Six years ago, I made one of the most important decisions of my life – to run for mayor of my beloved hometown. My reasons were simple. I loved Sacramento, and I wanted to see our city become great.
I still remember how dark those days were in 2008. The state was hemorrhaging money and jobs, and “furlough Fridays” meant seeing a weekly ghost town around the Capitol. The foreclosure rate in the region was among the highest in the nation. In just two years, City Hall managed to squander almost $50 million in reserves and one-time funds, and turn it into a $50 million deficit. Sacramento was named the second-most-dangerous city in the state.
I knew the city deserved better. So I ran for mayor.
Six years later, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. We created the first budget surplus in seven years; cut our unemployment rate in half; decreased violent crime; transitioned 2,400 homeless into permanent housing; secured more than $100 million in private investment to improve solar and energy efficiency; and raised millions to keep our city pools open and promote the arts.
Even more exciting, though, is the work on the horizon. We need a more regional economic development strategy. The city should have simpler, more streamlined processes to help our local and small businesses grow and compete. Sacramento has to create more high-quality jobs that lift residents out of poverty and into the middle class. And we require a re-energized approach to public safety that increases community engagement and demands a more comprehensive response to gang violence.
We can address all these challenges and more. But to accomplish all this, a strong city needs a strong mayor. We should move to a mayor-council form of government, to follow the best practices of the vast majority of large cities across the country.
As the only official elected by all city voters, the mayor should shape the most critical decisions facing the community. The mayor and City Council shouldn’t have to find out that the city manager hired a police chief via an email, or have no role in crafting the budget before it’s introduced.
My original “strong mayor” proposal was too much, too soon, and lacked sufficient community input. It set back an important conversation about our city’s future, and I take full responsibility for that mistake. But over the past six years, I’ve listened and learned. And the plan, now called Measure L, has changed and evolved for the better.
Through more than 40 community meetings we’ve made approximately 50 key changes that have resulted in a more effective and balanced proposal. Perhaps most important is a voter reapproval provision: If in six years you like the results under Measure L, you can vote to make it permanent. If not, we will return to the current system.
It’s a testament to the improvements that many of Measure L’s most passionate supporters today were opponents of the 2009 plan. As a result, Measure L now enjoys extraordinarily broad and bipartisan support: five of my council colleagues; Sen. Darrell Steinberg; former mayors Phil Isenberg and Jimmie Yee; all of our city’s major chambers of commerce; labor unions representing police officers, firefighters and the construction and building trades; neighborhood advocates; respected academics; faith and civic leaders.
Ultimately, this decision is up to you. I strongly urge you to vote “yes” on Measure L. It’s time to bring more accountability, transparency and democracy to City Hall.
If Measure L passes, whether it’s me or future mayors, you’ll finally know each and every day where the buck stops. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Kevin Johnson was elected mayor of Sacramento in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.