Sacramento mourns City Hall advocate who served as ‘mother bear’ for the south area

Sacramento City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell at City Hall, February 2013.
Sacramento City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell at City Hall, February 2013. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Former Sacramento City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell, who served south Sacramento for 16 years at City Hall, has died at age 68, according to her son.

Darrell Garner said the councilwoman passed away Tuesday afternoon at her south Sacramento home from the effects of a rare neurological condition called primary progressive aphasia, a variation of Parkinson’s Disease.

Pannell was elected to the Sacramento City Council in 1998 following the death of her husband Sam, who held the District 8 council seat for seven years before her.

She came into office as a novice, but was remembered in the end by colleagues as a forceful fighter for her neighborhood, which she defended as a solid community that had been underserved and even dumped on by City Hall.

She helped get final funding for the Pannell Community Center, named after her and her husband. She was the city’s chief advocate for funding to extend light rail to Meadowview, and she helped develop the all-abilities sports field and community library. She also was an advocate for better housing stock.

“Today is a sad day,” said Mayor Darrell Steinberg. “What a fighter. She was someone who looked you straight in the eye and said it like it was, always on behalf of her community. But there was a softness to her too.”

Former Mayor Heather Fargo, a friend, called her a “protective mother bear” for the south area, “one of the most effective council members we ever had. I will miss her.”

Larry Carr, her replacement on the council, said she watched over him with an uncompromising eye.

“She made me promise, these are her words, that they wouldn’t let them build ‘any more junk’ in our district” such as liquor stores and poor-quality housing. “Until her dying day, she loved her community. She considered it one of the great honors of her life to serve.”

Pannell announced in 2014 that she was stepping down from office because she suffered from aphasia, a disease than can hinder speech and communication.

“I hate to leave. I don’t want to leave; my doctor told me I had to retire,” said Pannell at the time. “My voice is gone.”

Pannell’s remarks were met with a long standing ovation from the audience and her City Council colleagues. The council voted to add her name to her husband’s name on what is now the Samuel and Bonnie Pannell Community Center on Meadowview Road.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak