This is part of our series speaking to candidates running for Sacramento City Council District 4. Listen to our interview with challenger Katie Valenzuela here.
Homelessness, housing, rent control, gentrification, Stephon Clark, city debt — that’s a lot to consider when picking who to vote for public office.
Incumbent Councilman Steve Hansen is seeking re-election to represent District 4, which includes the central city, Land Park and parts of north Sacramento. A two-term council member, Hansen spoke to CapRadio about his views on the issues.
Why are you running again?
There's a lot of work in the city still to be done. I'm very proud of having brought things like the Powerhouse Science Center forward, which is under construction; help get the Clara [E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts and] the Sofia built.
But there's also a lot of work we have to do with our schools. Washington Elementary has been re-opened and we want to continue to help our kids.
There's a lot of work on homelessness and housing still to do.
And honestly, I feel like we're at a really important inflection point as a city. And we have to continue the progress economically we've made, but we also have to dig deeper into some of the challenges — equity — making sure that homelessness and housing are tackled effectively. And I just feel like I still have my best work ahead of me.
On the topic of rent control, the city of Sacramento passed tenant protections last year that included a cap of 5% plus inflation on the amount landlords can increase the rent and prohibits eviction without cause for renters who have lived at a property for more than 12 months. Many support the ordinance as a huge step to protecting renters but some say that’s not enough. Considering you're the guy who helped broker the deal, what's your stance on where we are with rent control?
The Tenant Protection Relief Act that we passed last year provided immediate relief to people who are facing eviction and really unfair rent increases. It is the strongest of its type of law at a local level in the Central Valley, and certainly in most of California.
I think that these are issues that we're continuing to evaluate and look at. We need to build more affordable housing. We need more housing, period, because we have a shortage. And I think this law is really effective.
The people who criticize it, ironically, supported a weaker law at the state level, and have trumpeted that while they continue to bash our local law. And I think you can't have it both ways.
But we have seen immediate benefits to our residents from our law protecting them from being kicked out. And we've been able to roll back rent increases that happened before our law was enacted. And I'd say that's an immediate benefit and success to our residents today.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg is a statewide leader on addressing California’s homelessness crisis. He's giving you credit for what you've done here in the city. If the mayor comes to you in the future for honest feedback on his plans, what have you told him already or what would you tell him?
Every council member has been part of this debate and conversation. Not only are we building shelters in District 4, we've got Capitol Park Hotel, with 115 people inside right now, has about 70 people connected many with their families, and we're doing a lot of things on that front.
We're building bathrooms. We're advancing programs like the downtown street team, which helps people experiencing homelessness rebuild their self-esteem and dignity. They help beautify neighborhoods that are impacted. And so all of those things are wonderful.
But if you watch a council meeting, I don't think any of us hold back. But what I truly appreciate about the mayor is he has been, without hesitation, [leaped] directly into what are some bigger solutions. It's taken his leadership to really reshape this not only as a crisis, but as something that deserves us responding with as many resources as we can muster.
And so I think when it comes to the mayor, he's been malleable. He's evolved his approaches to respond to feedback and concerns. And so at this point, I think the biggest thing that I would say to him is to keep going [for] the right-to-shelter and the obligation to take it is a major discussion happening at the state level. And right now, local governments, particularly cities, were not equipped with the tools to really confront and to make a big difference on this homelessness crisis without a change and state policy.
The other thing too, is I really think that we're not going to fix this along the whole West Coast without the federal government being truly at the table with their resources. Nobody has the resources to really address this on an ongoing permanent basis except for the federal government.
And lastly, you know, the city of Sacramento has been one of the most pro-housing cities of any major size in the state. We need to see cities throughout the state [to] lower the barriers to getting housing built, streamline affordable housing, lower fees. We've done that stuff here. We need the other cities not only in our region, but across the state to adopt those same pro-housing attitudes.
When former City Treasurer Russ Fehr retired four years ago, he warned the city about taking on more debt. Since, the city has taken on more debt to improve the Sacramento Convention Center, the Community Center Theater, Old Sacramento’s waterfront and the city is now bonding against Measure U sales tax revenue. Proponents say the investments are crucial to Sacramento's future. But critics worry that when the next recession arrives, the city will have incurred too much debt. Where do you stand on the issue?
Well, I think the public knows there's a difference between good debt and bad debt. The city has paid down a substantial amount of debt. We have managed the debt that we do have, refinanced to get lower interest rates. If you look at our credit rating, we continue to get credit rating increases. It's like your credit score going up.
But last year, because I was also concerned about this as part of the budget, I asked the council to pass, which they did, three critical debt management policies: that our general fund would never have more than 6% of its revenues going to debt service, that we would do a stress test for those bond issuances to make sure that we could afford them, and thirdly, that we would only ever bond for capital projects that none of it would go on to ongoing resources, whether it's the Convention Center, which is paid for by the hotel tax, that that bond issuance, because of our credit rating, the interest rate came in much lower than we expected. And we were able to release our debt reserve on that which is a major benefit to the people of Sacramento.
The other debts we are talking about — the affordable housing bond, potentially an economic development bond — this is our answer to the demise of redevelopment, and we need some working capital to be able to address the needs of the city now. And those funds, particularly the ones we're talking about with the affordable housing bond, should leverage about 10 times as much money as we are hoping to secure. So, that's about a billion dollars once you take in state federal tax credit and other resources. That's a really good investment if you can get 10 times the return.
But there is no greater challenge right now than housing. Our homeless folks are seniors and those people with disabilities and other infirmities that can't find or afford other housing. And so that is our major priority here.
Gentrification and displacement is a major concern among residents, especially in the urban core neighborhood of Midtown and legacy, neighborhoods like Oak Park. What does gentrification and displacement look like in your district and what should be done about it, if anything.
We have to manage change. We're not going to be able to sort of just freeze the city at a point in time. That is, in the past, many of the new projects getting built in downtown [and] Midtown were on sites that have been vacant for generations. And we need that housing, as well. The city lab looked at gentrification displacement in Oakland and two neighborhoods. The neighborhood that built far fewer units experienced much greater gentrification because people were displaced or the prior units that they had, because there's nowhere else for folks who wanted to live in that neighborhood to go. Whereas in the neighborhood that built much, there was far less displacement.
I think that when you look at building new units, we have to do that. And that's been a long-term aspiration of the city. But the flip side of it is we're investing in affordable housing. Projects like Lavender Courtyard, the Bellevue Apartments on the 700 block, affordable housing; the housing at the Warehouse Artists Lofts and a variety of other projects that are in the works right now are one of the answers to how we do that.
Our Tenant Protection Relief Act or rent control law, actually, for buildings built before ’95, which are the vast majority of those in downtown [and] Midtown, it gives those tenants that stability and protection so they don't get priced out and forced out by speculation. And so I think what we're trying to do is tackle this problem in a three-dimensional way, but also being well aware that in many, many cities, these are challenges that are far beyond an ability to stop.
So we've had to figure out how to manage them well. And it doesn't mean that everybody is going to be satisfied. But I think that we're continuing to try to do what we can to make sure that we blunt the forces of gentrification and displacement, while we also are providing alternatives in new builds, new places to live and revitalizing our neighborhoods.
Should the officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark in March 2018 still be employed by the Sacramento Police Department? Should they have faced some sort of criminal charges or other discipline?
The death of Stephon Clark was a tragedy for the community and for the city. I think that it brought, along with some of the other prior incidents, an awareness that we needed to continue to push our department to evolve.
Our chief, Chief Hahn, has done an incredible job bringing the officers along through many changes in policy, use-of-force change that the council has asked for. We've also invested a lot in de-escalation training and implicit bias training, in mental health awareness and training. And I think at this point, the biggest challenges are how do we continue to have the best police force in the state. We want to remain an attractive department. And in the end, recruitment and retention through a new generation of officers is a major way to make that progress. And I'm really excited to see the response from Sac State’s Lex program, the new community service officer program, which will be a pipeline into the department for disadvantaged communities who want to have young people who want to join the department.
I think we're just trying to do everything. We can't change what happened. But with laws like AB 392, and the city's own reforms, I think that we're in a much a better place than we were before.
But do you support disciplinary action against the officers?
There was disciplinary action against the officers. I'm not allowed to say, because of the state laws about what happened there. But there has been a very significant effort behind the scenes to make sure that an incident like that doesn't happen again by changing our foot-pursuit policy, by changing a lot of different things. And so that's that's kind of where we stand right now.
Measure U increases the sales tax by a half cent. The mayor promised that the increase would partially benefit underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. Critics call that a regressive tax and say there's no guarantee that new revenue will help low income communities like those in district date. So what are the opportunities and concerns about that tax?
The new measure gives the city a new amount of opportunity to invest into programs, some of which were already doing: our gang prevention task force working with nonprofits, eventually became Advance Peace to help reduce youth gang violence. And for the first time in over a year, we haven't had any people killed who are in their youth in a homicide. We have invested in things like Black Child Legacy, we [did] the youth pop up events, free transit for youth under school age, youth under 18, which has been a phenomenally successful program.
The budget last year that I was the architect of, the budget agreement, provided money to make streets safer in communities that were disadvantaged, created the affordable housing bond that we're talking about to bring housing affordability into the city. And I think that there's gonna always be this conversation about how we do more with the resources we have. But I think that there's never been a time where we've had the resources aligned, the policies aligned, and the will of communities to really dig into these problems that have percolated over 50 years or more, and I am excited to help tackle them. And partnership with my colleagues, who represent other parts of the city, and the mayor — and the community seems willing to work with us to get those things done, as well. So, Measure U opened the door. And we're working on making sure that the promise of Measure U is fulfilled through these various things.
There's always going to be more appetite in need than the city itself can fulfill. That's why we work with our partners at the county, at the school districts, at the state to bring in those other resources, including the federal government, because together we're leveraging a variety of pots of money. Measure U is going to help us leverage a lot more. And so now, we have to come to some common ground on what those priorities are. We're not going to be able to do everything. But we can do a lot. And I think making that progress is going to take the common work and the collaborative work of a lot of different kinds of people. That's kind of where we are, you know. No one tax, especially one that can only do so much, is going to fulfill all of those aspirations. But we can make a lot of progress.
Anything you'd like to add?
I think that the city has this chance to lock in a lot of its economic progress, and that economic progress is what's helping us do these investments in housing affordability and homelessness, in youth that are at risk [and] into the arts. And there are a lot of folks who would gladly have us turn back the clock to when our city was less dynamic. But I think we have no choice if we're going to continue to be viable.
A city that's not growing is dying. And in Sacramento, we are the heart of the state, not only as the breadbasket of the Central Valley, but also as the capital. And we have not only a high quality of life, but we've got great people. And we have to do a lot of hard work.
One of the things I believe about this city is we're not going to have prosperity given to us. We're going to have to work every day to make sure that we are taking advantage of those opportunities and confronting those challenges. And so that's my pledge. That's what I've done. That's who I am. As a poor kid who is lucky to be where I am in life, I work hard every day. And I think that's what the city demands. And that's what's that's what the city needs.
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