Sacramento’s four mayoral candidates shared the stage this week for just the second time, addressing a broad range of questions on downtown development, homelessness, gay rights and public safety.
The Thursday night forum at KVIE’s studios began with a discussion on the development of Golden 1 Center – and its broader impact on the central city, including concerns raised by some that downtown development will lead to gentrification.
“I don’t think Sacramento is as close to San Francisco in terms of the gentrification issue as some folks would like us to be,” Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said. “However, it’s a concern.”
She added she wants an initiative launched by Mayor Kevin Johnson to attract 10,000 homes to the central city to include a formal policy mandating a portion of the housing be affordable.
Former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said if the arena “is the end of the conversation of the downtown renaissance, we have not done our work.”
“The downtown renaissance will only be completely meaningful if the benefits are spread out to other neighborhoods,” he said, adding that the arena project must also benefit youth services, the arts and city parks.
Russell Rawlings, a disability rights activist, focused on Regional Transit, saying a recent campaign to clean up the system must focus more on expanding service. “Regional Transit needs a real commitment from the city that we’re going to invest in them,” he said.
Former boxing champion Tony Lopez raised concerns about Regional Transit’s ability to handle arena crowds and said he’s worried many people will park in West Sacramento during arena events, transferring revenue to that city.
Rawlings, an Oak Park resident, said gentrification is a growing concern in Sacramento – particularly in working class neighborhoods like his. He said he wants to form a housing commission that includes homeless people and examines the city’s housing stock.
Both Ashby and Steinberg agreed that the city’s focus on trying to expand permanent housing for the homeless is the right approach.
“It is working, it is bringing people off the street, but not fast enough,” Ashby said.
Steinberg – who wrote a 2004 initiative that taxes millionaires to pay for mental health services – noted that state leaders want to use some of that funding to build housing for the homeless around California.
“I’m the only one up here who has the reach and the relationships with state leaders to draw down resources to Sacramento,” he said.
Thursday’s forum was hosted by the Sacramento Stonewall Democrats, Sacramento LGBT Community Center, KVIE and Sacramento Rainbow Chamber of Commerce.
All four candidates expressed support for a planned LGBT senior affordable housing complex planned in midtown and all four said they were surprised that the issue of gender neutral bathrooms is still controversial, although Lopez said he was uncomfortable with the idea of gender-neutral restrooms in elementary and middle schools.
On crime, Ashby, who has the endorsement of the city’s police union, said crime in her North Natomas district has drastically fallen in recent years, even as police staffing has decreased. She attributed the cut to her work to attract a Boys & Girls Club, forming a youth committee and leading a ballot measure to expand library funding.
“It’s those partnerships that really address crime,” she said.
Steinberg said the city should dedicate more money to youth programs because it is doing a “woeful” job of funding those offerings. Steinberg has endorsed a June ballot measure to tax marijuana cultivation to fund youth programs. Ashby opposes that measure.
“This needs to become a city of young people,” Steinberg said.
Rawlings said his Oak Park neighbors have “immense concerns” about crime. And he said he is “disturbed” that the police department spends resources on “niche things” such as its “bait bike” program that targets bicycle theft.
Lopez’s answer to tackling violent crime: people should walk with their heads up and “group up” when they’re out.