For almost all of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s eighth and final State of the City speech, you couldn’t tell his time in office ends in December.
As usual for these events, he was brimming with optimism, full of sports metaphors and armed with splashy announcements.
His city’s biggest cheerleader, Johnson compared Sacramento to a roller coaster nearing the top of a big hill (with a photo on the big screen behind him at the Crest Theatre on Thursday night). If it can just get past that tipping point, the city will be “unstoppable,” he said.
To get over the hump, Johnson focused on economic development and jobs, especially in innovation and technology to move Sacramento beyond its reliance on government and construction.
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He backed that up with announcements of two new companies. AnPac Bio-Medical Science Co., a Shanghai-based startup, plans to hire 250 workers within two years and make Sacramento its U.S. headquarters. And Flippbox, a new tech company, said it is moving from Tampa, Fla., and plans to employ 100 by the end of 2017.
To boost homegrown businesses, the mayor proposed the city invest $1 million in four to six startups and to hand out $500,000 in small grants to groups that train entrepreneurs.
To replenish the city’s innovation account, he wants it to put $2 million into 500 Startups – a venture capital fund started by a Paypal founder that has committed to support 10 new companies in Sacramento – in hopes of making $10 million. Before City Hall gets into the venture capital game, however, officials need to make sure they have safeguards in place to guard against patronage.
Rightly, Johnson called for spreading new jobs outside a resurgent downtown. Reminding the audience of his first campaign slogan – a city that works for everyone – he pledged to aim more aid to needy neighborhoods such as Del Paso Heights and Meadowview, to bring a business campus to the Sleep Train Arena site in Natomas and to establish a medical innovation zone in Oak Park.
Many of these initiatives won’t bear fruit until after he leaves office, so Johnson must make sure they have champions inside City Hall.
Johnson mentioned another issue that has stuck with him for his seven years as mayor and is still unresolved – homelessness. He announced that Sutter Health will match at least $5 million in government grants to build permanent housing. That’s a big boost, but it’s unlikely to stop the protests that are disrupting every City Council meeting.
In his remaining months, Johnson should make as much progress as possible on homelessness. That would be as important a legacy as the new arena.
It was only at the end of his speech that Johnson, who announced in October he wouldn’t run again, bowed to his political reality, and even got a little sentimental. When he said it has been his “sincere honor and privilege” to be mayor, some in the crowd chanted, “Thank you K.J.” And when he said he hopes he left the city “just a little bit better,” he received a standing ovation.
Still, it’s not quite time for Johnson to take his curtain call. He needs to follow his own advice for the city and sprint past the finish line.