's hard. Because people will object, they'll say it's cruel; they'll pack the council chambers and scream for hours.

It's not cruel. It's not wrong. It has to happen.

We've reached a tipping point in Sacramento. When Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna has to worry for the next six months over whether he has contracted HIV from a hypodermic needle that pricked his thumb during a volunteer cleanup of Discovery Park, you know something has to change.

When the downtown, the River District and the American River Parkway – the heart of this region – are potentially wondrous assets diminished by blight and political cowardice, you know change has to happen right now.

Despite the loss of jobs at the Campbell Soup plant and a Comcast call center, Sacramento's economy is finally showing some life.

Business leaders now look to 2015 as the dawn of new era of economic revitalization. After years of erosion, a new owner for the faltering Downtown Plaza is inspiring hope.

But what happens when that new owner looks down the block from the Downtown Plaza and sees the crime caused by fare jumpers who use Regional Transit trains to commute into downtown and cause major headaches for law enforcement?

Politically correct Sacramento has this discussion only in hushed tones, but now is the time to speak the truth openly.

Sacramento doesn't need to be "world class." It needs to grow a political spine. It needs to clean up the river and the downtown by arresting offenders and prosecuting them.

Sacramento city and county have gutted services because of a faltering tax base. Instead of raising taxes to make up the shortfall, how about cleaning up assets that could generate a greater tax base – the downtown, the river?

Where are Mayor Kevin Johnson and City Manager John Shirey? Where is Sacramento County CEO Brad Hudson? Where is District Attorney Jan Scully? Serna is the only leader I see mixing the right message of compassion for the downtrodden and insistence on the rule of law and protecting our assets.

Serna has begun a "Goodwill Challenge" to raise money for more winter shelter for the homeless. Check it out, or donate, at: goodwill-challenge.

The effort has raised $60,000 so far. Serna's heart is in the right place and his mind is in the right place. He's standing up to protect Sacramento's assets, while feeling the moral responsibility of helping those seeking shelter.

Where all the other "leaders"?

And where are the people who love Sacramento to light a fire under those leaders?

Save the plane fare. Save Sacramento.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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