Desmond or Fishman headed to Board of Supervisors
By Scot Crocker
Susan Peters has represented District 3 on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors since 2004. Stepping down this year, she helped recruit a Highway Patrol chief, Rich Desmond, to run for her seat. On the Nov. 3 ballot, Desmond and SMUD board member Gregg Fishman are in a runoff.
While the campaign has become a largely virtual affair in the pandemic, Desmond and Fishman have worked hard to distinguish their views, many of which are similar.
District 3 includes Arden-Arcade, Carmichael, Foothill Farms, Campus Commons and Fair Oaks—communities with familiar problems of homelessness, affordable housing and neglected infrastructure. The troubles have been compounded by the pandemic and social unrest.
Desmond joined the CHP in 1995. Rising quickly through the ranks, he became head of legislative affairs. Fishman is a former broadcast journalist who has served on community boards and commissions, and was elected to the SMUD Board of Directors in 2015.
Both candidates cite the pandemic as their primary concern. Both criticize how county leadership handled the federal CARES coronavirus aid funding.
“It’s so frustrating,” Desmond says. “My jaw dropped when I heard, for purposes of pure optics, how horrible it looked that they were giving $104 million to the sheriff’s department. That wasn’t the case. They put that money into the sheriff’s department but took that same amount out for the general fund, so they had flexibility on how to spend it. How completely tone deaf and clueless it was to not spend that money directly on public health needs, on supporting nonprofits, supporting small business or supporting people who desperately want to hold onto their homes and apartments.”
Fishman is similarly critical of county leadership, calling the lack of funding for the health department an “indefensible outrage.”
“People’s lives are at stake, not to mention their jobs, their businesses and their children’s schools,” he says. “We need to keep people in their homes, to give the county health department the money it requested and be transparent. We need better outreach to non-English speaking communities and to tap into cultural groups about the pandemic and how they can follow guidelines to stay healthy.”
Fishman prides himself on collaboration and his ability to bring groups, residents and businesses together.
“We need to collaborate and have more coordination between the city and county to pull together our resources,” Fishman says. “It’s hard work. It’s not going to be easy.”
Desmond and Fishman also agree on the importance of resolving the homeless crisis.
Says Desmond, “So many folks out on the streets are suffering from addiction or mental health issues. We have got to identify, or at least try some things, to get people into meaningful treatment programs. Maybe we should look at facilities for detox. We don’t need to take them to jail. We need to help them get services. For mental health, we need to reinvest in facilities and processes.”
“We need to get people off the streets, off the American River Parkway and into some sort of sustainable living situation,” Fishman says.
Social and civil unrest have led to challenges over police funding. Fishman supports changes to help social services. He wants to see sheriff’s deputies become more community oriented.
Desmond believes Sheriff Scott Jones has taken an unnecessary adversarial role against the Board of Supervisors. He supports reform but opposes defunding the sheriff’s department. Desmond acknowledges the Board of Supervisors has limited authority to reform a sheriff’s department run by a publicly elected sheriff.
“There’s only so much we can do when you have an elected law enforcement leader,” Desmond says. “I think there’s room for reforms. I like the fact we have a new inspector general in the county and I’d like to see them have more oversight or even have a citizen’s review committee to help build public trust.”
Says Fishman, “People call 911 because they perceive the need for a police agency and I agree that they want someone to come when called. We need an effective and efficient sheriff’s department, but we also need a sheriff’s department that’s responsive to the community. We need a sheriff’s department that recognizes the diversity of our community and is not engaged in profiling.”
Fishman believes law enforcement should not serve as first responder to social problems, such as homelessness and mental illness. He wants money diverted toward social programs.
Desmond supports a bill by Sacramento Assemblymember Kevin McCarty to give the state attorney general more review power over officer-involved shootings. Desmond calls the proposal “meaningful change.”
Both candidates support liberalization of the county’s cannabis laws and want to open legalized cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and sales. They also agree on the need for infrastructure investment and improved transportation.
Desmond is proud of his endorsements from both Republican and Democrat community and business leaders. Fishman has the support of many Democrats and all members of SMUD Board of Directors. During the pandemic, both work the phones, make Zoom calls and seek endorsements, funds and relationships with community groups and voters.
In these volatile times, the choice for voters may come down to the margins of two essentially centrist candidates. Desmond leans right. Fishman leans left. One of those leanings will serve as the swing vote on the five-person Board of Supervisors.
Clarification: After publication, Fishman asked Inside to clarify the characterization of his position on funding social programs. He said, “We need to provide the sheriff’s department the budget to do the difficult job we ask them do to. We also need to provide more funding for mental health and homelessness services. We can do both.”
Scot Crocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.