This is part of our series speaking to candidates running for Sacramento City Council District 4. Listen to our interview with incumbent councilman Steve Hansen here.
Homelessness, housing, rent control, gentrification, Stephon Clark, city debt — that’s a lot to consider when picking who to vote for public office.
Housing advocate Katie Valenzuela is challenging incumbent Councilman Steve Hansen to represent District 4, which includes the central city, Land Park and parts of north Sacramento., A housing advocate with experience in agriculture and environmental policy, Valenzuela spoke to CapRadio about her views on the issues.
Why are you running?
I started writing deciding to run at the end of 2018. I am a renter who lives in the central city and, at that time, the city was trying to figure out if they could do some form of rent control. … I remember at the end of 2018 really feeling like that conversation was never going to move and how urgently we needed it to move.
I pay $1,500 a month in rent, you know. I have friends who are getting priced-out pretty quickly and moving up and bunking-up together.
So, I decided to run in early 2019 and declared in April. And one of the first things we did, though, was go out and ask people questions about what their issues were and what they were seeing. And pretty quickly, it became clear that the housing crisis was just a piece of it.
You know, folks, we're not just frustrated with the homelessness crisis. We're all frustrated there. We need more, some new solutions, some new ideas in that equation. But you know, they're also worried about the way decisions are being made at City Hall. They didn't feel like they were included in that, you know, folks that felt frustrated that they didn't get a response from the city on different occasions or, in general, just felt like the city really didn't have their interests at heart.
The city passed tenant protections last year, which included a cap of 5% plus inflation on the amount landlords can increase the rent, and prohibits evictions without cause for renters who have lived at a property for more than 12 months. Many support the ordinance as a huge step toward protecting renters. But some have called it not enough. Where are you on the issue?
I am in the ”not enough” category. I would really like voters to get a chance to vote on stronger and permanent rent control and stabilization protection. I mean, the fact of the matter is the rents have gone up so high, and they're so out of proportion with the amount of money people make, that a 6 to 10 percent increase right now would be catastrophic for a lot of families that I've talked to. So, we need that percentage to be lower.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg is a statewide leader on addressing California’s homelessness crisis and a key architect and advisor for Gov. Gavin Newsom on this issue. If the mayor came to you for honest feedback on his plans — where they succeed and where they fall short — what would you tell him?
I would tell him that I want to do what the evidence shows works best. So, the first thing that I want to do if I'm elected when I'm elected is to establish safe camping spaces around the city. It could be one big spot. It could be a few small spots around town. But the simple fact is that people don't have a place to go right now. And our current shelter approach is really temporary. It's spending a lot of money on a solution that doesn't always permanently house people.
And so, I think what I would like to do is start with establishing these safe camping sites around the city, resource them with navigators, with bathrooms — with the things folks need to sort of stabilize the situation they're in — and then focus on the housing-first approach.
When former City Treasurer Russ Fehr retired four years ago, he warned the city about taking on more debt. Since, the city has bonded and 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. So where do you stand?
One way to approach economic development is to invest in these big projects and to say, you know, this will trickle down and benefit all of us, you know, if we improve the riverfront that's going to help all of us. I come much more from the opposite approach, which is, you know, if we ensure people in our region have access to affordable housing and have access to good transportation networks, to good services, that's actually what builds a stronger economy. If we invest in our small businesses that are here now, for example, who are struggling with rent or who are having permanent challenges, that will make our economy more resilient to future recessions than investing in these large projects.
If I had $100 and I decided to buy a fancy pair of shoes, but I still needed to buy groceries for that week, you know, on the one hand, like, yeah, those shoes are cool. And maybe I really need those shoes. And they may help me in the long run. ... But we have to shift our priorities to some things that are more urgent.
Gentrification and displacement is a major concern among some residents, especially in the urban core neighborhoods of Midtown, and legacy neighborhoods like Oak Park. What does gentrification and displacement look like in District 4? Should something be done? And if so, what?
Gentrification in District 4 really looks like folks who've historically lived in this community — who've worked in these restaurants and these bars and these coffee shops — and are no longer being able to be to live in the central city.
And this is something that I'm personally really passionate about. It's something that has affected me and many people that I know. I do think the government needs to step in.
It's not that we're saying that we don't like growth, and that we don't like economic shifts or even new development. It's really about saying ‘How do we ensure that these changes don't mean that the folks who've been here that we're hoping will benefit from all this new growth and activity aren't then forced to leave?’ ...
Rent stabilization is a huge piece of that, rent emergency funding. So, if someone gets sick, or someone loses their job unexpectedly, having a pot of money — that I know the mayor's talked about previously — available to help them close that rent gap so they don't lose their unit while they try to figure out their situation.
Long term, you have new affordable units that need to be built. And so I've talked a lot about inclusionary housing, and how I want us to look at what's working and not working in other cities and revisit bringing that back to Sacramento, because I think that's important that developers build units that are available to a mixed-income of folks, so that we keep that diversity in population here.
But there's also really innovative things that are going on. I helped found a new nonprofit locally called the Sacramento Community Land Trust. It's a model that's been used pretty successfully in other cities. And essentially what it does is it just pulls parcels out of the market to preserve affordability. So, you could still own your house and build equity in your house. But when you sell that house, you're selling it to the next person in the trust at a predetermined price, and you're not selling it on the open market.
Should the officers who fatally shot Stephon Clark in March 2018 still be employed by the Sacramento Police Department and should they have faced criminal charges based on what evidence you were able to see?
I think we can all agree that something goes wrong when someone is shot who is standing in their backyard without a gun. … I did feel like some level of charges should have been more thoroughly explored. I also feel like, even without criminal charges, there was a lot more that could have been done to give people a sense of certainty that those officers were less likely to go out and have that sort of situation happen again.
I just did a police ride-along, actually yesterday, [in] an effort to really just try to understand the situation. ... And I do feel like this distrust between the community and the police isn't helping anybody. It's something I've heard from a lot of folks that, you know, folks don't feel like they want to come to the police when something's going on. That's not good.
Measure U increased the sales tax by a half cent. The mayor promised that the increase would partially benefit underserved neighborhoods and communities of color. Critics called it a regressive tax and say there's no guarantee that new revenue will help low income committee. So what are the opportunities and concerns about the tax?
I did take the position to oppose Measure U, because I really felt like transparency and accountability, especially given the regressive nature of that tax, was really critical. And unfortunately, we were shown right: Just a few months later, when it became this big food fight over $40 million. And it was, you know, whether or not it should go to housing or community centers or police or fire or whatever. And in the end, it was $40 million. That was less than 10% of the total budget of $1.2 billion. ...
I was frustrated by that whole interaction, because it felt like it really validated what we were asking for, which was a better way of understanding where resources [are] going across the budget, and really ensuring that all of the dollars that we're giving the city are being used to advance our common goals.
Anything else voters should know?
Well, we are a very unique campaign to Sacramento. I mean, we've mobilized over 200 volunteers. I'm running my own campaign, I've got one consultant who's helping out with our field program, because that technology is a mystery to me. But for the most part, we've knocked on thousands of doors, and we've mobilized a lot of new volunteers, a lot of residents in District 4, and we're really trying to show that it's not so much about what the outcome is, but how you get there.
And that is really important to me that, you know, if we're going to do this, that we're doing it all together, and that people feel like they have a voice. And whether or not they agree with everything that I say, that I'm someone who's going to listen and work hard.
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