With less than two weeks until Election Day, the time to learn the numerous state and city ballot measures is dwindling. In Sacramento, there are two major ballot measures to discuss — Measure A and Measure C.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg joined CapRadio’s Race and Equity Reporter Sarah Mizes-Tan, State Government Reporter Scott Rodd and News Editor Kris Hooks to discuss the two measures. Steinberg introduced Measure A, known as the “strong mayor” proposal, earlier this year and is one of the opponents of Measure C.
Measure A is officially titled the "Sacramento Mayoral Accountability and Community Equity Act." If passed, it would change the city from a council-manager form of government — where city council is largely in charge of policy and the manager operates the city and oversees the budget — to a mayor-council form. In this case, Steinberg would act as more of Sacramento’s CEO.
Meanwhile, Measure C would create new renter protections for the city. Currently, the city’s rent control caps rent hikes at 5% plus inflation, with increases being no more than 10%. This measure would cap increases at 5%. It would also create a rent control board.
CapRadio also interviewed Sacramento City Councilwoman-Elect Katie Valenzuela earlier this week. Valenzuela is one of the foremost opponents to Measure A and supporters of Measure C. You can watch that here.
How could Measure A impact the way city council functions right now?
Well, that is the issue of the moment, certainly in the city of Sacramento. And I would put it this way, that the people of Sacramento have expressed a clear desire to have the city focus on economic equity, on racial equity, on affordable housing and homelessness, and to act with greater urgency and greater consistency. In my experience, after nearly four years as mayor, it's not that the current system is broken when it comes to what the city has traditionally done — that is the ability to provide the basic services. But when it comes to aspiration around economic development, around inclusive economic development, around housing and homelessness, there is a wide gap between what the people rightfully want and expect and the ability of this hundred-year-old structure to be able to deliver.
And that's an argument, but I can illustrate it with a number of different stories based upon my own experience as mayor. You remember I came here back as mayor after 14 years in the Legislature, six as the president of the Senate, and so I've learned something over time about how institutions work most effectively. And in my view, it is time to advance the governance of the city of Sacramento consistent with what the people want and what the people need.
And remember this. This initiative is not just about the accountable mayor. It is also about equity, for it sets aside $40 million a year every year for neighborhood-based investment. It requires, especially with a focus on disadvantaged communities. It requires that every major decision the city makes have a focus and an analysis around its impact on racial, gender and LGBTQ equity. It puts the City Ethics Commission in the city charter. It requires participatory budgeting, which is a way many cities have used to engage the public.
Why did you combine the strong mayor and equity issues on the ballot?
So it's the combination of the equity provision that'll be in the charter — the $40 million set aside to make sure that every year we are spending money on economic, racial, gender and LGBTQ equity — and the change in structure that allows the mayor to actually introduce the budget consistent with the community's values, not the city manager. And that allows the right kind of give and take between the mayor and an actually more powerful city council to be able to set the policy direction, and then most importantly to be able to follow through without nine elected officials, not just setting the policy direction which they should, but also engaging in the myriad of questions around implementation. And so to me, the two go together. One without the other is incomplete.
You asked for voters’ trust when campaigning for Measure U, and now you're asking the community for more power under Measure A. Knowing the frustration in the community with how Measure U panned out, why should the community trust you as "strong mayor"?
First of all, let me at least give my version of the record when it comes to Measure U, because I understand that there's frustration out there because nothing has moved fast enough and the implementation of Measure U has been controversial and it was halted because of it. Again, we more than made up for it with the CARES funding.
But let me explain exactly what happened. Measure U passes in November of 2018. It, again, sets aside $50 million a year — that second half-cent, that's what was promised. Between November of 2018 and the beginning of the COVID period, we spent about $35 million of city funding — Measure U and our general fund resources — on exactly what it is I promised: health and human services, inclusive economic development, investment in youth, including significant amount of resource out in the Meadowview area.
Then COVID hits, so we didn't get to the full [$50 million] or even the [$40 million out of the $50 million]. We qualify for CARES money, the federal stimulus relief money, barely, because our population is 508,000. We get $89 million. We put $80 million of that money back into the community. We didn't use it for a budget. So I could argue to the critics, but certainly those who I think play fast and loose with numbers out there among the critics, that we have actually spent a significant amount of money on inclusive economic development, health and human services. But here's the problem, I can't promise or guarantee that year after year after year under this system, because I've got too many people who believe it's their money.
Under the city’s current system, voters have direct access to you at city council meetings. Under the new system, that access would be eliminated. So how would residents address you directly with their concerns under the proposed new system?
I am always with the community. I am always out in the community. The public would never have to worry that if Measure A passes, that I would somehow take that and hide away in ways that I never have over 25 years of elective public office. No mayor worth his or her salt could hide from the public, and the public would not demand — excuse me — would not tolerate it. And rightfully so. And so I would take many extra steps beyond my already visible presence in the community to make sure that I formalized office hours throughout the community, regular town halls — it doesn't even matter to me that the charter says you've got to come to a city council meeting with supporters. How many weeks you want. And I'll be out in the community every week like I always have. And I think that's true.
Under the proposed measure, you wouldn't be required to do any of that. So how can people hold you accountable to make sure they can get that access to you?
Well, guess they know where I live now. I mean, I don't mean to be flip about it, but I — how would people hold me accountable? I would expect them to if I wasn't a visible presence in their grocery stores, in their parks, in their community centers, at their schools. You know, I'm accessible. People have my cell phone number. You ask me to show up somewhere. I don't care who you are, whether you're, quote, important or considered important or not. I will find a way to be there. I think it's important to — making myself accessible. So I think people have a way to hold elected officials accountable to ensure that — and to speak loudly if their mayor is somehow letting them down.
Supporters of Measure C argue that Sacramento’s current form of rent control doesn’t offer strong protections to renters. Why would stronger tenant protections be bad for the city and its residents, particularly during a time when many are concerned about being able to pay rent?
You're asking me why I oppose it. I say two reasons. No. 1, we passed comprehensive rent stabilization and just-cause eviction. And we did it in a way that was strong, that brought everybody along. The initiative adds this rent board in a way that I think is unduly expensive and unwieldy, and it also to me is violative of the process, because when you make a deal, you live by the deal. Especially if it's a principled compromise. And that did not happen.
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