Bernie Sanders is coming to downtown Sacramento and not just any old spot in the heart of the capital city. Sanders is coming to Cesar Chavez Plaza on Thursday evening.
Directly across from City Hall, Chavez Plaza is the home office of homelessness in the urban core of the capital of California. It’s where California prosperity and desperation meet in the shadow of a civic government unable to address this civic contradiction.
Chavez Plaza is where you see the futility of our city’s efforts to get people off of our streets. It’s where you see what happens when residents object to homeless shelters in their neighborhoods.
Chavez Plaza is the price we pay for NIMBYism – people sleeping and panhandling in parks named after civil rights legends.
Chavez Plaza is where you see desperate people trying to stay cool in the summer or dry in the winter. It’s where you see people in emotional and psychological distress and, yes, where you see them use public spaces as toilets.
Cesar Chavez Plaza is where the city spent a bunch of money to upgrade the park so that a beautiful restaurant could go in and change the dynamic. The restaurant, La Cosecha, is wonderful. But the city has continued to allow the plaza around the restaurant to be what it is and what’s been for years.
Honestly, if there is one place in downtown Sacramento that needs more than platitudes from politicians, it is Chavez Plaza.
In that sense, it’s ironic that Sanders is speaking there on Thursday. Who is Bernie Sanders but a politician full of platitudes and slogans, with a scant legislative record for all this years in Congress?
His heart seems in the right place. But what has he done besides give speeches?
He was early supporter of the National Housing Trust Fund. It took years for the fund to be enacted and when it was, in 2016, after many iterations, the fund provided only $174 million to be spread out over all 50 states and U.S. territories.
The fund is supposed to help build low-income housing in impoverished areas and that’s great, but it’s not enough.
And a persistent criticism of Sanders is that he has focused heavily on home ownership, while being less convincing on homelessness and rental assistance.
The people in Chavez Plaza need a ton of help before they could ever live in a home. And a question going into his speech is, what will the city do with all the homeless people in the park?
Sanders has a conditional approval to use the space on Thursday, though his permit is not yet fully approved.
Sanders got a permit for a capacity of 4,000 people. They will fence off part of the park and clear the people nearest the fence. But part of the park won’t be fenced and that area will be for overflow.
That fence will go up the park on Thursday and city park rangers will clear the area. It will be interesting to see if any homeless people will be around once Sanders takes the stage Thursday.
It promises to be a spectacle. But once the show leaves town, reality returns – a reality that seems too big for the star of Thursday’s show.