Every day, in the blocks around City Hall, I’m confronted by the two faces of Sacramento. Thousands of people gather to enjoy concerts and Kings games at the new Golden 1 Center, bringing money and people into our city core. New restaurants, stores and entertainment venues contribute to the growing sense of vitality.
And yet, homeless people curl up at night on the sidewalks and under the eaves at City Hall. At the courthouse, most of those on trial come from circumstances that gave them little chance at success in life, and from neighborhoods disconnected from our Central City renaissance. A disproportionate number of them are black.
Sacramento – like the nation – is at a crossroads. The Stephon Clark shooting, our local and national tragedy, was about much more than the vexing issues of policing and race found in Sacramento and other American cities. It also shed a harsh light on the cycle of poverty, despair and generational trauma that is the reality for too many members of our community.
Poverty in the Sacramento region grew from 12.5 percent of the population in 2010 to nearly 16 percent in 2016 – a figure I find intolerable. Three quarters of the jobs in our region now require high or medium levels of digital skills, but only 18 percent of Latino and black residents obtain at least a four-year degree. Only half go on beyond high school at all.
The problems of inequality, poverty and homelessness aren’t new. But they’re getting worse. They will be a drag on our economy – and on our city’s soul – if we don’t do something.
We need to attract and grow companies that produce goods and services sold all over the world, and – just as importantly – we need to make sure our residents are prepared to fill those jobs. We need to make sure those with modest incomes have affordable places to live and homeless people have somewhere to go once they’ve taken advantage of new programs the city has in place to help them stabilize their lives.
I believe we can make Sacramento a model of inclusive economic growth for the nation. That’s why I propose that we make the current Measure U half-cent sales tax permanent in November and raise it to a full cent. On June 12, my City Council colleagues and I will begin a discussion about what we could do with an expanded Measure U.
At half a penny, Measure U generates about $50 million a year. It has been a great success, allowing the police department to hire and retain more than 100 officers and the fire department to restore a company. Our parks are in better shape, and our libraries stay open longer. If we don’t extend it in November, services will have to be cut, and neighborhoods will suffer.
This half penny would continue to be used for essential city services. But with the other half penny, we could dream. We could build signature neighborhood projects and support more pre-school and workforce preparation programs for youth. We could dedicate $25 million annually to support a capital fund that would total $400 million to $500 million.
This fund would give us the capacity to partner with business, UC Davis and Sacramento State to create jobs. It would give us the resources to help build affordable housing projects and supportive housing for the homeless.
We need a game changer in Sacramento. The only way for us to ensure our city budget is healthy in the future is to make investments that will boost our economy and broaden our tax base.
Darrell Steinberg is the mayor of Sacramento. He can be reached at MayorSteinberg@cityofsacramento.org.