With just 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 City Councilwoman-Elect Katie Valenzuela, who was elected in March to represent midtown and downtown Sacramento and South Land Park, joined CapRadio’s Race and Equity Reporter Sarah Mizes-Tan and News Editor Kris Hooks to discuss the two measures. Valenzuela is one of the foremost opponents to Measure A and supporters of Measure C.
Measure A — known as the "strong mayor" proposal — 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. This is where the mayor is more of a 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 will also interview Mayor Darrell Steinberg on Wednesday, October 21, at 6 p.m. You can tune in to that here.
People say Sacramento is in a moment where voters are asking for more equitable policies. How would voting against Measure A, which includes equity reforms to the city charter, help this?
The reforms in the charter aren't actually real, and that's so important. I think we have often experienced false promises in Sacramento, unfortunately. The most recent being Measure U — when that sales tax was passed, we were promised that that whole additional half cent was going to go to inclusive economic development and to youth, and it didn't. And yet again, we're setting ourselves up for a scenario where we're voting for something and we think we're gonna get one thing, but unfortunately, it's not written in a way to make that real.
So like one great example is the Ethics Commission, which we already have. [Measure A] creates an ethics commission, it creates an ethics code, but it fails to give the ethics commission the ability to enforce the ethics code. Same thing with the equity analysis that says let's do an equity analysis, which I'm a huge proponent of. It says, let's have the auditor report on it, but it doesn't actually require the council to do anything about that. So the equity analysis could be showing perpetual inequity, which we know exists in Sacramento. But there's nothing actually binding in this that will make it real.
Many agree that the city has not made equity a priority in the past. So how do you think Sacramento can become more equitable without changing the current structure?
I think I have a ton of ideas on how we could be being more transparent in our decision making. Some of you might remember that after the protests, after the murder of George Floyd, there was a set of policy reforms that were put forward to the council on July 1. Those policy reforms, they didn't consult equity advocates. They didn't consult the folks who were in the streets demanding change. And they didn't even really give folks time to give input before they voted to adopt those changes one way or the other. So I think what we need to be doing is bringing people into governance. That's what I'm hearing more consistently.
And I've been out at these protests … Folks want to be a part of the solution and they want to have a voice in that process. They want to be heard and they want to feel like there's some mechanism for them to influence change and action in the city.
The mayor says that people expect him to control the budget to make demands of the police chief. But he says that he can't write the budget and that he doesn't manage the chief and that he needs Measure A to meet residents' expectations.
I think there may be a lot of misconceptions out there about what our mayor can and cannot do. And that's real. And I get that. I've had lots of conversations with folks who say the mayor should do X, and I say, well, actually, that's not something that he can do. And so I think this is part of the breakdown in bringing people into the process … So I think that the real issue here is that we're trying to deflect from the fact that the city manager already works for the council and the mayor.
And, like, the city manager is not this uncontrollable bureaucrat. He's an employee of the council and the mayor. And if he needs to do something, if there's something that needs to be that the mayor and the council have, the full authority to direct him to do that. And if he doesn't do what they want, they have the full authority to fire him at any meeting or call him forward for a performance review at any city council meeting. They could do it on Tuesday if they wanted to.
The real issue here is that we're not being transparent with how decisions are being made, where there are limitations in state law. Sometimes the mayor is saying that he can do things with strong mayor that he can't do because of union agreements, that he can't do because a law that precludes us from taking certain actions — and police accountability in particular. So we need to really have that conversation.
Sacramento is growing in population by the year. According to U.S. Census estimates, Sacramento has increased by at least 40,000 people since 2010. Knowing that growth, do you think that it's time for Sacramento to consider its governing system?
Well, there's also larger cities that have bigger councils, and that's something that I'm a huge proponent of. I think, honestly, as we become more diverse and we become bigger, I think it's even more important to have more voices at the table, because how on earth can one person know what an expanding population needs? You can't be expected to know what the Cantonese speakers need in Southside Park and what the Spanish speakers need in South Sacramento. You just can't, because you're one person with one experience. And I think having more voices at the table ensures policies work for everybody. And that's why I'm actually a bigger fan of having larger councils, because having smaller council districts, it's easier for people-based candidates to win. It's less dependent on big money. Also [it] will help us make sure we're more attuned to different needs in the community that we might miss. If we're one person who might live in one community and might not be aware of something happening in another part of town.
A number of council members have expressed concerns that Measure C (on rent control) is just too strong and that it'll end up stunting investment in the city and push landlords away. Do you share that concern?
Absolutely not. I'm glad you raised that, though, because state law — and this is so important, this is actually where Prop 21 comes in, but we can talk about that another time — but state law precludes us from applying any rent control to properties built since 1995. That's it. The new buildings are completely exempt from rent control. We can't do it even if we wanted to. You want to change that? You should look at Prop 21, because that's what it's trying to do. But single-family homes also are completely exempt. It's state law, referred to as Costa Hawkins vacancy control. When a unit turns over and a tenant moves out, you can set that rent and whatever you want. There's nothing that controls that.
When you build a new unit, you can set that rent at whatever you want. We're not controlling that very well as a city, for better or for worse, because all the new units being built are 500-square-foot closets that are renting at $1,800 a month, and I'm not totally sure who can afford that in Sacramento right now. So I think for me, the concerns behind what this will do for new development are completely unrelated. What Measure C actually does and what this is about is about protecting where people are at right now. It's stabilizing renters.
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