Local Elections

Sacramento Councilman Warren faces challenge from community leaders

Sacramento Councilman Allen Warren faces two challengers for the District 2 seat in his re-election campaign.
Sacramento Councilman Allen Warren faces two challengers for the District 2 seat in his re-election campaign. lsterling@sacbee.com

Developer Allen Warren fought hard to win his Sacramento City Council seat in 2012, spending $351,433 in a fierce contest with former Councilman Rob Kerth.

His re-election campaign – a least so far – is a lower-budget affair. Despite facing two challengers, Warren reported collecting just $7,500 in contributions last year and a $4,000 donation last month from the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley, according to campaign finance reports filed with the city.

His challengers for the District 2 seat are two retired state workers who lead their neighborhood organizations: Gregory Jefferson of the Del Paso Heights Community Association and Sondra Betancourt of Ben Ali Community Association. Neither has raised significant sums of money.

Warren suffered a hit last year when a former aide accused him of sexual harassment, and one Sacramento political consultant said he could be vulnerable as a result. Crime has also spiked in his district, which includes North Sacramento, Del Paso Heights and other neighborhoods north of Highway 160.

“He has the advantage as the incumbent, but he made some mistakes and I’m assuming he’s going to have to tell the voters what happened,” Democratic political consultant Andrew Acosta said.

The woman who accused him, Delia Chacon, filed a claim with the city alleging that Warren had threatened to fire her if she ended their sexual relationship. Warren has said her allegations are false.

The city investigated the claim, spending nearly $50,000 so far on outside law firms, but it has refused to release the results publicly. In February, Chacon withdrew her claim.

“People in the community knew her. They know me. And I think it turned out as people anticipated,” Warren said this month.

Neither of the other candidates has made the sexual harrassment allegation a campaign issue.

Betancourt and Jefferson contend Warren has not been an effective voice for his constituents.

Betancourt does not have a 2016 campaign account, while Jefferson opened his committee last month and reported a $1,000 self-contribution. In terms of endorsements, Betancourt recently received the support of the Sacramento Police Officers Association. SPOA President Tim Davis said the association interviewed the three candidates and felt that Betancourt’s vision was most in line with what the SPOA would like to see in the district.

Jefferson, 59, whose organization supported Warren in 2012, said he entered the race because he does not think Warren has delivered on promises he made in his first campaign, particularly to community organizations that are hampered by a lack of funding and official places to meet.

A significant problem, he said, is that nonprofits and church groups that provide free services face prohibitively high fees to use community centers. Jefferson is a retired Franchise Tax Board employee who served as union representative for his last five years.

Betancourt, 63, a retired Caltrans human resources manager, said Warren’s responsiveness has been “sporadic.”

“A council person needs to work with the community closely to unify communities within the district to a common goal, and that has not happened,” she said.

But Warren, a 53-year-old developer and Del Paso Heights native, says he served his North Sacramento community well in his first term by engaging residents and providing new programs for young people. He also took credit for bringing two grocery stores to a district that previously lacked major supermarkets.

“We had a cleanup in the community a couple of weeks ago, and we had over a hundred young people come out,” he said. “People are taking ownership.”

All three candidates talked about the need to reduce crime in the district, which saw violent crime spike 24 percent in 2015. The district endured the highest violent-crime rate in the city, with 13 homicides, 601 reports of aggravated assault and 283 robberies, according to a Sacramento Bee review of police data.

Among those killed was Grant High School football star J.J. Clavo, who was shot to death in November while driving with friends back to school for a playoff game. A 16-year-old has been charged in the shooting.

Warren said there isn’t a specific reason violent crime has gone up. He said much of it seems to be a result of disputes between gangs. He also said a high concentration of affordable housing in his district may have attracted people released early from prison.

The candidates agree on two main strategies for alleviating crime: fostering a productive relationship between police officers and the community, and expanding summer programs for youths. They disagree on who is best suited to tackle the issue.

Warren said he fought for funding to open the front counter at the police station in his district so the community could have direct access to officers. He also touted new youth programs, including his work to restart Grant Little League after a dormant period and to launch youth soccer and basketball programs. He wants to add track and boxing programs.

Jefferson said the first defense against crime is youth programming in community centers during the summer months.

“If we don’t have programs within those (community) centers to give those kids another alternative to spend their days and nights in the summer – something positive, something sustained,” he said, “then I think we’re going to have the same problem, the same spike that we’ve had in the previous years.”

The Del Paso Heights Community Association’s biggest program is an annual harvest festival it puts on for families who cannot afford to go to the State Fair, Jefferson said. The event includes games, activities, hay bales and free train rides for kids. Police hand out raffle prizes so children can start to see officers in a positive light, he said.

Betancourt said she would like to see more programs such as the Kops-N-Kids summer camp. The Sacramento Police Activities League provides sports opportunities for kids, but she said she would like to see more fishing and equestrian programs. She said she’d like to see youths afforded the chance to develop a broader spectrum of interests.

As president of the Ben Ali Community Association, Betancourt said she works with city officials to respond to illegal dumping, code violations, and abandoned or mismanaged homes and apartment buildings.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison