After eight years of Kevin Johnson, Sacramento’s next mayor will be a very different politician and personality. Which is fine because what the city requires right now is less celebrity and drama. It needs a steady, intelligent leader to build on Johnson’s accomplishments – and take on new challenges.
So far, the campaign between the two main contenders – City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby and former state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg – has been mostly about raising money and collecting endorsements.
In the three months before mail balloting starts for the June 7 primary, Ashby and Steinberg owe it to voters to be crystal clear on where they want to take the city and how they’d get there. To start with, neither of their campaign websites have a section on where they stand on the issues, which is surprising and disappointing. They should fix that, pronto.
There’s no shortage of subjects on which voters need to know their positions. The next mayor will have a full plate – issues that will carry over from the Johnson era, but also new ones. Just to name a few:
▪ Downtown: The new arena is jump-starting downtown redevelopment, but other major public projects are on the horizon. It appears likely that the next mayor and City Council will make the final decisions on whether to renovate the Community Center Theater, expand the Sacramento Convention Center or even build a brand new performing arts center – and where to get the money.
▪ Crime: Violent crime is on the rise after years of decline. While anti-gang and other efforts must be beefed up in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, the city needs to follow through on its long-term strategies of adding patrol officers, partnering with community leaders and diversifying the police force. The next mayor should listen closely to any recommendations from the new Community Police Commission.
▪ Jobs: In his final State of the City speech, Mayor Johnson focused on growing the city’s innovation economy. There are some promising prospects, but it’s essential that the city do what it can to attract middle-class jobs beyond construction and government.
▪ Infrastructure: The city is headed toward raising water and sewer rates again to finish installing water meters and repair pipes and facilities. An increase in storm drainage rates could be coming in 2017. The next mayor must help make sure that the work is done efficiently and without too much disruption, and that those least able to pay get more help.
▪ Regional cooperation: Too often, Sacramento’s leaders don’t work closely with their peers in surrounding cities. Collaborating with West Sacramento on developing the riverfront and on building a streetcar line could usher in a welcome new era.
▪ Homeless: Frequent protests are a vivid reminder that homelessness hasn’t been resolved. City and county leaders must still come up with a smart, long-term strategy and stick with it. The next mayor should be an active participant in that conversation.
▪ Pensions: The city has made some progress, but must continue trying to trim retirement costs in union contracts. The unfunded liability for retiree health care, for instance, is still projected to stand at $363 million in June.
Covering those expenses for retirees means there’s less money for current employees and city services, and the city isn’t exactly flush with cash. While the city’s finances have rebounded since the recession, there will soon be a “fiscal cliff” unless a half-cent sales tax, set to expire in March 2019, is renewed by voters.
This past week, a clear distinction emerged between the candidates on a proposed tax on future marijuana cultivation to fund children’s programs. Steinberg supports the measure that will be on the June 7 ballot as a way to expand underfunded services. Ashby voted Tuesday night against the measure, saying that it would lock up the revenue and take away the council’s power to set spending priorities.
As the mayoral campaign continues, we need to know a lot more about such differences and details of their views on the full range of issues. So far, Ashby and Steinberg have agreed to a couple of forums, but they ought to hold several more. Voters deserve no less.