Steinberg raises concern that pension costs will devour Measure U revenue
“My city sees me.”
The simple words of south Sacramento pastor Les Simmons on Tuesday sum up why this year’s historic city budget was well worth the fight.
Most years, the budget is an important but low-key affair. The chambers sit mostly empty as members debate dense numbers on a spreadsheet.
Not this year. Hundreds of Sacramento business, labor and community leaders organized and pushed for a fundamental change in our city’s investment strategy. Their passionate pleas were met with fierce resistance by those who derided the wisdom of seeking Measure U’s extra half cent, but insisted once the voters said yes that the newly won resources belonged to them.
I’m not going to recount all the twists and turns of the budget debate here. I don’t want to focus on the fight, but on what we are fighting for.
We are fighting for a boy named Deoindre and thousands of kids like him. I met Deoindre last year when he was in the third grade at Parkway Elementary. He was bright and beamed with enthusiasm, and he asked me a great question: As mayor, do I have “all the keys to the city?” I later learned his family had been intermittently homeless and he was at least a grade behind in reading.
I’ve reflected many times since about our obligation to all the Deoindres of our city. We need to unlock every closed door of opportunity and back up every aspiration with a real strategy and sustained resources.
Sacramento is soaring on so many fronts, yet persistent economic inequality weighs us down. The Brookings Institution reports that the wage gap between white residents and people of color in our region grew by $3,171 between 2007 and 2017 – putting us in the bottom 15 of the most populous 100 metro areas in the country for economic inclusion.
Median earnings dropped by nearly 4 percent in the same period, and the number of jobs at young firms fell by 20.4 percent.
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 beyond high school at all.
If we do not invest resources in changing this narrative, our story as a city will be one of a growing gulf between haves and have-nots. Nodes of prosperity will flourish downtown and in select affluent neighborhoods, but most of our children will grow up in surroundings with little economic opportunity, vitality or hope. With so many people unable to fully participate in the economy, employers will look to grow elsewhere.
The Stephon Clark shooting was about much more than police-community relations. People are rightfully demanding that the city address challenges in neighborhoods that have waited decades for attention and investment by their city government.
I proposed raising Measure U to a full penny for our entire city, with a clear emphasis on uplifting disadvantaged neighborhoods. Sacramento voters responded with a 57 percent vote in favor.
Police and fire services are always our top priority and they will continue to receive the majority of our general fund budget, but it’s not enough for our city just to focus solely on public safety in the traditional sense. We need to pay more attention to our struggling neighborhoods, our young people and our growing housing crisis – both to reduce crime in the long term and build a stronger economic base to support core services.
We need a growth strategy and a jobs strategy. We only attracted Centene and 5,000 new jobs because we committed modest public incentives to ensure their location in Sacramento. There will be many more such opportunities. I want to make sure we have the capacity to take advantage of all of them.The budget we passed Tuesday calls for investing $40 million annually in underserved neighborhoods and commercial corridors, affordable housing, job creation, youth programs, arts and the cultural economy. We approved the idea of issuing bonds totaling up to $250 million to create a $100 million housing trust fund and to build public facilities and catalytic neighborhood projects.
This year’s budget provides a small taste of the change we’ll be able to make. We’ll continue the Friday night “Youth Pop Ups” that have provided safe, fun activities for more than 3,500 teens since February. We’ll offer free transit passes to make it easier for kids to get to school and work. We’ll fund new soccer and baseball fields in Del Paso Heights.
We’ll foster the creative economy with grants to artists and hire a child care manager to make sure Sacramento parents can work to support their children. New project managers in our economic development department will craft job strategies for each neighborhood, and we’ll offer pitch training and mentorship for budding entrepreneurs.
Someday, if our plans come to fruition, the blighted, vacant stretches of land along Stockton Boulevard will be filled with a mix of market rate and affordable housing. A culinary incubator for Latin American restaurants on Franklin Boulevard will draw patrons from all over the city. An “ideabrary” on Del Paso Boulevard will expand the traditional model of a library to include a makers’ space, a co-working environment, a café and drop-in child care.
Everybody seen. Everybody heard. That’s the story of Sacramento over the past year. If we keep our commitments, it will be the story of our city for years to come.