Mayor says Stephon Clark death wounded Sacramento, calls for $200 million community fund

Saying the death of Stephon Clark last year ripped open old wounds in the city, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Tuesday said he will push to invest $200 million in Sacramento’s lower-income neighborhoods in the coming years in an attempt to avoid other such tragic events.

In a sobering State of the City speech, Steinberg said he was sorry for Clark’s death at the hands of city police last March, and said he wanted to improve lives throughout Sacramento by using Measure U money to create jobs, housing and other opportunities, notably in communities of color. City voters approved extending and doubling the Measure U sales tax in November and city officials estimate it could generate $100 million a year.

Police, responding to reports of a man breaking car windows, chased Clark, 22, last March into a backyard and shot him. Officials said they mistook the cell phone in his hand for a gun.

The mayor chose the Pannell Community Center in Meadowview, a mile from the shooting site, as the venue for his annual speech, and opened by addressing Clark’s family.

“I start by saying and meaning the only thing I know that matters to Stephon’s family and many in our community: I am deeply sorry for what happened to Stephon,” the mayor said. “I am deeply sorry for the pain that will always be with you. The outcome was wrong. He should not have died.”

He said he and police have been talking with community members in recent months, hoping to create a better relationship.

The mayor referenced the ongoing district attorney’s investigation into the shooting, saying he did not know when District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert would announce her decision of whether to criminally charge the officers who killed Clark. However, Steinberg said he understands the anger that could follow that announcement.

“I do not know what the District Attorney and the Attorney General will decide over the days, weeks or months ahead,” he said. “If they decide not to bring criminal charges based on the existing state law, I know that there will be real anger about such a result.”

He pointed out that police have the legal right to use lethal force, but said the city police department is looking at its policies to see if they can be improved.

“There is much more we must do to bring clarity and safety to meet the spirit of the law and of our city’s values,” he said. “We must place more emphasis on the sanctity of life. And we must ensure our police response is not disproportionate to the suspected crime.”

In an attempt to invest in areas of Sacramento that have long been underserved – including Clark’s Meadowview – Steinberg proposed that the city put $40 million a year for the next five years from Measure U tax money into an economic trust fund to be spent on “economic equity in our neighborhoods.”

The City Council would need to approve the $40 million annual spending plan.

“We have a choice,” Steinberg said. “Sacramento’s next days and months must be a tipping point, not a breaking point.”

Stephon Clark’s older brother, Stevante Clark, sat in the second row of the audience during the mayor’s speech. He had “mixed reactions,” he said.

Clark declined to tell reporters what he disagreed with in the mayor’s speech, but did say he was supportive of the mayor’s plan to invest the majority of new Measure U money in underdeveloped neighborhoods like Meadowview.

“My brother died in this community,” said Clark, who plans to run for mayor in 2020. “This community has been hit before my brother died. There hasn’t been a lot of investment in Meadowview, so hopefully this does something in a positive light for this community because we need it. We need the resources.”

Clark would like to see funds pay for youth programs, after-school programs, the arts and community resource centers. He plans to advocate for those initiatives while serving on a committee that will make recommendations for how Measure U revenue should be spent, he said.

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee after the speech, Steinberg said some of the $40 million could fund a “workforce housing and affordable housing trust fund;” capital to allow people to start and expand small and medium-sized businesses; youth arts and culture programs; and incentives to attract large companies.

“It doesn’t mean every new job center or every new industry has to be in the neighborhoods,” Steinberg told The Bee. “It just means there has to be a purposeful and intentional connection between where we create new industries, new employers, small and large, and connecting young people from the neighborhoods to be the first in line for those jobs.”

Council members Larry Carr, Steve Hansen and Allen Warren said they support the mayor’s concept. However, the plan could face some opposition.

Last week, Councilman Jeff Harris raised concerns when asked about north Sacramento nonprofit founder Darrell Roberts’ request of city officials to dedicate at least $20 million in new Measure U revenue annually toward disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“I think that Darrell (Roberts) possibly doesn’t comprehend our larger city budget,” Harris said. “I think some money should go to that, absolutely. Is $20 million the right number? I think probably not, but understand that’s the space Darrell works in so naturally he wants more resources allocated and he does a great job.”

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday, but has said in recent weeks she wants to ensure the city has enough money to fund core city services, such as police, fire protection, libraries, animal services and parks.

“I know there’s going to be some negotiation and there should be,” Steinberg said. “But I think it’s important for a leader to put a stake in the ground and let people know where he or she stands and then let the discussion begin.”

Steinberg proposed the city use $60 million in remaining tax dollars and “significant” anticipated revenue from the emerging cannabis industry to fund core city services and reserves.

Steinberg’s speech made no mention of Sacramento’s bid to land a Major League Soccer team — the focus of his State of Downtown speech last month — or a major plan to redevelop the railyards. That was intentional, he said. He hoped focusing on Clark and the disadvantaged neighborhoods would make the speech more memorable than a list of achievements, he said.

“It felt to me like it would dilute the message if I made it too much about other than what I think was most on people’s minds,” Steinberg said.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.