In the coming weeks, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and his colleagues on the City Council will try to convince neighborhoods like Meadowview and Del Paso Heights that they mean as much to City Hall as downtown.
Steinberg said Monday that the work is beginning now.
The mayor announced that $1 million in public grants is available to technology startups and that the city will give special consideration to companies “putting their products and services in low-income communities.”
The new focus is a result of conversations taking place at City Hall about neighborhood equity following the March 18 shooting of Stephon Clark in Meadowview by Sacramento police. The Clark shooting has led to calls from activists for bigger city investments in low-income neighborhoods.
“We all recognize that we must connect what is a disconnect between the great Sacramento renaissance and all the excitement about the future of our city and its economy, we must connect that renaissance to our neighborhoods in much more purposeful and significant ways,” Steinberg said.
Councilman Eric Guerra said at last week’s City Council meeting that “if it’s good enough for downtown, it should be good enough for the other boulevards.” Guerra, who represents a swath of low-income neighborhoods along Stockton Boulevard, repeated his call for broader investment on Monday.
“If rising tides lift all boats, then let’s focus on rising those tides,” he said. “If you just give the communities the opportunity for hope, and we just put a little bit of seed money, a little bit of focus, then amazing things can happen.”
Pastor Les Simmons of the South Sacramento Christian Center said he is optimistic City Hall will follow through on its pledge to help disadvantaged neighborhoods, but "until it happens, we will continue to push for it."
"Neighborhoods in urban black communities have not been given a fair chance to have economic development in the renaissance that is happening in other parts of this great Sacramento," Simmons said. "In order to be great, we have to reach down to the very lowest of low, to those people who are hurting the most and pull them up."
Simmons added it is his hope that a focus on greater investment in "economic equity, business development and educational equity" will be Clark's legacy.
"We need real equitable investment in a way that does not lead to gentrification, but empowers the folks who are right there living in those communities," he said.
Startup firms can apply for grants ranging from $20,000 to $250,000 from the city’s Rapid Acceleration, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Sacramento, or RAILS, program. The funding comes from the city’s innovation fund, mostly dollars the city used to contribute to its former redevelopment agency or those generated from selling surplus city property.
The city awarded 15 grants in 2016 worth a combined $953,000.
One of the winning firms in 2016 was Square Root Academy, a Sacramento-based company that teaches advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, courses to roughly 2,000 students in the region. The company received $50,000 last year that paid for equipment and allowed them to greatly expand the number of students they serve.
Nicholas Haystings, executive director of Square Root, grew up in Meadowview.
“I had two goals: to become an engineer and to give back to my city,” he said.
He said his company works with about 30 kids at John H. Still Middle School in Meadowview, roughly a half-mile from where Clark was killed. Square Root is teaching students there how to use 3-D printers and laser cutters.
“(These are) kids who from an early age were told they weren’t supposed to make it,” Haystings said. “You have some of these kids doing high-level things that some of their college peers can’t even accomplish.”
Steinberg said companies that hire high school students in the mayor's Thousand Strong internship program for low-income city residents will get priority for the next round of grants.
“We have to take advantage of a very important moment here,” the mayor said.
The grant application deadline is May 7. More information on the application process can be found at rails.innovatesac.org.