About 11% of Sacramento residents don’t and won’t have a City Council member representing them until December 2024 due to recent redistricting.
Richard Falcon is one of the 58,000 deferred voting area residents. Without an official council member advocating for his community of Deerfield/Mesa Grande, he questions how the city will invest in the historically underserved neighborhood.
Falcon and others in deferred areas are represented by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who serves the entire city of 527,000 people. Two council members say they look out for deferred area residents, who live primarily in South and East Sacramento, but they don’t technically represent them.
“The heart of the matter is we have no representation,” Falcon said. “And frankly, for better or worse, we have seen no outreach from the mayor's constituency office directly to say, ‘Hey, you, as this neighborhood association that are caught in this, let's connect.’”
Chinua Rhodes, the mayor’s director of community engagement, said his staff will connect with all of the impacted neighborhood associations if they haven’t already. In addition to Deerfield/Mesa Grande, deferred areas include parts of Valley Hi, Detroit Boulevard, Delta Shores, Southern Pacific, the River District, Cal Expo, East Sacramento and Colonial Heights.
See what areas in Sacramento don't currently have a City Council member
The map below shows the boundaries for Sacrameto's City Council districts and deferred voting areas. Click on the map or enter your address to see your council district or if you live in a deferred area. Shaded areas aren't currently represented by a council member.
Together, the population of deferred areas is just shy of an average council district, which has nearly 66,000 residents.
In interviews with CapRadio, neighborhood association leaders shared a variety of perspectives on deferred areas and their experiences with city outreach. Council members and Rhodes also shared their strategy to engage with these areas, which lost district representation in December 2022.
Why do deferred areas exist?
This two-year period — from December 2022 to December 2024 — marks the first time the city has dealt with deferred areas. But many local and state governments with staggered elected office terms have deferred areas for two years after the decennial redistricting process. For example, the state senate has these areas because of its staggered four-year terms, while the state assembly doesn’t because it has two-year terms.
Jonathan Mehta Stein is executive director of California Common Cause, a nonpartisan pro-democracy group. Stein said Sacramento now follows the standard system across the state and nation by implementing new districts with elections.
“Deferred areas and residents who don't feel they have direct representation is unfortunate, but it's not surprising,” Mehta Stein said. “In fact, it's inevitable in order to have redistricting that ensures that our districts continue to reflect our communities as they grow and change.”
Previously, the city implemented newly-drawn district maps immediately after redistricting and during council members' current terms. In April 2022, the council changed this practice after the city attorney’s office made a decision on who could sign a petition to recall District 4 Council member Katie Valenzuela.
The city attorney decided only voters who elected Valenzuela in 2020 could recall her and council members should represent the areas they were elected to represent until the end of their terms. The council then approved a system of deferred and accelerated voting areas after redistricting. In November, voters passed Measure M, which clarified that new district boundaries will be used in the next regular elections when council members’ terms expire.
Accelerated voting areas are the opposite of deferred areas. Through redistricting, accelerated area residents were moved from a council district where they voted in 2020 into a new district where they voted again in 2022. Deferred area residents were moved from a district where they voted in 2018 into a new district where they will next vote for a council member in 2024.
When redrawing boundaries, Mehta Stein said redistricting bodies can consider how to minimize deferred areas and their impact on communities that have historically lacked representation. But the bodies also have to comply with federal and state redistricting laws.
“There's a million things to balance and even the most good-faith redistricting bodies that are doing it to empower the community are unable sometimes to satisfy everything they're trying to tackle,” Mehta Stein said.
South and East Sacramento reflect on the issue
Both South Sacramento and East Sacramento make up large swaths of the deferred area, but the neighborhoods differ demographically. Under the California Healthy Places Index, the deferred areas in South Sacramento range from less healthy to very unhealthy.
Areas in East Sacramento have very healthy community conditions and higher incomes, education levels and health care access compared to the southern areas. The deferred areas in East Sacramento also have a higher percentage of white residents than those in South Sacramento, according to the index.
Amy Gardner lives in the deferred area in East Sacramento and is a founding member of Midtown-East Sac Advocates (MESA). Gardner said East Sacramento residents are politically savvy and have had access to city government officials.
Instead of an us against them approach, Gardener said deferred area residents across the city can collaborate with each other.
“What resources one person in East Sac can get could be used for people across the city,” Gardner said. “So I think sometimes it's good to lean into different groups for different reasons and maybe leaning into East Sac for connections and kind of problem solving could be a great thing to do.”
Amy Gardner, a resident of East Sacramento not represented by a city council member, poses near McKinley Park Feb. 23, 2023.Andrew Nixon / CapRadio
Falcon expressed similar sentiments, suggesting deferred area residents work together to hold the mayor’s constituency office accountable for services they need.
However, Rhodes said different deferred area neighborhoods may have different needs, wants and concerns. Rhodes, who in addition to working in the mayor’s office also represents South Sacramento on the Sacramento City Unified School District Board, said the east area has had more access to opportunities for decades.
“South Sacramento will get attention and it will get the attention it deserves,” Rhodes said of the mayor’s office strategy for deferred areas. “… East Sacramento will also get attention because we understand the historical things that hinder neighborhoods, but we also want to make sure that in our roles that we are doing just by both neighborhoods.”
While Falcon said the mayor’s office had yet to contact the Deerfield/Mesa Grande Neighborhood Association as of late February, the East Sacramento Community Association met with Steinberg and his staff in January. Tricia Stevens, the association president, said the group requested the meeting because of the deferred areas.
“I would say the whole situation is a little odd and not ideal, but we are making the most of it,” Stevens said.
Stevens and her fellow board members brought questions around funding, commissions and homeless encampments. Outside of that meeting, one of Steinberg’s representatives also regularly attends the association’s board meetings, Stevens added.
The mayor’s office recently began holding town halls and community office hours throughout the city of Sacramento, Rhodes said. The events aren’t limited to deferred areas, but Rhodes said the events are part of an effort to go out into communities instead of putting the onus on residents to reach out to the mayor’s office. Deferred area residents, like all Sacramentans, can contact the mayor’s office via phone and email.
To support deferred areas specifically, the mayor’s office added two staff in December. Rhodes said one of them used to work for former Council member Jeff Harris, who represented East Sacramento.
The mayor’s engagement team also regularly meets with other city staff to discuss deferred area issues, Council members Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang said. Much of the deferred areas will become part of the new Districts 4 and 8 after the 2024 election. If they win reelection, Valenzuela and Vang will represent the currently deferred areas in East and South Sacramento respectively.
By collaborating with the mayor’s office now, Valenzuela said the transition to the future District 4 office providing constituent services in East Sacramento can be smoother.
“We want to make sure that both the deferred and the accelerated areas know who to contact, that there is no wrong door and that we're going to be there to help them connect with the resources they need,” Valenzuela said. “We don't want anybody to feel like this whole transition period means that they got less than.”
Concern, apathy also expressed
Still, Dao Vang, a field organizer for Hmong Innovating Politics, said he is concerned the deferred areas will cause confusion in South Sacramento communities. Vang often works in the Detroit Boulevard and Valley Hi area.
Hmong and Southeast Asian communities living in those areas already face barriers to receiving city services, such as language accessibility, Vang said. Not having a council member officially representing and advocating for them could increase disconnection from local government.
“I feel like the services and issues that are needed urgently might not be addressed quickly or might not be streamlined as fast as it can,” Vang said.
Some Sacramentans might not even know they live in a deferred area. Margarita Chavez is co-chairperson of the Detroit Boulevard Neighborhood Association, an area that used to be divided between District 7 and 8. About half of the neighborhood is now a deferred area that will be part of the new District 8.
Chavez lives in the half of Detroit Boulevard that isn’t deferred. Chavez distributes community news to her neighbors, but she said she didn’t know half her neighborhood is a deferred area until an interview with CapRadio.
“I know that most people around here don't know or some of them don't even give a hoot because they're just trying to live their lives,” Chavez said.
Many people might be more worried about affording groceries or gas rather than whether they technically have a council member representing them, Chavez added. When neighbors on the deferred side knock on her door asking about some government-related issue, Chavez said she still plans to refer them to Council member Mai Vang’s office for help.
Vang told CapRadio she welcomes those referrals and her office doesn’t turn away people who call from a different district, deferred area or accelerated area. Vang said she and her staff coordinate with the mayor’s and other council members’ offices to give callers information as quickly as possible.
Residents might not see boundaries for council districts or deferred areas in the way city government officially marks them, Vang added. A family might live in District 8 and send their kids to school in District 5. But a parent might not make those distinctions when deciding whether to call her office or Council member Caity Maple’s.
“No matter the boundaries, really, we’re all still a community in the south area,” Vang said. “Making sure that we are working together is absolutely critical to make sure that all of our neighborhoods and our families can thrive.”
The current deferred areas will remain in place until December 2024, when newly elected or reelected council members representing even-numbered districts take the oath of office. But deferred areas will reoccur every decade. After redistricting following the next U.S Census in 2030, the city will have new deferred areas for a two-year period.