Mayor Steinberg aims high, but must show us the money

Mayor Darrell Steinberg challenged Sacramento on Thursday to set higher goals on economic development and jobs, affordable housing and homelessness, and culture and the arts – and to create a new multibillion-dollar fund to reach them.

But it will be a huge challenge to come up with the public and private money for the proposed capital equity fund, which the mayor suggested could hit $3 billion – each public dollar matched by two from the private sector.

Steinberg mentioned possibly selling as much as 4.5 million square feet of vacant city-owned land and increasing the local sales tax, beyond the renewal of the half-cent levy for basic services expected to be on the November ballot. He and the City Council plan to unveil specific proposals by July after holding four public workshops in the next 45 days.

It also isn’t clear where the private contributions would come from; the mayor acknowledged that the shortcomings in private wealth have been highlighted by Sacramento Republic FC’s search for major investors in its bid for a Major League Soccer franchise.

While the funding is a work in progress, Steinberg is spot-on about raising Sacramento’s sights.

“We must aim for the extraordinary,” he declared in his first State of the City address. “Good enough is just not good enough.”

Yet, in some unfortunate timing, what Sacramento is up against was underscored hours before Steinberg spoke when Amazon announced the 20 finalists for its second North American headquarters – and Sacramento didn’t make the list.

Steinberg said Sacramento was always a “dark horse” in the Amazon sweepstakes, and quickly turned his attention to Apple. The company announced Wednesday it plans a new campus, which will initially focus on technical support. That might be more in Sacramento’s wheelhouse than Amazon’s corporate headquarters. “Amazon’s loss could be Apple’s gain,” the mayor said in a brief interview after his speech.

Steinberg also made clear that in going after good jobs, he wants to make sure that all neighborhoods share in economic growth, and expand opportunity for black and brown youths who have been left out too often, as unemployment and poverty numbers show.

“We are all better off when we are all better off,” he said. “No more dreams deferred, and no one left behind.”

It’s the right thing to do, but it may also broaden public support for whatever revenue sources are proposed.

Sacramento shouldn’t always be scrambling to find public money to take on major projects, Steinberg said. For instance, he said, the city ought to develop the riverfront and the downtown railyard in five to seven years, not 20 to 30. Sacramento should make big strides in ending the affordable housing and homelessness crisis. It should become the nation’s autonomous vehicle capital and a clean technology hub.

While Steinberg is setting audacious goals, he is in a strong position to pursue them.

We shouldn’t underestimate Steinberg’s leadership and political skills, his policy knowledge, and his even-keeled demeanor and collegiality. And he established a solid foundation in his first year in office, so he can build on those accomplishments to make Sacramento the prosperous and inclusive city we all want.

Now, he just needs to show us the money.

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