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Ryan Lillis

Michael Chaves is up on the Boulevard, just trying to hang on.

Chaves opened a coffee shop called Son of a Bean on Del Paso Boulevard about 10 months ago. He’s trying so hard to make it past one year. But he needs a little help because some days he might only get six or seven customers.

If only someone would do something with all those empty lots across the street.

“It’s hard to look out my window and all I see is dry land,” Chaves was saying last week.

Jose Luis Villegas/
Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson reminds everyone that the council is still in session following the celebration after the passing of the arena during Tuesday evenings arena vote at the Sacramento City Council meeting at city hall on May 20, 2014.

Two more groups with ties to organized labor have endorsed Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s November ballot measure seeking to increase the powers of his office.

The campaign behind the strong-mayor measure announced Thursday that the union representing city police officers and an association of electrical contracting firms that use unionized workers have endorsed the plan. Unions representing local construction workers and ironworkers are also supporting the measure, along with some business groups.

“Each day we earn the trust of the community by being accountable and transparent in our police work. That’s what we’re measured on and that’s what our citizens demand,” police union leader Dustin Smith said in a statement released by Sacramento Tomorrow, the campaign committee backing the ballot measure. “We need a government structure that ensures the same kind of accountability and transparency at City Hall.”

Under the plan, the mayor would take on the authority to appoint and fire the city manager, as well as propose the city budget. Supporters argue that would create a more accountable government by transferring many of the authorities currently held by an unelected city manager to the elected mayor.


Downtown Sacramento has finally landed a major retailer that city officials and business leaders have been after for years.

The city has reached a deal to buy a vacant building at 730 I St. for $5.4 million and then immediately sell the property to Bay Area-based retailer Sports Basement for the same price, officials announced Thursday. The City Council is expected to approve the deal at its meeting on Tuesday.

If approved, the new Sports Basement could be open by next summer.

Sacramento County owns the site and is also expected Tuesday to agree to sell the building to the city. The county and city have been in negotiations since last month.

Wednesday, August 20 2014
Branch removed from iconic Sacramento tree
Ryan Lillis/
This 50-foot branch on a giant elm tree in Sacramento's Elmhurst neighborhood was removed on Wednesday. The branch, which resembled a giant arm, led neighborhood residents to call the tree "the hugging tree" and "the elbow tree."

The hugging tree has lost its arm.

A city crew Wednesday morning was in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Sacramento to remove the iconic, 50-foot branch from a massive elm tree that has stood on the median of T Street for decades.

The branch resembled a long arm reaching toward the ground from the tree’s base. For decades, children had climbed on the branch. This summer, Kristen Anderson and Dan Henderson, a couple who live on T Street, got married under the limb.

But then neighbors started calling the city with concerns that the branch posed a safety risk. Tim Dailey, a city arborist, said, “we have to plan for the unforeseen,” like someone bonking their heads or falling off the branch.

Hector Amezcua/ Sacramento Bee file
Sutter Brown, the California governor’s Welsh corgi, was designated as stand-in to have a bucket of ice water dumped on his head.

At least one of the three people Mayor Kevin Johnson dared to take the Ice Bucket Challenge has declined. Sort of.

Gov. Jerry Brown has apparently passed on Johnson’s challenge from Tuesday. Instead, Sutter Brown – the governor’s Welsh corgi – posted a message on Twitter and Facebook saying he was “standing in for the Gov. Jerry Brown. A small bucket for a big cause.”

OK, a human probably wrote that. But a video that accompanied the message showed Sutter Brown standing in front of the Capitol. A handler then dumps a small bucket of water over the doggy’s head.

No word yet from the two other folks Johnson challenged: former California first lady Maria Shriver and basketball legend Hakeem Olajuwon.

Brian Baer/ Special to the Bee
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson holds the game ball before the game as the Sacramento Republic FC hosts Oklahoma City Energy FC at Bonney Field in Sacramento, Saturday August 9, 2014.

Add Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to the list of people who have had buckets of ice water dumped over their heads.

The mayor posted a video on YouTube on Tuesday morning of himself accepting the “Ice Bucket Challenge” from Crown Downtown, a Kings fan group. He then challenged Gov. Jerry Brown, former California first lady Maria Shriver and basketball Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.

Johnson had a personal message for Olajuwon. In 1994, while playing for the Phoenix Suns, Johnson dunked over the much taller Olajuwon. The play is a defining moment in Johnson’s NBA career.

GKO2R9EM7.3Senior Photographer
Paul Kitagaki Jr./
Steve Hansen stands in front of his 1906 era home in Alkali Flat on April 16, 2013 in Sacramento, Calif.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen, not even two years into his first term at City Hall, is about to take on a popular mayor and many of the city’s most powerful interest groups in a closely watched political battle over how the city will be governed.

Hansen said Monday he is launching a political committee that will seek to defeat a November ballot measure pushed by Mayor Kevin Johnson that would vastly increase the authority of the mayor’s office. In doing so, Hansen instantly became the new face of an opposition campaign that until now had been led largely by labor unions and Democratic Party activists.

Sitting outside a midtown coffee shop, Hansen said “concentrating so much power in one office is not what we need in Sacramento.” He said he would call his campaign “Stop the Power Grab.”

“I don’t think (Johnson’s plan is) necessary, and it’s clear the voters don’t think it’s necessary either,” Hansen said. “They see it as a power grab, especially given that the current system is working.”

Ryan Lillis/ Image from video
A Therapeutic Alternative’s store.

The old Craftsman bungalow at 3015 H St. is directly across the street from McKinley Montessori, a quaint little nursery school and kindergarten. It’s also about 200 feet from McKinley Park and not even two blocks from Sutter Middle School.

That’s all worth mentioning because the business inside the old bungalow sells marijuana.

And so when the operators of A Therapeutic Alternative went to the City Council last week seeking a permit that would allow them to stick around, you might have expected an angry resistance. Would you want your kid going to school across the street from a pot shop?

But not a single person showed up at City Hall to voice outrage. Instead, one person after another spoke fondly of Kimberly Cargile’s business. A guy who used to run a cafe across the street said the pot shop was a great neighbor. The directors of the Montessori school wrote the city a letter saying the dispensary is a compassionate, professional “asset to our neighborhood.”

Another business group and another building trades union have endorsed the “strong mayor” measure appearing on the November ballot in the city of Sacramento.

The campaign behind the ballot measure announced today that the Asian-Pacific Chamber of Commerce and the local Ironworkers Union both endorsed the proposal, which would increase the authority of the mayor’s office.

Those endorsements follow the announcements last week that the Sacramento Association of Realtors and Laborers Union Local 185 are also supporting the plan.

As is the case with Local 185, the Ironworkers Union will likely represent many workers on the new downtown arena project – a project championed by Mayor Kevin Johnson. It is worth noting, however, that unions have historically opposed Johnson.

José Luis Villegas/
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and wife Michelle Rhee respond to cheers from the sold out crowd on Oct. 30, the NBA season opener between the Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena.
Lezlie Sterling/
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, with wife Michelle Rhee, arrives at Sacramento International Airport along with California state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, top, in April 2013 after meeting with the NBA in New York about the possible relocation of the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. Johnson received widespread attention by leading Sacramento’s successful campaign to keep the Kings in Sacramento.

Michelle Rhee, the prominent and controversial education figure who is the wife of Mayor Kevin Johnson, announced on Wednesday that she is stepping down from her post as chief executive of StudentsFirst, the national advocacy organization she founded in 2010.

As Johnson’s national stature increases, Rhee’s new role will be to focus on the mayor’s future. She has already provided counsel to Johnson on political and policy issues since he first ran for office in 2008, including writing key speeches and vetting appointments to the mayor’s staff. At the same time, Johnson has played an active role with StudentsFirst, helping to launch the organization and open its headquarters in downtown Sacramento.

“Kevin has achieved national recognition and is in a position to drive critical change where it’s needed,” Rhee said in a statement sent exclusively to The Bee. “Kevin and I view our goals in life and public service as a team. He was right there with me when we created this organization and has worked alongside me throughout these past four years. I am excited to continue working side by side on these new opportunities we have.”

Rhee also said she “created StudentsFirst to shake up the education establishment, which is exactly what we did. I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve accomplished for kids. We’ve got a terrific team in place at StudentsFirst, and the timing is right.”

Brian Baer/
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson holds the game ball before the game as the Sacramento Republic FC hosts Oklahoma City Energy FC at Bonney Field in Sacramento, Saturday August 9, 2014. Brian Baer/ Special to the Bee

As they prepare to finance more than half the construction costs of a new downtown arena for the Kings, Sacramento city leaders said this week it’s unlikely they can provide public money for a soccer stadium to house a potential Major League Soccer expansion team.

Mayor Kevin Johnson said Tuesday that the city can “be good partners” in the effort to construct what is expected to be a $100 million soccer facility. But he said the emerging ownership group behind the city’s big-league soccer effort should not expect a subsidy.

“I do not have an appetite to provide tax dollars to build a soccer stadium,” the mayor said. “Can it be built without it? It’s possible. Other cities have privately financed soccer stadiums.”

Johnson’s comments were echoed by City Manager John Shirey and City Treasurer Russ Fehr, both of whom cautioned that the city’s capacity to take on significant new debt is extremely limited. The city is financing more than half the project cost for a $477 million arena for the Sacramento Kings under construction downtown and is studying whether to build a new performing arts center to replace the Community Center Theater.

G0K2Q6BQL.2Staff Photographer
Randall Benton/
What is it about Sacramento that its residents like best? For some, it’s the weather and evening breeze.

Ryan Lillis' City Beat column Monday about city envy has people talking about what makes Sacramento great. We asked readers to share their comments on Facebook. Here's what they said.

About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at

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