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Michael Rondou/Special to The Bee
Firefighters battle fast-moving flames Saturday on the American River Parkway near Cal Expo. A fire near the fairgrounds on July Fourth burned 40 acres. A nearby blaze on the bike trail July 15 shut the Capital City Freeway for 20 minutes.
Michael Rondou/Special to the Bee/
Firefighters work to protect a structure near a fast-moving grass fire that erupted Aug. 2 on the American River Parkway near Cal Expo.

There are sections of the American River Parkway that look like another planet.

Stephen Green was standing in front of one of those places on Friday. The ground was gray and powdery. Charred logs lay splintered on the ground. What was left of a small tree stood by itself among the emptiness.

Was this the fire that burned 30 acres in early August? Or was it the big one on the Fourth of July that nearly messed up a fireworks show at Cal Expo and delayed a Sacramento Republic FC soccer match? It could have been the blaze that shut down the Cap City Freeway during the commute one evening in July.

One more question: Who can we blame for this?

Andrew Seng/
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson

The city’s firefighters union has endorsed a November ballot measure seeking to increase the authorities of the mayor’s office.

Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522 announced Thursday that it was supporting Measure L. That endorsement follows announcements in recent days that the city police officer union, the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento-Sierra Building Trades & Construction Council – which represents more than two dozen unions – are also supporting the plan.

Also Thursday, the campaign behind the measure announced that the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce had announced its support.

Backed by Mayor Kevin Johnson, the measure would transfer many of the duties held by the city manager to the mayor. The city manager is now appointed by the City Council as a whole and serves as the city’s chief executive.

Edward Ortiz/ Sacramento Bee
Sacramento Fire Station No. 17

Eight years after a scandal over stolen morphine vials rocked the Sacramento Fire Department, a city audit has found that the agency could do more to keep an accurate count of the potent narcotics it uses to administer medical care.

The department has generally strong controls over its inventory of morphine and Versed, but “it could be better,” City Auditor Jorge Oseguera said on Tuesday.

Oseguera said getting access to the drugs is a “very, very convoluted process” that includes signatures from multiple individuals. However, the department has not been conducting enough regular counts of its inventory of the drugs at its EMS central facility and had relied upon handwritten databases, leading to some inaccurate tallies.

For example, a handwritten department spreadsheet from December 2012 undercounted the number of morphine vials the agency had in stock by 100. While the morphine in question was later accounted for, the error went unnoticed for several months, according to the audit.

Lezlie Sterling/
Chickens roam free in a south Sacramento backyard in 2012. City planners are working on a plan to allow urban farms in every corner of town.
Ryan Lillis

The view from the levee road above Nick Avdis’ ranch is like a postcard of this city’s past and present.

You can see his cattle, 60 head right now, grazing on acres of lush land. The neighbors’ walnut trees are right there, too. Others nearby keep horses or chickens or peacocks.

But look past the barbed-wire fence around the Avdis ranch and you see a golden field ending suddenly at a subdivision of earth-tone homes that popped up during the housing boom. The sea of houses continues for miles, past Sleep Train Arena and all the way to the skyscrapers downtown.

From Valley View Acres, it all seems so peaceful, even the sprawl. This neighborhood is a thumb-shaped plot of ranches and small farms at the northern reaches of the city. It’s also the only place in this city of nearly a half-million people where you can keep livestock and run a farm.

Andrew Seng/
An old friend and an old foe have thrown their support behind Kevin Johnson’s strong mayor effort.
Steve Hansen

An old friend and an old foe have thrown their support behind Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor effort.

The Sacramento-Sierra Building Trades & Construction Council, a coalition of more than two dozen unions, announced Wednesday it was supporting Johnson’s November ballot measure to make the mayor more powerful.

That group was the lead opponent of Johnson’s first strong-mayor plan in 2009 and also fought subsequent plans by Johnson to increase his office’s authority; those plans would have granted Johnson more powers than the current proposal. The council’s director, Kevin Ferreira, said Wednesday the measure proposed now “will make Sacramento more accountable and provide the checks and balances our city needs to create high-paying jobs and empower working families.”

The campaign also received a financial boost from the region’s pre-eminent land developer, Angelo K. Tsakopoulos, who last week donated $100,000 to the strong-mayor campaign. According to campaign finance records filed with the city clerk, it was the single largest donation Tsakopoulos or his companies have made to a City Hall political cause since at least 2001.

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.

Major League Soccer executives have heard plenty about Sacramento’s potential as home for an MLS expansion team. Now a date has been set for them to see for themselves.

Two top executives with the nation’s premier soccer league will be here on Sept. 18 and 19 to assess the region’s viability as a potential expansion market for MLS, Mayor Kevin Johnson announced on Tuesday.

In a memo to his City Council colleagues, Johnson said Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott and Charles Altchek, special assistant to league Commissioner Don Garber, will visit Sacramento “to better understand our market, current and potential stadium options, and potential MLS ownership group.”

“I am extremely optimistic that Sacramento can present a compelling and winning case to Major League Soccer,” the mayor wrote.

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.

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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