For the past four months, Meadowview and other neighborhoods in south Sacramento have been without a voice on the City Council. Former Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell, whose family presided over the area at City Hall for more than two decades, stepped down in June because of health issues.
The area has many pressing needs, and community activists are eager for the seat to be filled. Four candidates are vying for the office in next week’s November election.
“Everyone will be relieved when we have someone back in that seat,” said Jenna Abbott, executive director of the Mack Road Partnership business group. “It’s hard to go to a council meeting and see it empty. We have so much to do and we need the right person in that chair.”
Residents are also feeling the impact of not having a representative on the City Council. David Bain, who for the past eight years has been president of the Cabrillo Park neighborhood association, said his neighborhood has grown increasingly frustrated as repairs to the local pool have been delayed.
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Pannell helped raise money to keep the pool open in 2009 amid citywide budget cuts. But the pool now needs major repairs to open next summer and funding for that work has not been finalized, city officials said.
“It’s frustrating, and I feel like it’s part of us not having a council person (who could fight for the money),” he said.
One candidate has emerged as the front-runner to take over the seat.
Before she left, Pannell recruited her long-time friend and political ally Larry Carr to run. It didn’t take long for Carr to agree. And in the months that followed, Carr, 68, assembled a deep roster of supporters, from politicians to labor unions to the leaders of neighborhood associations. Carr has raised nearly $90,000, six times the amount of his three competitors combined, according to campaign finance records filed with the city clerk.
Carr’s challengers have balked at the notion that he is the hand-picked choice to lead the district. They say it’s time for new direction in the area after 22 years of being led by the Pannell family; Sam Pannell, Bonnie’s late husband, held the City Council seat from 1992 until his death in 1997.
Those challengers are Ronald Bell, a local pastor; Toni Colley-Perry, an education consultant and former city school board candidate; and Ted Ware, a private mediator and former state Assembly sergeant-at-arms.
Whomever is elected will represent an area in transition.
District 8 remains one of the most challenged parts of the city. The poverty rate is higher and the average family income is lower than the citywide averages, according to U.S. census data. There are far more people living in the district without health insurance thanthere are who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the census data.
But for the first time in 15 years, no one was murdered over the summer on Mack Road, in many ways the commercial heart of south Sacramento and an area that has seen an influx of businesses. Delta Shores, a development of 5,000 homes and large retail projects, is about to begin construction along the southern border of the district.
“We need someone who knows this area and is familiar with the challenges,” Abbott said. “But also someone who has a good understanding of how to work in a place like City Hall, someone who has a little street cred and has a record of doing some advocacy.”
Sitting in his campaign office in a new shopping center across from Cosumnes River College last week, Carr said he had worked closely with Pannell and her late husband for years. He has lived in the Parkway neighborhood of the district for 25 years and, for the past 13 years, has served as the executive director of the Florin Road Partnership business advocacy organization.
Carr said he would step down from the Florin Road post if he wins and has already announced that he would not seek another term on the SMUD board after 15 years in office.
Despite being Pannell’s chosen successor and the candidate with the support of most of the city’s political establishment, Carr described himself as “fresh blood.”
“I’m humbled Bonnie would entrust me with her endorsement,” he said. “The fact has not escaped me that I’m following in the footsteps of someone whose name is on a public building (the Pannell Community Center on Meadowview Road). But I have my own ideas.”
The first idea he mentioned was examining a system that would measure the effectiveness of city services like garbage pickup. He said he also would seek more funding for after-school programs in the area and wants to ensure that jobs at Delta Shores are available to residents of District 8.
On education, Carr said he wants to develop close ties between the district’s two high schools, Cosumnes River College and south Sacramento’s two hospitals – Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento and Methodist Hospital.
Carr said he would continue many of the initiatives started by Pannell, including hosting regular meetings of neighborhood association leaders, organizing large park cleanup days and hosting a regular south Sacramento youth talent showcase. He said there is much to celebrate in the area.
“Because there are challenges, sometimes people feel it’s not a place to live or do business,” he said. “We have to get over that perception.”
Colley-Perry’s focus has been on neighborhood activism and the district’s diversity. She said she wants to launch a “cultural language center” in the area for residents to learn multiple languages.
District 8 is among the most diverse areas with the city, with large populations of black, Latino, Asian and white residents. But some of those backgrounds are not adequately represented in local advocacy groups, Colley-Perry said.
“I’m the only person speaking about the cultural needs of this community,” she said. “This is a culturally rich community and it doesn’t show in the neighborhood associations.”
Colley-Perry, 57, said she also wants to develop an internship program for young people to work at some of the district’s many pharmacies and would push for a community gathering place to be part of the Delta Shores project.
She is a substitute teacher and a former adult education teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District. She was also an active parent adviser in the school district for more than a decade and ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2008. This election, she said she is facing an opponent with a big advantage.
“I don’t feel that as a community advocate I have someone coaching me and telling me to run for office,” she said, referring to Carr.
Bell, 63, said he has lived in south Sacramento for close to 45 years. Like the other candidates facing Carr, he said he has been disappointed with the political leadership in the area.
“They want to maintain the status quo and I refuse to support the status quo,” he said.
Bell said he would advocate for the Police Department to look at diversifying its ranks – something the department’s leadership is already exploring – and said he wants Wal-Mart and developers building Delta Shores to pay for two community centers in the area.
He also said he wants more black and Latino residents of the district to have access to jobs. He said “Middle Eastern families are buying up the doughnut shops, liquor stores and convenient stores and only hiring their own people. That’s not going to change until the representative on the City Council for south Sacramento makes a big uproar.”
Ware, 58, a private mediator who said he has helped settle child custody and business cases, said his professional background has helped him learn “to listen to both sides of an issue and find common ground.”
“My experience and background is very wide and broad and so I feel that really gives me the tools necessary to hit the ground running (on the City Council),” he said.
Ware said he has worked hard to combat illegal dumping in Meadowview and thinks residents need clearer information from the city on how to report illegal activity. “Right now, there’s a way to get it done, but only if you know about it,” he said.
Ware said he could not provide other specific plans for the council office. “If the voters vote for me, they will be very surprised of the new ideas I have and the new direction I have for District 8,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.
KNOW YOUR CANDIDATE
Ronald Eugene Bell
Occupation: Pastor, DMV supervisor
Education: Bachelor’s degree, sociology, UC Davis, 2010.
Experience: 35-year resident of south Sacramento; parent; civil service employee; host and sponsor of Gospel Crusade Dinner and Concert for 17 years; community activist; Sacramento Urban League Award recipient; actor; keynote speaker; pastor.
Lawrence Rodney Carr
Occupation: Director, SMUD board
Education: Master’s of business administration, UCLA, 1976; bachelor’s degree, political science, Norfolk State University, 1969.
Experience: Director, SMUD board, 1999-present; executive director, Florin Road Partnership, 2001-present.
Occupation: Education consultant
Education: Master’s degree, urban educational leadership, CSU Sacramento, 2008; bachelor’s degree, human development, Pacific Oaks University, 2004.
Experience: Graduate, Citizen’s Planning Academy, 2014; education consultant, Toni Colley-Perry Consulting, 2008-present; substitute teacher, Fortune Schools, 2013-present; adult education teacher, SCUSD, 2003-2011; parent adviser, SCUSD, 1995-2008.
Education: Law degree, University of Northern California, 1985; bachelor’s degree, government, CSU Sacramento, 1979.
Experience: Mediator, Ware & Associates, 2000-present; court clerk, Sacramento, 1994-1995; pre-trial interviewer, 1993-1994; sergeant at arms, state Assembly, 1981-87.