City Beat

Sacramento, West Sac lose their colorful watchdogs

Bill Lowell, an epileptic and a disbetic was forced out of his state job on disability several years ago. He now acts as an advocate for disabled rights, especially for public transit. Lowell advocated for affordable dining and something he called “man-sized toilets” in his town, West Sacramento.
Bill Lowell, an epileptic and a disbetic was forced out of his state job on disability several years ago. He now acts as an advocate for disabled rights, especially for public transit. Lowell advocated for affordable dining and something he called “man-sized toilets” in his town, West Sacramento. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

Bill Grant wanted a better bridge game at his senior center in midtown. Bill Lowell wanted a HomeTown Buffet and something he called “man-sized toilets” in his town, West Sacramento.

While many chose to stay home and criticize the government on Facebook, Grant and Lowell kept heading down to their City Hall, year after year, to give your elected leaders the business. It seems they felt it was their duty.

Grant and Lowell died within about a month of one another this fall. Grant was 91, Lowell 76.

Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed. The Sacramento City Council adjourned its Nov. 24 meeting in Grant’s memory. And on Nov. 18, West Sacramento “dedicated” the chair in the City Council chamber where Lowell sat during nearly every meeting for the past 28 years.

Many people at Sacramento City Hall have memories of Grant, who described himself as the city’s “citizen auditor.” He called former Councilman Kevin McCarty “Murphy” during one meeting, and a nickname was born. Grant used a walker but once barked at a police officer who held the door open for him, leading that cop to warn everyone not to repeat his mistake.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said Grant somehow got her cellphone number after she was first elected in 2010. He would call her “mostly to remind me of the importance of bingo at the Hart (Senior) Center,” she said.

“He was relentless in holding us accountable for the day-to-day activities in his life and the lives of his friends,” Ashby said.

Mayor Kevin Johnson, “During my seven years going to City Council meetings, nothing made me smile as much as seeing Bill Grant. Whether it was talking about bingo or giving out nuggets of history, Bill Grant was always entertaining and had an incredible spirit that we’ll miss and never forget.”

Grant served in the Army in World War II and moved to Sacramento in the 1980s. Lowell, a former state worker and mail carrier, moved to West Sac around the same time.

Lowell’s ideas weren’t as odd as they might appear. His campaign for a HomeTown Buffet was really about providing affordable food to the masses. His desire for “man-sized toilets” in new homes was an issue of equal access for those with disabilities and mobility challenges.

“In most cases, there was something a little quirky to what he had to say, married with a more traditional issue,” Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said.

They didn’t pretend to represent broad constituencies; they said they spoke only for themselves. Grant, especially, could come across as a bit grumpy. But now that they’re gone, it’s not surprising they’re being remembered fondly.

Grant and Lowell were members of a club of rabble-rousers that probably exists at every City Hall in this country. One might wonder why they bothered. There’s a general sense that politicians make up their minds on issues long before hearing from the public, that special interests and political allegiances carry more weight than what some old codger has to say.

But Grant never gave up. During one of his final appearances at City Hall, in January, he walked slowly to the podium and sat down. Mayor Kevin Johnson told him he looked good and let him testify for longer than the two minutes given to other speakers. Grant then criticized the city for not maintaining the Hart Center to his standards, wagging his index finger as he testified. He was respectful and funny. The mayor smiled.

“You’re supposed to consider the people,” Grant told the City Council. “But they will accept whatever is given to them.”

Maybe they wouldn’t, if a few more Bill Grants and Bill Lowells showed up at City Hall.

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