After 20 years at City Hall, Sacramento Councilman Steve Cohn is stepping down to run for state Assembly. His departure has touched off a frenzied race to represent a district that covers the affluent blocks of east Sacramento, the working-class areas of South Natomas and the transitioning industrial area north of downtown.
Seven candidates are seeking to replace Cohn. If none of the candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the June primary, the top two finishers will face one another in the November run-off.
Cyril Shah, a financial adviser and an American River Flood Control District trustee, has raised more than $150,000 – far more than his six opponents combined. He has the support of local business groups and the city firefighters union.
City parks commissioner Jeff Harris, the former head of the River Park Neighborhood Association, is also running. He is supported by Friends of the Sacramento River Parkway and former Mayor Heather Fargo. He has raised the second-most in this campaign –$9,242.
Ellen Cochrane, who has raised $8,677, is a public school teacher and member of the East Sacramento Preservation Neighborhood Association. She has been a vocal opponent of the McKinley Village housing development.
Rosalyn Van Buren is the executive director of the Our Kids Community Breakfast Club, which offers breakfast and educational services for young people in Oak Park and Del Paso Heights. She is supported by Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell, former Councilman Ray Tretheway and Sacramento District Attorney candidate Maggy Krell.
Deane Dana, a business owner, is the president of the McKinley East Sacramento Neighborhood Association. And Adam Sartain, a housing analyst from South Natomas, received a $1,000 donation from Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who represents North Natomas.
Finally, Efren M. Guttierrez is a real estate broker backed by the Latino Democratic Club, the Green Democratic Club and the Sacramento Progressive Alliance. He trails in the fundraising category, bringing in just $945 for his campaign.
The Bee asked each of the candidates for their plans if they are elected, their thoughts on public investment in projects such as the planned downtown arena and McKinley Village, and how each would address the most pressing needs facing South Natomas. These are the answers, with some editing for length.
I will bring forward the Clean Vote ordinance. I was shocked by the Bee revelations about a “Culture of Corruption” in our Statehouse, further dismayed to hear many friends and neighbors say they believed this corruption was par for the course. This cynicism is not good for our city, or for Democracy itself. As a neighborhood advocate I also know that well-financed special interests have excessive clout in our local politics. When the Supreme Court, by a narrow majority, allowed limitless campaign donations, I sought for a way to battle back. Researching the Clean Vote ordinance (my title), I learned that it had worked well elsewhere.
The Clean Vote ordinance would require council members to refrain from voting on any matter that directly benefits a donor who has given more than $1,000 to that council member. It would apply for the whole four-year term. No exceptions. This effectively negates the extra “free speech” advantage enjoyed by the rich who pay to have their projects supported. It levels the field.
The influence of big money corrodes our politics and undermines our system. When you see elected state officials having to take classes in ethics you realize how far we have slid down a bad path. Clean Vote will bring fairness to our city process. Projects will have to be judged on merit; people will be less likely to think council members are “owned” by developers or other special interests. They’ll be owned by us.
I would like to see investment in the Community Center Theater and other projects that have a public benefit—light rail extension, sewer modernization, marketing campaigns to draw business and tourism, for example. I did not support the arena. I believe that the funding term sheet pulls money from city services, and the parking scheme is sketchy. Finally, we (the people) were asked twice if we wanted this project. Twice we respectfully declined. Twice we were ignored. Simply put, this is un-American. However, if elected council member, I would work to support a project that is going forward. Undermining funded city projects is not productive.
However, on the McKinley Village project, there is time to stop the Alhambra tunnel funding suggested by Council Member Hansen. His scheme puts the burden on taxpayers. A McKinley Village tunnel should be paid for by the people who will reap McKinley Village profits. It isn’t right that the public, that has struggled so long with decreased services, should have to shoulder the burden for wealthy builders. Nor does the city establish good precedent when it steps in to do what developers should do.
We need to learn from the McKinley Village impasse. The developer needs to contribute financially to the solution in East Sacramento, and the City must develop ironclad measures to govern traffic impact in future projects. For starters, we need to abandon the antiquated Level of Service guidelines we’ve used in the past and adopt modern methods that assess traffic impact on residents.
The (building) moratorium is the most critical issue facing Natomas. And I say Natomas, because the line dividing the community is an artificial political scribble. The people of the neighborhood need a council member who understands this and who will work cooperatively with Council Member Angelique Ashby.
When I was walking precincts in Natomas I met Jennifer Taylor. She and her family are victims of the no rebuild FEMA law. (This FEMA ban was prompted by Hurricane Katrina and applies to dozens of flood risk areas around the country.) Taylor’s family had to abandon their house after a terrible fire, but still they pay insurance and the mortgage. My first role as a council member would be to advocate for the swift application of funds and lobby insurance companies to act quickly to make sure that relief is directed straight toward the rebuild victims. Permits to rebuild won’t be available overnight. In retrospect, victims should have been granted a waiver to rebuild while the FEMA ban was in place.
Natomas is ready to boom. The oppressive moratorium’s days are numbered. After the directly impacted victims are helped then it’s time to help the Natomas Chamber of Commerce make this The Year of Natomas. I want to help Natomas grow. I can see empty business parkways filled with high tech sustainable business. I can see healthy neighborhoods sprout with new families. I can see parks flourish and businesses grow.
While I plan to be very busy creating quality development projects in and adjoining District 3, as well as addressing specific concerns, my principal objective will be to deliver effective Council attention to short and long term city debt. Our city is already paying a price for inattention to our financial well-being with higher municipal bond interest rates. Our city manager admits that we are facing a fiscal cliff in the next few years. Continued spending on non-essential services and special interest projects will bankrupt our city and endanger critical city services.
I will be the Councilman who insists on financial responsibility with every Council vote and will work towards the development of a truly balanced budget.
The city must scrutinize each and every project that comes before it to determine its necessity, cost and benefit to the city and its residents. The Community Center Theater does face some required changes for ADA compliance but it is questionable if a new theater is financially prudent or even necessary at this time.
The McKinley Village tunnel debacle created by the Council vote in favor of the project will need to be effectively addressed by city staff. The city must follow through on its commitment to create bicycle, pedestrian and vehicle access at Alhambra to meet demonstrated neighborhood traffic and safety concerns. Developer fees as well as state and federal transportation and rail funding will be available to fund this project.
I would like to see more Council attention focused on needed infrastructure such as a combined police/fire/paramedic facility in South Natomas and continued transportation improvements in the city. We need to stop the spending spree we are currently seeing on an almost weekly basis at city hall and focus on city priorities which fit our budget and available state and federal project funding.
South Natomas has had multiple council representatives in recent years. As a result, it has been underserved with both basic city services and funding for projects such as the police/fire/paramedic facility. I will end this neglect with the creation of a South Natomas city/community task force which will meet monthly to address longstanding neighborhood issues.
I have a track record of strongly supporting and working for neighborhoods and will make sure South Natomas receives the basic services that other city neighborhoods receive and easily take for granted. I will also work closely with the multiple South Natomas school districts, social service organizations and our local Chambers of Commerce to assist our youth, local businesses and persons in need.
Did not respond to questions.
Maintaining the integrity of the general fund while paying down our debt and unfunded pension and healthcare liabilities is imperative! We need to create structural stability in the city budget, without relying on tax increases.
We have cut the number of city employees drastically since 2008, and our departments have learned to do more with less. These efficiencies are saving money, but we need revenue to continue the economic recovery, and that will come with smart development in the River District, the Railyards and Natomas, by attracting new business to Sacramento, and by supporting small business through reductions in fees and overly restrictive regulations.
We have to balance our investment in projects with the return in revenues on those investments. The City of Sacramento has a very large debt load. The Arena project will not bring substantial revenue return for several years, so while the benefits may be stimulation of new development and an increase in property values downtown in the future, we still have to balance the budget. I personally feel that the city’s investment in the Arena is too high, and it precludes investment in other areas that I would prioritize such as:
Restoring city services to pre-recession levels to assure public safety, staffing parks maintenance crews and funding deferred infrastructure repairs, adequately funding libraries and after school programs, eliminating mandatory fire department overtime through proper staffing levels, bringing back the Problem Oriented Policing program, completion of the Sacramento River Parkway Trail, a Community Center Theater rebuild, capital improvements like the completion and restoration of local community centers, creating a fund for the development of Regional Parks, expansion of light rail to the airport, bicycle safety lanes and barriers downtown, building transitional housing with supportive services to address homelessness, a public/private partnership to assure an Alhambra underpass to assure mitigation of McKinley Village traffic impacts, and riverfront development from Downtown to Garcia Bend.
The top priority in South Natomas is public safety, and the biggest threat to public safety there is a potential flood. I will work (with) SAFCA and collaborate closely with Congresswoman Doris Matsui, the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to improve the levees so that 200-year protection is attained and the moratorium can be lifted as soon as possible. The lifting of the moratorium will simultaneously open the door to increased development and business/employment opportunities in the area.
I will ensure that emergency planning is created and that residents of Sacramento are trained in emergency preparedness, working with police and fire departments. I will also ensure that every school has an emergency evacuation plan as required by law.
Aside from flood protection, crime is an ongoing problem that must be addressed. Collaboration with the Police Department, neighborhood associations and chambers is essential. I have been successful in developing and coordinating neighborhood watch programs, and will set a goal of generating neighborhood watch programs to cover every South Natomas neighborhood, every retail center, and apartments as well. In addition, I will work with the High School to reduce crime in the San Juan/ Truxel neighborhood. Once they are organized, residents are very effective in assisting the PD in lowering crime rates and making neighborhoods secure.
I’d like to press for a greater level of support and care for the small business community in Sacramento. Whether it is subjective code enforcement, inequitable fee structures, or lack of ease in making sure an entrepreneur knows what to do to start, we simply do not have a reputation as a small business-friendly community.
I propose several steps to take that can help change that. It’ll take a lot more than one plan alone, but one I want to bring forward quickly is starting a small-business conference and convention series I would like municipal government to sponsor. This can expand into creation of a one-stop place where a prospective business owner can get all their permits handled at the city and county level, and also (if not especially) network. Jobs will undoubtedly arise from the project. The possibilities of these kinds of events are endless.
City investment and support matters. At some point soon, we need to have an open and meaningful discussion in this community about threshold levels and public votes when municipalities want to make large draws into their general fund to support projects. I would like to see, for one, a contribution made towards a concept I bring up in my next answer about South Natomas.
There are serious problems with safety in many areas of South Natomas, with much of it centering on the business areas. The corner malls and some of the major streets need considerable attention.
A way to begin improving these areas is to use examples from other communities in the city and motivate business and residents of these areas to create improvement districts, such as those we see on Del Paso Boulevard or Mack Road. As referenced in the previous question, I’d like to see some assistance from the city in seeding these agencies in their first efforts to start clean-ups, promote new and upbeat uses of the spaces, and just generally improve the safety of the area through positive promotions and activities of some many kinds – It’s been working on Mack Road and Del Paso Boulevard, and it’s exactly what’s needed to attract people and businesses back.
I will work tirelessly to create jobs and revitalize the local economy. There are three key areas where we can leverage existing assets in Sacramento and where, as a council member, I can play a pivotal role.
1) We can create life sciences jobs in conjunction with UCD Med Center, one of the best research hospitals on the west coast. There are research towns throughout the country that have created thousands of private and public sector jobs with hospitals very similar to UCD, and we can do the same in Sacramento.
2) Sacramento has some of the best climate and soil for food and agriculture. We can create diverse food industry jobs in Sacramento and maintain the integrity of what we grow. Thanks to our geographic advantage, those jobs won’t easily move to Nevada or Texas.
3) The Sacramento region has two of the three largest pension funds in the country, CalPERS and CalSTRS, which manage roughly half a trillion dollars in assets. They have hundreds of private sector partners that could open offices downtown and create high-paying finance jobs.
I have worked as a financial advisor in Sacramento for more than 17 years. Any large public investment should give the people a return on their investment, and the public benefits must outweigh the costs.
The single largest contribution to the general fund, $120 million, comes from the City’s share of property taxes. If investments in the core of our city lead to a 5% increase in property values, we will generate an extra $6 million every year that can be used for public safety, parks, and libraries.
Vehicular access at Alhambra Blvd. should have been a condition of approval for the McKinley Village proposal, and any associated costs should be paid by the applicant, not the public.
I will work to reduce crime in South Natomas through two important methods.
1) I will work with the Sacramento Police Department to improve police response times. The difference between police arriving thirty seconds earlier or later can be the difference between a safe or tragic outcome.
2) I will work to remove the building moratorium in Natomas. As an American River Flood Control District Trustee, I actively work to strengthen our levees. Our Congress members in D.C. are on the verge of sending millions of dollars to Sacramento for flood protection that will create local jobs, reduce flood insurance costs, and help end the building moratorium.
As a city council member my goal is to assist in the success of our city and individuals in reaching full social and economic potential. We are coming out of a difficult recession that many of us are still recovering from. Some of us have experienced or witnessed our neighbors suffer from loss of homes, jobs and face difficult changes in living. Running for city council has given me the experience of meeting all walks of life.
People who truly care and are concerned about the future of Sacramento. It is this experience and my work in in helping communities that gives me real hope that our better days are ahead.
We have wonderful nonprofits and various organizations that are dedicated to the concerns of our homeless. It isn’t acceptable to see the homeless roaming our alleys, parks and neighborhoods. We need to provide mental health services and proper shelter. For those who can, we must provide opportunities for learning skills that will transition them into jobs and a productive life. With the majority of services located in District 3 this will be a cause at the top of my list.
As a council member I will work hard to resolve any issue we have with all projects approved by the current council. The answer depends on the development. Some development need a combination of incentives including tax breaks, expedited permitting process and waiving of certain fees. A positive working relationship with city council gives investors greater confidence in the planning process.
Depending on the results of environmental and economic analysis. I will consider favorably on projects such as McKinley Village, The Railyards, Township 9, Sutter Residential and those that bring smart economic growth within the city of Sacramento. In addition, given the enormous size and value of our economy produced by small business owners it is of the utmost importance to listen to concerns and provide an environment conductive to success and growth.
South Natomas is a community that cares and the majority of residents have conveyed to me the most pressing issue of concern is safety. Safety regarding the levee and crime.
In addition to the needs of levee repairs there are homes in South Natomas neighborhoods which are behind chain link fences because they were partially destroyed by fire. It is my understanding that we are close from lifting a building moratorium and US Congress has reached a deal on the legislation needed to fix our levees thanks to the dedicated leadership of Congresswoman Doris Matsui and City Council Member Angelique Ashby. I will make every effort to assist homeowners and residents during this transition.
With respect to neighborhood crime. I will continue in a spirit of cooperation to work with first-responders to keep our neighborhoods safe. I will utilize my years of experience in working with some of our toughest communities, practice my education as a member of our Sacramento Gang Prevention Task Force and ensure we have the proper information regarding the programs Nextdoor to keep our community connected and Sacramento 311 to report problems. Most importantly I will continue my dedication to prevention which is demonstrated by my daily work as Executive Director of a non-profit, providing services to our most vulnerable children, and by my service on the UCD Community Advisory Board providing job education and outreach to young adults.