City Beat

Experience, youth square off in Sacramento council race

Sacramento City Council candidate Eric Guerra.
Sacramento City Council candidate Eric Guerra. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Two candidates at different stages in their careers are competing for an open seat in Sacramento’s City Council District 6. A special election will be held April 7 for the district representing Elmhurst, Tahoe Park, Sierra Oaks and other neighborhoods on the city’s southeast side.

The candidates are Bruce Pomer, 65, a health policy adviser and former community college trustee, and Eric Guerra, 36, a Capitol staff member and Sacramento County planning commissioner. Former Councilman Kevin McCarty stepped down from the district after winning a seat in the Assembly in November.

Pomer, 65, a community fixture for decades, is backed by local political heavyweights, including California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and former state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who both represented District 6 before moving to the Legislature.

He spent 30 years with the Health Officers Association of California, including 20 as its executive director. He helped lobby on behalf of local health officers on a wide range of public health issues, including a bill that banned smoking in the workplace.

Pomer also served as an elected trustee on the Los Rios Community College District board from 1990 to 2010. During that time, Pomer said, the community college district helped pass two bond initiatives, expanded and built new campuses, and began offering reduced fares for students on mass transit.

“We did all kinds of things that expanded educational opportunities,” he said.

Pomer also spent five years on the city’s parks commission and was on the Human Rights and Fair Housing Commission. He and his wife of 43 years, Anne, helped start the neighborhood association in Sierra Oaks.

Despite cycling through more than one economic downturn, the Los Rios district did not make drastic budget cuts during Pomer’s time on the board, he said. “We managed our budget wisely, and we were ready for the recession,” he said.

Pomer – who has run unsuccessfully for City Council twice – said his experience on the Los Rios board would serve him well on the City Council. While the city’s finances have stabilized after years of cuts, pitfalls loom. Long-term liabilities for retiree medical benefits and pensions total hundreds of millions of dollars, and a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2012 to fund core services is scheduled to expire in 2019.

“We’ve got to manage the recovery sensibly,” he said. Pomer said he would not support the city taking on new debt and he would push for an economic reserve equal to 15 percent of the budget. (The council’s current goal is 10 percent.)

In the district, Pomer said he wants to expand bus service into low-income areas and connect young people in those neighborhoods with Los Rios programs.

McCarty said the district is “fortunate to have two good candidates,” but that he is supporting Pomer.

“On day one, Bruce Pomer would be an effective advocate for our neighborhoods and a thoughtful leader for challenging citywide issues,” McCarty said. “His experience as a city parks commissioner, community college trustee and public health advocate will serve us well.”

In addition to McCarty, Steinberg and Jones, Pomer is supported by former Sacramento mayors Heather Fargo and Anne Rudin.

Guerra has also assembled support from local elected officials and organizations. That list includes the Sierra Club, six Sacramento City Unified School District board members and Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, a mentor of Guerra’s who appointed the candidate to the Planning Commission.

Serna said Guerra would bring a “youthful energy” and impressive background to the City Council.

“I think he’s a guy who has really taken the time to engage in his community,” Serna said. “He has an incredible story that starts from an unprivileged starting point, and I think that speaks volumes to his strength of character and the kind of person we want serving on the City Council.”

As a boy, Guerra worked 12-hour days on Central Valley farms, picking figs and peaches. Now 36, he has worked in the state Capitol for more than a decade, serving as the chief of staff to two Assembly members and as an adviser to two other legislators. If elected, he would be the city’s first Latino council member since 1999.

Guerra has lived in Tahoe Park for 18 years and was the president of the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association for three years. He was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2010 and has been its chair since 2013. He’s the president-elect of the Sacramento State Alumni Association and has both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the university.

“This district became an affordable place for my family to seek the benefits of a middle-class life,” he said. “Sacramento gave me a chance.”

Guerra said he would combine his Planning Commission experience and his time with the neighborhood association to bring a “nuts and bolts” perspective to advocating for the district’s communities. He said he believes vibrant neighborhoods require functioning basic amenities, like clean thoroughfares, public transportation and lively business districts.

“Neighborhood and city planning is very complex,” he said. “My focus is not just on the immediate needs, but on making things better in the long run.”

For example, Guerra said he would push for sidewalks on the parts of 65th Street and other main thoroughfares where pedestrians are forced to walk in traffic. He said stretches of Stockton Boulevard are in need of attention – and that could come in the form of new traffic lanes designed to slow traffic and infrastructure to promote walking. He would tackle blight on Stockton Boulevard by trying to consolidate ownership of the street’s empty lots and seek new tenants.

As the head of CSUS’ alumni group, Guerra said he would push for strong ties between the council district and the university. That includes continuing work on the research and innovation district planned for an industrial area just south of campus – an idea promoted by McCarty. Guerra also said he would advocate for diversifying the employment base along the Power Inn Road corridor.

“I come at this as a candidate with a diverse set of qualifications and experiences that can relate to a lot of the district,” he said.

Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.

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