California Forum

I’m The Bee’s newest opinion columnist, and I want to hear from you

Update: Readers sent more than 120 responses by email, voicemail and online survey. I read or listened to every message. Hear what people told me in my follow-up column.

I could not make rent. After 18 months in a San Francisco apartment with four roommates, I gave 30 days’ notice, put my furniture on the curb and went to crash on a friend’s couch in Oakland.

My fortunes fell fast. One day I had a full-time job that paid the bills. Then, suddenly, I didn’t. It happens: People quit, they get laid off, they get fired. My savings were paltry. Student loan and credit card debt ate away at them. Yet I was a lucky one, with generous friends and only myself to worry about.

Two years ago, I moved to Sacramento, joining the exodus blamed for bringing the Bay Area’s housing ills north.

Moving to Sacramento wasn’t just about rent. I wanted a change. Here, my friends and I socialize by getting together to watch B movies in someone’s living room. It’s low-key and we actually enjoy each other’s company. In San Francisco, the transactional nature of business reporting bled into everything I did.

In Sacramento, it’s easy to find community. Even as a freelancer with minimal local connections, I found people receptive. I had lived here only eight months when I contacted local journalists and school employees with the idea of sending reporters to classrooms. Most of these people had never met me, but they bought in. The Sacramento Bee hosted our first meeting of what became volunteer organization Journalists in Classrooms.

Opinion

It was that early support from the Bee that led me to apply to work here. In my new role, I’ll be a member of The Bee’s editorial board, writing editorials and columns on local issues. This is a welcome return to local news for me, as well as a change of pace.

In the past, I worked as a reporter for small newspapers in different parts of the country, then for business media outlets covering tech companies. I wrote from a detached perspective, trying not to make judgments. As an opinion writer, I’ll share my view on things and pressure local leaders to take specific actions.

Housing will be a frequent topic — there’s no way to avoid that in a city where rent has risen 45 percent in seven years. As a Bay Area transplant who saw Sacramento rents as a relief even amid that increase, I helped create the current situation. At the same time, I know what it means to depend on housing that someone else owns, in a market where prices rise without regard for your income.

I want to tell the stories of renters struggling to hold on, and people pushed to the point of homelessness. I don’t think the recent compromise that mitigates rent hikes goes far enough, but I hope it keeps people housed. We need greater restrictions on rent increases, and a rent board to help regulate them and prevent wrongful evictions.

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Tess Townsend is assistant opinion editor of The Sacramento Bee Lezlie Sterling lsterling@sacbee.com

Before joining The Bee, my freelance journalism focused on environment and climate issues. I covered the lasting damage of drought in the rural Central Valley, public health impacts of wildfire smoke, and preparing for climate change-influenced disaster. I’m interested in tangible ways people in our region will experience climate change, and the role local institutions should play in preventing worst-case scenario impacts.

Outside of work, I run Journalists in Classrooms. We try to demonstrate the crucial role journalism plays in democracy, and encourage kids to question sources of information online. I hope to work on similar outreach in my new role. Youth, and all members of a community, should feel that local journalism institutions belong to them — because they do.

My aim is to be accessible. If you’ve never spoken to a journalist, I want to hear from you. If you have a question, I hope you’ll ask. Let me know when I miss something or get it wrong — but also when I get it right. Sometimes it’s hard to respond to every message. Here’s my promise: Even when I’m unable to respond, I’m listening. You play a critical role in helping me do my job right.

You can reach me by email at ttownsend@sacbee.com, on Twitter at @Tess_Townsend and by phone at 916-321-1913.

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Tess Townsend is assistant opinion editor at The Sacramento Bee, where she writes about local issues. She moved to Sacramento from the Bay Area in 2018 and has quickly grown fond of the city’s hometown feel. Prior to joining the Bee, Townsend lived the typical itinerant lifestyle of a local newspaper reporter, bouncing from paper to paper around the country. More recently, she reported on tech companies in San Francisco.
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